5 Questions with Martha Schoonmaker, Executive Director, Pinkney Innovation Complex for Science and Technology at Montgomery College (PIC MC)

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This edition features 5 Questions Martha Schoonmaker, Executive Director, Pinkney Innovation Complex for Science and Technology at Montgomery College (PIC MC).

Martha Schoonmaker is the first Executive Director for the PIC MC Foundation, the entity that develops, manages, and markets the Germantown campus on behalf of Montgomery College for company locations. PIC MC is an integrated academic, business, and research campus and is the only community college with a hospital, Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, located as the anchor resident partner.

Ms. Schoonmaker’s career in economic development includes positions in Virginia and Georgia prior to Maryland. During her tenure in Georgia, she worked in economic development positions for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Oglethorpe Power Corporation; as a consultant with Arthur Andersen; and with Georgia Institute of Technology. 

Ms. Schoonmaker worked as the Director of Business Development and Investment for Prince William County’s Department of Economic Development in Virginia. She participated in the department’s efforts to expand local economic initiatives creating over 3600 jobs during her tenure.  She also developed the Prince William County Science Accelerator, a public/private investment of a 9,000 square foot wet lab, and signing its first tenant prior to opening.  

Ms. Schoonmaker manages contracts, leases, and partnerships with existing resident partners, including Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, and is responsible for the development of corporate and trade association partnerships that expand internship, learning, and career opportunities for students within PIC MC. 

She is past president of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, past board member of the Virginia Economic Developers Association, current committee member of the Maryland Economic Developers Association Professional Development Committee, and an IEDC member.

1. Tell us a little about your career path and current role as Executive Director, Pinkney Innovation Complex for Science and Technology at Montgomery College (PIC MC).

My career in economic development started with my first job in Housing and Community Development (HCD) in Memphis.  I worked with the owners/renters of the neighborhood housing being rehabilitated by HCD, to ensure that they would be kept up.  This really bordered on social work. What did I learn from those days?  To ensure that people kept their housing and to continue to improve their lives, they needed jobs that would grow, with incomes that would allow for it.  What do those jobs need?  An educated workforce. 

I then moved to Atlanta and got very involved in that state’s economic development efforts.  This included spending much of my career leading Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute’s efforts to educate economic developers and communities for company locations, expansions, and entrepreneurs.

Though I loved that job, I relocated to this area in 2007, with a position at the Prince William County (VA) Department of Economic Development, to join my husband who had been commuting back to Atlanta from his job in the DC region.  When I was contacted about the PIC MC position, I became really excited about being back with an educational institution in developing an area for business locations for the students.

2. How would you describe PIC MC to somebody who has never been to the BioHealth Capital Region before?

PIC MC is a hub of education, business, and entrepreneurship, where industry partners co-locate and actively interact with faculty and students to achieve both educational and economic success.  Interestingly, universities have these types of research and development parks all over the country. 

Montgomery College is the only community college, that I am aware of, which is developing its land through PIC MC for the locations of biomanufacturing, life sciences, and high technology companies.  The Germantown campus has two areas of curricula focus – biotechnology and high technology.  These are the very types of industries we want to be located on this campus to provide students with the best internships and jobs.

3. What projects and goals do you have for PIC MC over the next few years?

Top on that list is integrating specific programs to assist in talent development for the new company/ies locating in 19710 Observation Drive. Our anchor partner in PIC MC is Holy Cross Germantown Hospital which currently uses the College’s Health Sciences program for nursing positions. 

Using the biotechnology certificate program, biomanufacturing through the GMP lab, and the cybersecurity programs would provide opportunities for internships and job fulfillment for new company locations.  An additional goal will include identifying the next property to bring through a preliminary subdivision plan making it ready for industry location, just as 19710 Observation Drive is now.

We also will continue to identify marketing opportunities seeking company locations at 19710 Observation Drive and the new sites to be developed. This includes international BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization), which conducts conferences and exhibits with thousands of life sciences companies, as well as local conferences and meetups such as Maryland Tech Council’s Bio Innovation Conference held just a few weeks ago, and BioBuzz.

4.What do you view as the biggest gaps in the BioHealth Capital Region, and how would you address them?

The biggest gap I see daily is the inability of life sciences companies to find the talent that they need to fill their positions. At Montgomery College, the biotechnology faculty is working hard to attract more students into their program. Companies want these students as their employees.

Considering the number of people who were recently told to leave their jobs in the hotel industry, given COVID 19, there are many who can take their attention to detail work and use it in learning biotechnology today at Montgomery College’s program in Germantown. Once this gap is filled, I will move on to others!

5. If you could choose one song to play every time you walked into a room for the rest of your life, what song would you choose and why?

The song I would choose is “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. I love this song and have for years. Find the words to the song and listen to the music. The words talk about a person whose life could be better and asks for help, but he is “stayin’ alive”. The music is great and given the life sciences work being done in Montgomery County, “Staying Alive” is what it is all about.

Thank you to Martha Schoonmaker for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.

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