Native Marylander Ted Cooney, whose business ventures have ranged from commercial fishing and boat-building to health-care financial services and an oyster farm, knows the value of seeking financial help wherever you can find it.
These days, the founder of Madhouse Oysters, a six-year-old oyster farm on Hooper’s Island, does much of his looking among the various state agencies set up to help small businesses.
“We’re kind of the poster child for accessing some of this stuff,” said Cooney, who has worked to fund his ventures through such programs as the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) and the Columbia-based Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO). “There’s a ton of money out there for innovative ideas.”
Indeed, Maryland’s business landscape is littered with organizations set up largely to provide assistance to entrepreneurs who want to launch or grow their small businesses with grants, low-interest loans, mentoring or other guidance.
“There are a lot more opportunities than businesses are aware of,” said Candace Pruett, business consultant for the Maryland Small Business Development Center, a resource for small businesses based at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Those opportunities, she said, range from grants and loans to convertible notes and equity stakes.
“The challenging part for entrepreneurs is understanding which funds they are eligible for and which may be the most meaningful for the businesses at their development stage,” Pruett said.
Available funding programs include the following:
- MIPS, started in 1987, offers Maryland companies access not only to funding but to creative talents and research help in fields that include engineering and computer science from any of the state’s 13 universities.
MIPS offers grants of up to $100,000 per year for existing companies and $90,000 a year for start-ups. Companies must match the funding with cash and in-kind contributions, but the cash contribution can be as low as 20 percent depending on the size of the company – and 10 percent for start-ups.
- TEDCO was created by the state 20 years ago to mentor, fund and otherwise assist tech-related businesses and start-ups. An independent organization, TEDCO is based in Columbia, but funds entrepreneurs throughout the state.
- The Next Stage Fund, operated by the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corporation, provides interest-free loans up to $250,000 for high-tech cybersecurity and national defense companies in Anne Arundel County.
The loans are meant to provide small companies the capital they need to grow, according to corporation CEO Julie Mussog. “These are businesses that have a viable product or service, have contracts, but need to be able to spend money on hiring people, say, or leasing office space,” she said.
The program, started just last year, has approved seven loans totaling some $700,000 so far and has about 10 more applicants in the pipeline, she said.
- AAEDC also is one of eight contract lenders for the state’s Video Lottery Terminal Fund, which uses a portion of the proceeds from Maryland’s casinos to support small, minority and women-owned businesses. From the fund’s inception seven years ago through June 2017, $43.7 million in loans and capital had been handed out, according to the fund’s most recent annual report.
- The Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) is a federally funded program that financially supports small technology businesses to get through their start-up and development stages and to commercialize their product.
SBIR awards are as generous as $1 million over two years, depending on the business’s track record and commercial potential.
John Davis, who heads the area’s SBIR Resource Center, in Severna Park, said the program was set up in the early 1980s to help states and local communities develop a tech-based culture. While not pushed heavily in Maryland, he said, competition for SBIR support nationally is fierce.
Cooney is not the only Maryland entrepreneur to rave about the array of acronym-themed agencies available to help small businesses. Leaders of two Anne Arundel high-tech companies say the help they’ve gotten from one of the organizations has been invaluable.
Matt Puglisi, CEO of Netrias, a data science solution company in Annapolis, said he regularly uses the counseling provided to small businesses by the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corporation.
“I meet with an advisor every six weeks or so – she’s like a coach,” he said. “When I’m looking to hire, she gives me a list” of potential hires.
Recently, Netrias also snared $150,000 in Next Stage Funding from the county EDC, which Puglisi said will be used to boost his staff from four employees to six by the end of the year. The growth, he said, “will allow us to build our technology to make us more competitive. … It’s accelerating our growth, no doubt.”
Similarly, Pasadena-based Penacity, a cybersecurity company that specializes in social engineering, threat analysis and penetration testing, got $50,000 from the Anne Arundel County EDC late last year.
“It gave us the ability to really grow without having to slice too deep into the bank account or worry about checks making it in time for payroll, said owner Timothy Schilbach. “It helped us grow quite a bit. … We might even use it again, for our next set of contracts.”