- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
By CRAIG J. RENNER
A new business incubator is coming to Charles County with the goal of turning numerous patent holders and innovators in our community and throughout Southern Maryland into growing, vibrant small businesses.
Bob Kavetsky, president and executive director of the St. Charles-based Energetics Technology Center, said his company is launching the Charles County Innovation Center as part of the broader Southern Maryland Vision 2020 initiative launched by Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-St. Mary’s). Its mission is to help nurture entrepreneurs and growth-oriented businesses into successful, sustainable businesses in our community.
Although they are recruiting technology-minded entrepreneurs, an initial focus will be on creating minority-, woman- and veteran-owned technology businesses. These entrepreneurs might have their own technologies, or they could be interested in licensing technologies from regional federal labs.
Ann Lansinger, a consultant who successfully led a business incubator in Baltimore and is working with Kavetsky on the project, said concerns about Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, and sequestration make this the ideal time to launch the incubator.
“The number of patents held by residents of Southern Maryland [more than 1,800 patents are associated with inventors from the three counties, with the lion’s share being held by Charles County residents] may be the antidote” to these economic headwinds, Lansinger believes.
Lansinger believes an incubator located in Charles County, and especially Waldorf and St. Charles, is ideally suited for success for several reasons. The area retains strong residential growth, even in the face of the housing downturn of the last few years. County residents also have high levels of personal income but are interested in finding work closer to home as a way of improving their quality of life. Pointing to the strong job creation statistics associated with incubators, Lansinger points out that 87 percent of incubator graduate companies remain in business after three years and 84 percent of incubator graduate companies remain in their local region after their incubation period, which can last up to three years.
In addition, Kavetsky points to the need for Maryland and Charles County to diversify its business base beyond direct federal jobs and the availability of successful regional models for innovation, like the one in Baltimore, as helping to point the way for a successful incubator in Charles County.
Our bases at Indian Head and Pax River will be a real focal point for commercialization, and the Innovation Center has the potential for capitalizing on the intellectual property developed there to further diversify our economy. “There is opportunity (in Southern Maryland), there is a need, and we have the management and technical expertise to do so,” Kavetsky said.
Two members of the Innovation Center team will be familiar to chamber members. Gene Lauer, former Charles County administrator, and Elaine Ryan, former president of the College of Southern Maryland, are part of the effort to make this business creation center successful. Shirley Collier, a successful serial entrepreneur, national consultant and specialist in tech transfer, is also a part of the team. She was a driving force in setting up the highly successful Howard County Neo-tech incubator.
Best of all, there are important roles for the chamber and its members to play to make the incubator successful. Chamber member businesses from a variety of disciplines — law, accounting and marketing, for example — are needed to serve as mentors to the startup businesses. “If we can help these businesses succeed, then as they grow, their employees will shop, buy homes, visit restaurants and help our larger economy grow.” Communication between the incubated businesses and the larger chamber community, Lansinger said, is going to be essential to the center’s success.
In May, representatives from ETC are going to make a presentation to the chamber’s board of directors, and an information event about the incubator is being planned for chamber members later this summer.
“We are looking forward to working with the chamber to make this successful for our community,” Kavetsky said.
For more information, go to www.etcmd.com.
Craig J. Renner is the president of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce.