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Maryland attractive to tech companies

Facet Wealth's CEO and co-founder Anders Jones. (Facet Wealth)

Facet Wealth CEO Anders Jones said there is an energy about turning Baltimore into an emerging tech hub. (Facet Wealth)

When the time came to launch the personal finance planning start-up Facet Wealth, the founders asked “What city is best suited to start a tech company?”

They looked at the availability of technical and financial services talent, proximity to top higher education facilities and legacy tech companies, cost structure and general friendliness and openness to new companies and specifically new technology companies.

“We ran a process and went through a bunch of different factors and Baltimore really rose to the top,” said CEO Anders Jones who had previously worked in Silicon Valley for more than a decade. “Here in Maryland, the Department of Commerce’s tagline is ‘Open for Business.’ We found there is a community of folks that are very welcoming to new tech companies and real energy around turning Baltimore into an emerging tech hub.”

Opened in 2016, the company began with three employees at Johns Hopkins’ FastForward incubator. Today, Facet Wealth has about 120 employees and is adding 10 to 15 a month.

“We are growing like crazy,” Jones said. “… I think there is something to be said for being a cool fast-growing company in a city where there is not a lot of other noise. If we were in San Fransisco, we would be one of many tech companies trying to break through. In Baltimore, we are a unique story and that has helped us a lot in terms of attracting talent and attention and helping us build our brand locally.”

State effort

Heather Gramm, senior director of strategic industries and entrepreneurship at the Maryland Department of Commerce, notes the state is able to attract and retain tech companies in a number of ways. The state is home or in close proximity to a number of federal installations as well as private sector industry leaders.

“We have really worked on capitalizing on that talent that is already here and the brainpower to spur technology commercialization and spin-out companies coming out of the National Security Agency and the private sector,” she said. “With more than 30 incubators in the state, several of them are focused on cybersecurity, and that has really helped boost the innovation that we see coming out of those federal facilities.”

The department has also helped to create programs to nurture start-ups as well as attend national and international conferences with a delegation of Maryland companies to give them the opportunity to exhibit and develop their markets.

Retaining these companies and supporting their growth is also a priority for the Department of Commerce.

“We spend a lot of time getting to know our individual companies across the state,” Gramm said. “We have a team of regional business development reps working in each of the counties and regions across the state and they are developing relationships with those companies” including helping with B2B connections, marketing opportunities and identifying workforce possibilities.

Commerce also provides workforce training grants to help attract employees to their company as well as tax credit programs to help with growth.

Some concern

However, Todd Marks, president and CEO of MindGrub and chairman of the Maryland Tech Council, is concerned some of the tax credits and incentives for tech companies will be taken away due to several bills currently before the Maryland General Assembly.

“The amount of taxes they are trying to add across the board are really prohibitive,” he said.

Gramm said Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz testified in early February about the importance of maintaining the tax credit programs to show the state remains “Open for Business” and continues to support current companies and ones who want to be here in the future.

“There are conversations in Annapolis about which programs work and which should remain and we will see what the legislature does with that over the next several weeks,” she said.

MindGrub, a custom mobile, social and web app company, began nearly two decades ago and has offices in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia with headquarters in Baltimore.

“I really see Baltimore as being an up-and-comer,” Marks said. He believes companies come or stay in the state because of assets such as Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, top talent from schools like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland and tech companies themselves.

“We are just the best brand ambassadors when we go to national conferences,” he said. “Everybody in Maryland, in general, loves this region so we are some of the best ambassadors for that message.”

Galen Robotics was founded four years ago in Silicon Valley but the company moved to Baltimore to continue working with Johns Hopkins University on development research for a new surgical robot designed to help doctors with precise movements of medical instruments.

“We were already in a position where we were hiring new engineers directly out of the universities,” said Dave Saunders, chief technology officer and co-founder. “It created a need to have a local office.”

Initially at FastForward and later LaunchPort inside City Garage, the company is now on Wicomico Street with plans to take up additional floors as they expand. Saunders anticipates hiring 30 to 40 new employees during the next 18 months and hosting between 12 to 16 interns this summer.

“Having a local presence here is causing really talented engineers to raise their hands and come to us,” he said. “In many ways, it has made recruiting easier.”


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