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Legislation would improve Md.’s innovation economy, backers say

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland has fallen behind other states when it comes to supporting innovative technology companies, and several bills presented Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee would help the state stay competitive, the bills’ backers said.

Lawmakers heard proposals that would fund more technology infrastructure, help businesses apply for federal grants and expand makerspaces.

Christy Wyskiel

Christy Wyskiel, executive director of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (File photo)

“If there is a story here in Maryland, it is one simply of missed opportunity,” Christy Wyskiel, executive director of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, told lawmakers. “We continue to lose out to states like Ohio, North Carolina and Massachusetts that are investing in exactly the type of (innovation infrastructure).”

Wyskiel testified in support of two bills– two nearly identical pieces of legislation, with one sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, and the other sponsored by Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration. The measures would create a fund to help build innovation infrastructure in Maryland, whether it is developed by private or public institutions.

That infrastructure could include large-scale “place-making projects” that establish a geographic district to attract talent, foster collaboration, and enable concentration and growth of life sciences and cyber-related industries.

“This program would leverage Maryland’s assets and rich innovation ecosystem across the state by spurring partnerships with private industry and the life sciences and cyber-related industry sectors, which will allow us to leverage significant amounts of private investment,” said Mathew J. Palmer, Hogan’s deputy legislative officer. “These industry sectors are the future of our knowledge-based economy, and we are committed to ensure that Maryland remains a leader in both of these sectors.”

Palmer estimated that leveraging the new fund could bring as much as $4 billion in new private investment and create up to 55,000 new jobs in the life sciences and cyber-related industries.

The fund would initially be provided $16 million of state money. That money has not been included in this year’s budget, but Palmer said a supplemental budget is likely if it appears the legislation will pass.

Wyskiel said Maryland has more advantages than places like Massachusetts, but that state invested in a similar infrastructure program. Since that investment, Massachusetts went from having a significant presence of one of the top 20 biopharmaceutical companies to a presence or headquarters of 18 of the top 20 companies.

Two more bills sponsored by Feldman would help Marylanders and Maryland companies navigate the process for federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants. These grants help researchers learn whether their technology could be commercialized and then help them commercialize those technologies.

These grants are also highly competitive. Only about 16% of applications result in grants.

One of Feldman’s bills would help train companies on how to navigate the application process. His other related bill would match some of the federal funds with Maryland funds if the companies stay in Maryland.

“One of the greatest challenges for entrepreneurs is raising capital, this is especially the case when they need to validate their technology,” Stephen Auvil, executive vice president of the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, testified.

Auvil explained that a similar program on a smaller scale within TEDCO helped double the number of applicants that received awards. These training programs also help companies apply for other grants and work to attract private investment, said Martin Rosendale, CEO of the Maryland Tech Council.

Thomas J. Sadowski (File photo)

J. Thomas Sadowski , USM’s vice chancellor for economic development. (File photo)

Helping more companies and researchers navigate this process could double the number of companies the University System of Maryland creates in a given year, said J. Thomas Sadowski, the system’s vice chancellor for economic development.

“We think that this is a real sound long-term play for Maryland’s economy,” he said.

The Finance Committee also heard about a pilot program that would help entrepreneurs on a smaller scale. Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore, sponsored legislation that would create a pilot to expand makerspaces throughout the state.

These spaces let very small businesses, often with just a couple or even one employee, rent space and utilize manufacturing equipment that would otherwise be too costly.

Open Works, a Baltimore makerspace, has had an $8.5 million economic impact locally and been successful at creating opportunities for people from different backgrounds, according to a Coppin State report released last year.

A makerspace in Allegany County helped train employees who were laid off when the Verso Co. paper mill shut down. It trained 60 former employees, and 38 of those people are receiving a national accreditation, said Brandon S. Butler, the county’s administrator.

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