The Business Monthly
The Business Newspaper of Howard & Anne Arundel Counties and BWI Business District.
By Cynthia Saadi
For nearly six years, a variety of companies have graduated from the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s NeoTech Incubator program and reported significant, measurable success.
The incubator was founded in early 2000 when Bruce Montgomery, chief executive officer of Syntonics in Columbia, was actively seeking an incubator for his company and became the facility’s first client.
In June 2003, Syntonics graduated and moved to its current location on Red Branch Road. The military radio communications accessories company addresses communications problems that are unique to military-style equipment.
“When we graduated, I couldn’t have given the same description of what we do, since much of what we wanted to accomplish was still a twinkle in our eye,” Montgomery said, as what had been a pure research and development company now offers an entire line of radio frequency accessories and has several active antenna projects.
The program has seen five graduates move from the incubator to set up their businesses in Howard County.
While Syntonics was first in line, Columbia-based A2Z Inc. graduated in November 2002 after spending two years in the incubator. “Since graduation, our gross revenue has increased by 40% each year and our client base has increased by 75% each year,” said CEO Rajiv Jain.
A2Z provides solutions, including software, for managing and marketing expositions, conferences and other events. A2Z currently manages more than 400 shows per year, and according to Jain, at least three-dozen of those shows are among the Top 200 Trade Shows.
In December 2004, A2Z opened an office in India with more than 30 employees who handle the company’s international clients. A2Z also migrated to .net technology, allowing the company to offer cutting edge products. “In 2000, A2Z had more than 42 competitors,” he said. “Now, A2Z has no real competition, in terms of our entire product offering.”
Jain said that although the basic advice and resources provided by the incubator are reasons why A2Z survived and grew, his company also appreciates the climate that Maryland and Howard County have provided as a place to do business. “The county and state officials are very supportive of small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jain.
Another and Another
Columbia-based Medisolv, Inc. was the incubator’s second client and graduated in November 2005. President and CEO Dr. Zahid Butt said that turning a profit was one of the company’s primary milestones last year. “It is a great accomplishment to go from a concept to a company with real products and revenue,” said Butt.
Medisolv provides hospitals with software to analyze their various operations so they can improve patient safety, quality of care and financial performance. Butt said the company began marketing its products two years ago, has 18 clients in seven states and Canada and has increased staff from two to 10. This year, Medisolv plans to expand again and will seek funding for aggressive growth.
In December 2005, Intelesys Corp. graduated from the incubator and moved to its new location on Dorsey Road in Elkridge. Vice President and CFO Chris Lewis said the incubator’s low-cost space and administrative support allowed them to focus on finding qualified staff, increasing its ranks from seven to 17.
While in the incubator, the company also doubled its client base. Intelesys provides specialized, high-end solutions for the intelligence community’s most difficult problems. “We are more than a ‘body shop’ in that we take a problem and solve it,” he said.
Lewis said Intelesys has partnered with several helpful companies, including one that allowed Intelesys to utilize its secure facility. Intelesys plans to remain in Howard County and, thus, built its new facility with room to expand.
“Howard County is the perfect location for us as it is close to our primary customer, close to the I-95 corridor and central for most of our employees,” he said. “Our goals for 2006 are to expand smartly and to hire people with excellent skills and reputations.”
A Stone’s Throw
Another company that has graduated and stayed local is EpiTech, a woman-owned technology solutions and training firm in Columbia. Others have moved from the area, such as Plethora Technology. CEO Ben Martindale said that, since graduating in April 2002, Plethora has made major strides in raising capital. "We have just closed the first half of our Series A venture capital round after raising 1 million dollars and are now in the process of raising the second million," he said.
Plethora sells commercial software products for secure Internet operation, focusing on homeland security, emergency response, disaster response and business continuity. In May 2005, the company relocated to Charlestown, W.V., and its staff increased from five to 13. Martindale said that although some employees commute from Howard County and other parts of Maryland, the company also hired talented professionals from the Charlestown area.
“Plethora utilizes a very advanced technology and, thus, competitors that do the combination of things we do are few and far between,” he said. “We are raising funds, getting our infrastructure in place and are ready to go up from here.”
The other companies that have graduated from the incubator include Syncrodyne, which relocated to Rochester, N.Y.; Difference Engines, which was acquired by Guardian Technologies; and Sphere, which closed.