Incubators get lots of attention as centers of tech companies, but it’s worth remembering that they’re also places where many companies are just at the beginning. The endpoint is different for each, but the idea is that startups move on to other spaces, while still maintaining connections.
A recent announcement that came across from bwtech@UMBC offered one reminder. The Catonsville incubator at the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s research park spotlighted 15 companies that graduated the program.
While some like cybersecurity startup Light Point Security moved elsewhere in the research park, Executive Director Ellen Hemmerly pointed out that others went on to move throughout the region.
“UMBC is a regional university. What we’re doing is providing jobs and companies not only to our park, but to Baltimore County, Baltimore city” as well as Anne Arundel and other areas in Maryland, Hemmerly said.
It’s right in some of our recent archives. Grip Boost moved to a new facility in Linthicum to ramp up production of its sports glove gel after a white-labelling deal. Fearless, a dev agency which was founded by UMBC grad Delali Dzirasa at the incubator and continues to hire grads, seems to have a bigger footprint in Spark Baltimore each time this reporter visits.
Along with space to work, the companies get access to advisors, training sessions and professional services. And Hemmerly said many, like Fearless, stay affiliated even when they are done with the program.
The incubator is known for cybersecurity given the university’s expertise in that area and the region’s strengths, and many of the recent companies are in that category. Efflux Systems, for one, started at the incubator in 2015. The company, which makes technology to detect the behavior of a threat actor after an exploit, is an example of the kind of product-focused company that local leaders think can create more startup growth vs. the more voluminous services companies.
The incubator team “was extremely helpful with finding local resources that helped us in our early stages,” said Efflux cofounder Adam Bixler. “The [Entrepreneurs in Residence] and advisors assisted with intros to local investors and expert resources that provided advice at the right time.”
Along the way it won pitch competitions, and the company was a part of Silicon Valley–based accelerator 500 Startups in 2016. Last year, it was acquired by publicly-traded NetScout Systems, and is now part of Arbor Networks, the company’s security division. With the growth that came after, it moved out of the incubator to new space in Ellicott City.
Others have benefitted from industry links directly through the incubator. Light Point, Ayasdi and now-Bethesda-based Koolspan participated in Cync, a program with Northrop Grumman that helps companies develop their products. Others who work more in the services area reported growth in government contracts.
Being close to the university is also attractive to companies. That’s the case for Airphoton. The company is commercializing air quality sampling stations that detect aerosols that was created by UMBC professor Vanderlei Martins. For COO Richard Kleidman, the incubator provided proximity to Martins’ lab.
“A lot of the engineers working at the university lab also work for AirPhoton. Just in terms of proximity, it makes it easy,” he said.
The five-year-old company remains at the research park even as it grows a client base in other countries.
That connection to labs dates back to the incubator’s creation in 1989, when it was primarily focused on life sciences. Now the overall research park is in two areas, and officials are planning to expand it within the next five years.
Other recent grads include health IT firm RELI Group, IT firms ASET Partners and Focused Support, life sciences company Prospect Pharma and cybersecurity companies Y-Tech, Fortego, Coalfire Federal (formerly Veris Group pre-acquisition) and Resilient Point.
Collectively, Hemmerly said the companies entered with 97 jobs and now employ 240 people in Maryland.