Welcome to the latest installment of In Conversation, a BioHive conversation series with innovators and thought leaders in the BioHealth Capital Region. Joining us today is George Davis, the up and coming CEO of TEDCO. George is bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge about the startup field to TEDCO and we’re excited to share his thoughts with you here.
BioHive: Tell me a little bit about your journey – what were the important steps to get you here today?
George Davis: It’s been an interesting journey for me. First of all, I’m a Maryland guy through and through. I grew up in Arbutus and my heart’s always been in Maryland. I guess my journey starts at the Westinghouse Electric Company, now a major part of Northrop Grumman. There for 16 years , I had the opportunity to work with some very smart people across many diverse engineering disciplines. I learned about software, manufacturing, logistics, and international relationships. In the mid-90s a friend and associate of mine had the idea to do something in the wireless data field. I could tell that was going to be the next big thing so I jumped ship and joined a small company, called Aether Systems, that had a lot of intelligence on how to use wireless data. I learned a lot about starting up a company and the process of raising capital.
The founder, Dave, decided we should go public and I was like, “Are you out of your mind?” We flew to NY and figured out the Wall Street thing and then we flew out to Silicon Valley and met with the powerhouses out there. I learned about the importance of connecting capital with innovators. This was at the height of the Dot Com bubble and our stock shot from $14-$300 in a few months. Prior to the “Dot Com Bubble” burst, we decided to do a secondary public offering for which we raised $1.5 billion. I learned so much from that experience – I saw how venture capital works, I saw how banks work, and I saw how innovation works.
In 2006, I started at Avatech where I learned how to manage a nation-wide sales force and I was able to guide a restructure of the business to make it more efficient. I oversaw Avatech’s merger with Rand Worldwide which doubled the size of the company. The recession hit in 2008 while I was with Avatech and I learned a lot about keeping our workforce secure and keeping a company going in that kind of environment.
After I left Avatech, I found my way back to my old partner Dave and we had an idea to start a small platform to fund very early stage companies. In pursuing this idea, I got involved with the tech transfer world in Maryland. (By the way, there’s no other region that has as much federal funding flowing through it as Maryland. Why aren’t we doing more to leverage that funding and converting innovation to morecommercial success stories? ) We started Gamma3 LLC to help create businesses in Baltimore and keep them here. We funded 7 companies that are all still doing really well. I have also gotten really involved in mentoring entrepreneurs because I really believe that we have to produce more startup winners with all of this rich opportunity in Maryland.
When TEDCO came along it seemed like a great opportunity for me to leverage my experience with a terrific platform and uplift it to a bigger and better support engine for the entrepreneurial community.
BH: What is your number one goal for TEDCO five years from now? Ten years?
GD: Our core focus will be: make startups, innovators, and entrepreneurs great. They need connectedness and cash so we’re going to connect them to the capital and the resources they need. We need to work more closely with the established industry and connect them with the early stage world. Every region needs connective tissue to facilitate growth and I want TEDCO to be that connective tissue. I want people coming to TEDCO for resources and advice even if we can’t directly give them money. Let’s make what we have bigger and better. Let’s connect industry and entrepreneurs. Let’s bring the venture capitalists to Maryland. Let’s support minority and women entrepreneurs to make sure we’re fostering the widest spectrum of creativity that we can. Nothing sparks economic growth like new startups. Let’s set some extraordinary goals.
BH: What’s your favorite part about working with entrepreneurs?
GD: You know, I get it when I look in their eyes and I see their passion. It takes an entrepreneur or an innovator with vision and passion to move an idea to reality. It’s risky and it’s hard but what they know more than anyone is why they do what they do. In a business it’s easy to lose sight of why and focus on what and how, but startups are all about the why and pushing the why. Value creation through the delivery ofnew and exciting products and services is really gets your juices going in a business. Hopefully in this new role at TEDCO, I can spend some quality time with entrepreneurs – I’d really like to create a culture of entrepreneurship in the state.
BH: What are the greatest strengths of Maryland’s startup industry? Greatest challenges?
GD: Maryland’s greatest strength is the overwhelming presence of federal funding and scientific acumen. Really, there are so many assets but they’re not being leveraged to their full potential. We have to create interest in moving technology from the lab to the industry and to do that we really have to reach all the way down to the inventor level. There’s been a hesitancy in Maryland from the academic side to work in the private sector, but for over 20 years ago I have witnessed the power of capital and innovation working together and I’d like to be able to leverage that power in Maryland.
BH: If you had one piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur, what would it be?
GD: Clearly understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and never lose that passion of the why. If you have the why and you have the passion then you’ll probably be successful. Then you have to garnish that passion with the nuts and bolts; find partners who can really help you with connections, with regulatory, with business acumen, etc. Understand where you want to end up and build your way backwards with people who can help you get there. Keep your passion, be humble, be honest, and don’t let people knock you off the railway track.
Thanks for joining us on the BioHive, George! Please feel free to leave any questions or thoughts that you might have in the comments. Stay tuned for the next installment of In Conversation coming soon!
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