The Maryland Department of Commerce is bolstering a soft landing program that’s designed to give startups and other medium-sized companies space to explore a potential expansion to the U.S.
The landing point? Incubators.
The state government program is working with incubators and coworking spaces around the state to give foreign companies space and resources as they seek to navigate the U.S. market. For companies based in Maryland, the program also offers connections to 15 countries where Maryland has a relationship that offer similar expansion programs.
The soft landing program was announced this week by Secretary Kelly Schulz at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s SelectUSA Investment Summit.
“Soft landing programs are an excellent opportunity to recruit international companies to Maryland, and for our local businesses to consider expanding overseas,” Schulz said in a statement. “We look forward to working with new prospects from around the world and building on these relationships for years to come.”
The state has been interested in attracting companies through a variety of trade missions to countries like the U.K. and Australia over the last several years. A Maryland soft landing program initially surfaced in 2017 through a partnership between the commerce department and bwtech@UMBC, the Baltimore County university’s incubator. That program offered space specifically for cyber companies interested in expanding. With the flag planted on a specific program, the leaders saw a lot of interest.
“It’s very challenging for them to navigate the U.S. system. We’re a large count geographically. We’re a large country population-wise. We have 50 jurisdictions that operate quite differently on top of that,” said Jessica Reynolds, the senior director of the Office of International Investment and Trade at the Maryland Department of Commerce. “As small companies or medium-sized companies trying to get a foothold in a new market, the idea was very attractive to them.”
With the newly launched program, more than a dozen incubators are signed on to provide space for companies, ranging from tech hubs like Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Centers (ETC), Columbia’s Maryland Innovation Center and Towson University’s StarTUp to industry-specific incubators like the Eastern Shore’s F3 Tech and University of Maryland College Park’s newly launched Quantum Startup Foundry. The state’s program will serve as an “umbrella” to help companies navigate the market, and hopefully provide leads for the incubators as they seek to bring in new companies, as well.
For startups, Reynolds said expansion is often driven by a personal connection, so the program can help to establish that rapport.
The program is offering both in-person and virtual options, and while it doesn’t cover the full cost to launch here, it’s made to provide connections. Companies can have two employees for up to three months at a space and are eligible for reduced rent. It also offers the companies five matchmaking meetings for potential business prospects, as well as connections to resources like educational programs, mentors and networking. Meantime, the state assists with the process of getting registered with the state.
“This is a way that we are going to be able to develop that pipeline and bring in some really valuable and exciting foreign companies to add to our industry mix,” Reynolds said.
Ultimately, having more companies can add perspectives and expertise, and help to grow the state’s innovation economy as a whole.