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bwtech@UMBC in Catonsville helps both start-ups and going concerns to serve their niche

Mike Adelstein, who graduated from UMBC, now serves as the CEO of Potomac Photonics, a company he has been with since 1997. Seven years ago, he decided the firm needed to move from Prince George’s County.

That’s when he contacted bwtech@UMBC, a research and technology park located at his alma mater. After reviewing what the place was about, Potomac Photonics relocated there in 2014.

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“It was important for us to be located in an area that’s tech-centric and a community, like a university or government, that’s committed to developing new tech and innovation,” Adelstein said.

In fact, bwtech@UMBC is all those things. The park began with 8,000 square feet of trailers in 1989 and has expanded to 525,000 square feet of space — including a North and South part of the park — that is home to approximately 130-plus tenants, as of 2018.

The research park, which is internationally recognized, features two incubators that are described by entrepreneur.com as “organizations geared towards speeding up the growth and success of start-up and early-stage companies.” There are also training programs like Cync and iCyberCenter from which some of the companies benefit.

The park has generated a significant economic impact. According to bwtech@UMBC officials, some 1,600 direct jobs and 3,200 spinoff jobs have been created, along with more than $600 million in generated income and business sales per year. It also accounts for $11.5 million in tax revenues — with an average of about $4.9 million annually coming to Baltimore County.

Firms operating at the park — some start-ups and others in business for some time — come from key industries such as cybersecurity, life sciences, clean energy, information technology, health IT, as well as engineering and advanced manufacturing.

The various types of support and guidance available to companies located at the park are an appealing feature. For example, incubators provide guidance on business and management, as well as training and networking events, plus offer access to capital/financing and industry partnerships.

Megan Wahler, who serves as the director of entrepreneurial services, said a number of companies have operated at bwtech@UMBC for quite a while. The start-ups have grown by taking advantage of what’s available there, she said.

“We provide tenant companies with business and management support. Part of the support provided is from our ‘Entrepreneurs in Residence’ program, which pairs successfully exited entrepreneurs with nascent companies that would benefit from mentorship, guidance and industry and investor connections,” Wahler said. “They provide a whole bunch of, essentially, consulting time or support services for the incubating companies to help their business grow. We [also] partner them with different professional services.”

Nick Zajciw, the senior manager of cyber initiatives, said numerous types of advanced technologies serve to protect information systems and networks operating globally, and the companies incubate and grow at the park. Also, there is a real international flavor to the park’s tenants.

“We have the mixture of folks here from the UK, the Netherlands or folks that have worked in the government to academics, so this mixture of people ... really helps to reinforce one another and just [develops] unique capabilities.”

The support which businesses receive is one of the things that Adelstein really likes about the park.

Over the years, his company has doubled in size and grown to 40 employees, and it occupies 15,000 square feet of space. Companies come to his from all over the world in search of manufacturing technologies that enable them to bring their tiny parts that are crucial to the functioning of a larger technology to the market. In fact, Potomac Photonics is so busy that the office stays open seven days a week, 20 hours a day.

“We don’t want to leave because it’s such a positive [environment],” Adelstein said. “It’s always pushing towards developing new ideas. It’s been a great experience for us. It’s just everything.”

Jim Costabile, founder and CEO of Syncopated Engineering, has been at the park for three years. His firm also has expanded. Costabile said there were just three people in “one little office” when they moved in.

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Now, though, Syncopated Engineering employs 15, takes up three offices and has become part of the Northrop Grumman Cync program.

“There’s a good community in the incubator itself, and you can confer with other business owners,” Costabile said. “That’s been awesome, that connection with the other people going through the same type of things. Many of us are not in competition; sometimes we’re totally independent. It’s collegial and it’s easy. There’s common problems that we’re all facing.”

Frank Turano and his wife, Kathy, started Plant Sensory Systems in 2008 after working mainly in academia. The Turanos were in a different situation because they were shifting from the academic world to business.

Both walked away from tenured positions (he was at George Washington University; she worked at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins) to begin their venture, which is self-described as an “agricultural biotechnology company that develops plant genetic and biochemical solutions for the food, feed, and bio-based industries.”

They came to the research park because they saw that it boasted a strong track record of helping to successfully launch businesses. In fact, they stayed in the incubator program for about 3-1/2 years but remained in the building when finished. They’ve been there since 2008 and also rent labs.

“They had reasonably priced wet labs, and we needed that,” Frank Turano said.

The businesses in the park also are able to connect with UMBC, building relationships with faculty and students. In fact, Wahler said that about 95 percent of the companies there have some kind of link to the school through a faculty member or an intern.

Adelstein said that’s one of the factors that has helped his business since it has been in the research park.

“It’s [been] huge,” he said. “We’ve got several people from UMBC that have joined us. It’s been a great feeder. We’ve also collaborated with several different groups from the university.”

That’s one more reason why his company’s move to bwtech@UMBC has paid off.

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