Amid the bustle of its seventh annual Entrepreneur Expo, held at the Hilton Baltimore in October, the Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO) announced a revamping of its mission and vision under an evolving plan, dubbed TEDCO 2.0.
With the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission’s annual Stem Cell Research Symposium running concurrently at the same venue, TEDCO signaled clear intentions to unify its approach to the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund and other funding programs that it also administers.
For the past three months, TEDCO’s newly appointed CEO, George Davis, has been taking baseline measurements across the state, “to try to figure out where we stand, where pockets of innovation are, where the support functions are [missing] and how we can work better with our partners and advocacy groups,” he told Expo attendees.
As a serial entrepreneur who has been involved in the biotech, information technology and software industries, Davis said he understands startups’ basic needs.
“You need cash, and you need to be connected,” he said. “TEDCO 2.0 is all about trying to drive new perspective and create a thriving entrepreneur system in Maryland, working with our partners in the Department of Commerce and a lot of different agencies.”
TEDCO expects to announce some new incentives for entrepreneurs and the innovation community in the near future, he said, the result of collaboration with Commerce that will build on Gov. Larry Hogan’s Excel Maryland Initiative, which seeks to develop the state’s workforce and tap global markets.
Despite its rich concentration of academic institutes, federal agencies and research facilities, Maryland does not command the same level of interest enjoyed by Silicon Valley and Boston when it comes to attracting the investment necessary to get ideas to market.
“We’re number three or four in the country in access to research, but we’re pretty far down the list in access to venture capitalists,” Davis said. “The question is: How do we change that?”
As envisioned under TEDCO 2.0, part of the answer is to coalesce resources around gateway services, such as mentoring, training and matchmaking, in addition to building strong companies and working better with partners to leverage respective strengths.
As mentioned earlier, another idea is to put TEDCO’s series of funds under one umbrella “so we can have a common philosophy of investment that goes from seed level to that Series A level,” Davis said. “That’s new and different; you’re going to see a different mentality and thought process at the seed level. We’re going to try to move a lot faster and quicker.”
Morning keynote Guy Filippelli, vice president of Forcepoint and the founder and former CEO of RedOwl Analytics, had a few ideas of his own for improving the lot of Maryland’s startups.
“I don’t think it’s the state’s role, necessarily, to throw lots of money in venture capital or be another venture capitalist,” he said.
Rather than offer tax credits directly to startups, he’d prefer to see Maryland offer those credits to large, established companies as an incentive to actually purchase and use the products these startups sell.
Under this scenario, “a $1 million tax credit for T. Rowe Price could have a $10 million impact on my company,” he said. “That idea needs to be fleshed out, but it’s thinking about ways to use money to have a multiplier effect.”
While entrepreneurs learned about strategies to raise capital and pitched their ideas to actual angel investors, Stem Cell Symposium participants got a chance to learn about the latest bioengineering advancements being pursued in Maryland.
John Fisher, chair of the University of Maryland’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering, said his department is contributing to advances in personalized medicine, using imaging modalities such as MRIs and CTs to isolate and design custom-fitting grafts used to treat congenital heart defects.
“We and others are looking at printing and bioprinting as a means to personalize these grafts,” Fisher said, using a lithography-based approach with a precision down to about 20 microns, as well as an extrusion-based printing approach with a precision of about 100 microns.
“It’s definitely a growing market of additive manufacturing, 3-D printing and bioprinting for health care, third in the sector behind automotive
Research conducted in the university’s laboratory spans several systems and includes work in cardiovascular, bone and cartilage applications, as well as some work on placenta studies and bioreactors.
“We hope to do this so we can do two basic things,” Fisher said. “Fabricate things we can’t fabricate using any other approach and ask biological questions that we can’t easily ask using any other approach.”
Hale Fellow, Well Met
Lifesprout, a startup spinoff from The Johns Hopkins University, has developed a product for the aesthetic arena that not only takes the place of missing tissue, but also integrates with native body tissues, allowing cells and blood vessels to grow into it.
The nanofiber hydrogel composite solution can be injected in an office setting using small needles and without the need for anesthesia or surgery, said Lifesprout Co-Founder Dr. Sashank Reddy.
“It can address issues like soft tissue loss from aging, as well as traumatic defects or defects from cancer [surgery],” Reddy said. “The material behaves very much like natural tissue, and even though it’s a synthetic chemical, it ends up setting up and feeling very much like native tissue.”
According to Davis, TEDCO’s Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund has supported more than 20 companies developing stem cell and regenerative technologies.
“These are ongoing innovations that are accelerating the pathways to cure,” he said. “Last year the Cures Act was passed, and that starts to put regenerative medicine right in the target sector of moving things from that research world into the commercial world.”
Signed into law on Dec. 13, 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act is designed to help accelerate medical product development and bring new innovations and advances to patients who need them faster and more efficiently. It provides $4.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health for precision medicine and biomedical research, with $1.5 billion channeled to research on brain disease and $1.8 billion earmarked for cancer research.
The symposium’s fit with the Entrepreneur Expo is obvious, enabling a much broader opportunity for networking and matching up potential partners within the state and region.
“We all know we need to find cures for chronic diseases,” said Davis, who acknowledged that he is also a cancer survivor. “Regenerative medicine is going to get us there.”