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TEDCO Expo asks how Maryland can take the next step

COLLEGE PARK -- UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski gives the morning keynote address at the annual TEDCO Entrepreneur Expo and Stem Cell Symposium.

COLLEGE PARK — UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III gives the morning keynote address at the annual TEDCO Entrepreneur Expo and Stem Cell Symposium. (Tim Curtis)

COLLEGE PARK — Celebrating TEDCO’s 20th year, the annual Entrepreneur Expo and Stem Cell Symposium focused Thursday on the next steps Maryland should take to realize its potential as a startup ecosystem.

Keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski III, the University of Maryland Baltimore County president, said the region needs to attract money to accomplish those lofty goals, while Ron and Cyndi Gula explained how they want to turn the success of Tenable into another 10 Tenables.

“This region kneels to no one when it comes to assets,” George Davis, TEDCO’s CEO, said. “What we need is to make that promise turn into prominence with innovation infrastructure.”

Maryland has always had the assets to be a significant player in any innovation ecosystem, whether it comes from the health technology coming out of Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland or the National Institutes of Health, or from cybersecurity and other computer-focused innovations coming out of the National Security Agency and regional universities.

But the state’s actual startup results have been behind those assets, especially compared to places like Silicon Valley and the Boston area.

“How do we in this state of Maryland … take the brain power from research universities, from federal agencies, and create an ecosystem?” Hrabowski asked. “Make no mistake, money talks.”

The state could be making up ground in that aspect. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree report, venture-backed companies in Maryland have raised more than $1 billion over the past year.

Not included in that was Tenable’s initial public offering over the summer, which left the company with a more than $3 billion valuation.

One of the biggest things Maryland can do to keep that momentum going and build to bigger successes is talk about its successes. Davis encouraged more talking about success stories, which is what he did at a panel with the Gulas about how they built Tenable.

“The only thing we’ve really done poorly is talk about Maryland,” Ron Gula said. The politicians in Maryland have only really started doing this recently, he added.

But those politicians also have a role to play in the environment the state creates for potential businesses coming out of its universities and federal agencies.

“You don’t legislate an ecosystem,” he said. “You legislate an environment that lets one grow.”

One way the state can do that, Gula said, is by actually becoming customers of the state’s startups. Davis and Gula encouraged the state to do that as part of the Excel Maryland program, and last session the legislature passed a cybersecurity tax credit that, besides encouraging investments, also incentivizes Maryland companies to buy Maryland cybersecurity products.

The Gulas could have a stake in that success. Since leaving Tenable, they have founded Gula Tech Adventures, a cybersecurity investment fund, and have invested in more than 30 companies, most of them in Maryland or Virginia.

But other large presences in the area could play a role in growing Maryland’s startup economy as well.

One of the year’s biggest deals was Viela Bio’s $ million spinout from MedImmune. Viela came out of MedImmune with some solid assets and support from MedImmune and its parent company, Astra Zeneca.

Aaron Ren, Viela’s head of business development and operations, also believes the company will have an impact on the talent available in bio tech in the region, drawing even more people to a growing biotech hub on the Interstate 270 corridor.

“We want to make this talent reservoir from this region much stronger,” he said. “The region helps us become stronger and a stronger us is good for the region.”

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