Christian S. Johansson

Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, oversees the $84 million Invest Maryland program, which was pushed by Gov. Martin O'Malley. DBED is also hosting the Invest Maryland Challenge, a competition to encourage startups in Maryland that will award $300,000 in prizes early next year. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston / February 12, 2009)

Maryland is throwing a business competition to encourage startups to take root in the state -- the event is called the Invest Maryland Challenge. The prizes total $300,000 in grants and business services.

So far, the competition has attracted 37 companies to pitch for a piece of the prize money, include a company from Washington DC and another from Virginia. The categories are computer hardware and software, life sciences and general. Only the general category is open nationally.

Now, there's some fine print on the Invest Maryland Challenge website that entrepreneurs should heed. For instance:

"Start-ups must have fewer than 25 employees and annual revenues of less than $1 million. The competition is for independent ventures in the seed, start-up, or early-growth stages. The company must be a duly-organized legal entity and in good standing with the state in which they are legally registered. Sole proprietorships are not eligible. Existing Maryland ventures must have a principal place of business in Maryland. Non-Maryland ventures are expected to establish a place of business in the state either through acquired space or a state incubator. At least 51% of the grant money must be spent within the state. Entrants can only apply for one category. A non-refundable $100 application fee required. Subject to other requirements.

Application submission ends Dec. 13. The semifinalists will be announced in February, the winners of each category in March.

This competition seems to be a way for Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development to "prime the pump" of startups in the state and promote a far larger, $84 million plan to invest broadly in early-stage technology companies in the state over the next several years. That plan, Invest Maryland, was approved by the Maryland legislature last year, and will direct money from the sale of tax credits to insurance companies into venture capital firms that will invest the state's money into state-based businesses, with an emphasis on the return of the original principal plus profits.

It's a new economic development experiment for Maryland and generally considered a unique program in the country, in terms of how it's been structured. For more on Invest Maryland, I've written in-depth about it here.

Here's a list of the companies that so far have applied for the Invest Maryland Challenge (provided by DBED):

1.            Direct Dimensions Inc, Owings Mills, MD                                              

2.            MyoTherapeutics , Silver Spring, MD                      

3.            Handteq, LLC, Baltimore                              

4.            Parking Panda , Baltimore, MD

5.            ClickMedix, LLC , Rockville, MD                                 

6.            Tots2Tweens, Frederick, MD                                     

7.            SIALUU, Baltimore MD

8.   , Sykesville, MD

9.            Omic Biosystems, Inc., Rockville, MD

10.          Closing the Gap, Lanham, MD

11.          Brain Biosciences, Inc., Bethesda, MD 

12.          StudyHall, Washington DC