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UMD startup to stay in College Park after all

UMD startup to stay in College Park after all

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As FlexEl prepared to expand its facility, the small, six-year-old company had to look outside of its current home of College Park to find appropriate space; it ended up selecting a site in northern Virginia.

But now the innovative battery-design company is planning to stay in College Park, where it will help support the burgeoning tech ecosystem officials are trying to develop around the campus, Ken Ulman told officials last week.

The former Howard County executive, onetime contender to be lieutenant governor and now chief strategist for an effort to attract and retain tech companies in College Park, gave a brief summary of FlexEl’s plans to members of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents Thursday.

Ulman told regents that when he began his work as a consultant to the university earlier this year, the company was set to move. But with the support of University of Maryland, College Park President Wallace D. Loh, Ulman was able to find space for FlexEl in a university-owned warehouse on Paint Branch Parkway, Ulman said.

“We, of course, like the idea of staying near College Park,” Martin Peckerar, a founding partner at FlexEl and the company’s chief technology officer, told The Daily Record. FlexEl uses student interns “extensively” to augment its 12-person staff and found two of its most successful employees through the internship program, he said.

FlexEl, founded in 2008, develops batteries for other companies, such as a battery that’s safe to be implanted in the human body with a medical device, or a flat, thin battery cell that can be less than a few millimeters thick, according to its website.

The company is now housed in a university building on the UMCP campus.

Staying in College Park means the company will have access to some of the university’s expensive facilities and equipment – such as chemical analytic tools, Peckerar said.

Maryland officials were also able to put together an economic incentive package for FlexEl that was better than the one offered by Virginia, Peckerar said, but he did not provide details.

FlexEl hopes to have a clinical trial for one of its devices underway by September and expects to hire 60 new employees by 2018, Peckerar said.

The lack of “compelling office space” in the College Park area is the principal impediment to the growth of the tech ecosystem, Ulman told the regents.

But as part of the solution, the university announced last week a vision for what officials are calling “Greater College Park” – a three-pronged plan to transform College Park into a “premier college town.”

That plan includes constructing new academic buildings, including facilities for the departments of engineering and computer science, and a revitalized downtown College Park that will be anchored in part by a high-end hotel and conference center.

Surrounding the hotel is an area dubbed the “Innovation District,” to which officials want to attract about 1 million square feet of new, privately-constructed office space to help turn the area into a research Hub.

Ulman said he plans to make a formal announcement about FlexEl later this week and follow that with one announcement per week regarding “Greater College Park” for the next several weeks.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III praised the plan, saying in a statement that it was imperative to use the university’s success as a research and academic institution to spur business growth and job creation. Creating an environment of innovation will benefit both the university and the county, he said.

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