TEDCO’s Entrepreneur Expo Energizes Maryland’s Startup Ecosystem with Record Attendance

October 30, 2019

The Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) held its inaugural Entrepreneur Expo in 2011. The first Expo attracted approximately 300 attendees. Three times that number descended on The Hotel at the University of Maryland for its 9th annual Entrepreneur Expo on October 29th.

Entrepreneurs, thought leaders, small business owners, angel and venture investors, federal and state economic development teams and university leaders from across Maryland, the Biohealth Capital Region (BHCR) and beyond gathered at the event to network, share ideas and showcase their programs, technologies and companies.

If there is one word that could describe what it was like at the daylong event that word is ‘Energy’. There was a buzz felt from the moment you walked into the event that carried into the exhibit hall, through every session and into each keynote, and all the way to the event’s conclusion.

Myra Norton, Chair of TEDCO’s Board of Directors, conveyed that energy with inspirational words and a call for solidarity among the Expo attendees in her opening remarks. 

“As I was reflecting on this event, I thought about what it means to be an entrepreneur…The highs are really high but the lows can be really low. Sometimes, it’s lonely to be an entrepreneur. There are sleepless nights worrying about if your idea makes sense or if you will make payroll…or when people tell you to be realistic and have reasonable expectations,” stated Norton.

“Entrepreneurs don’t know how to have reasonable expectations,” continued Norton, as she asked the entrepreneurs in the audience to stand, adding, “Take a minute and look around. Keep having unreasonable expectations. Persevere when the struggle is real. You are not alone—you have a state full of advisor and incubators and funders and advocates who have your back. We’re in this together.” 

From the session rooms and the exhibit hall to the ever-present, spontaneous hallway conversations and myriad networking opportunities, the 2019 EXPO certainly mirrored its togetherness theme and embodied its “entrepreneurs inspiring entrepreneurs” esprit de coeur.

Justin Kline of Vensana Capital and Bob Ackerman of Allegis Cyber Capital and Maryland’s Data Tribe kicked off the packed Expo agenda as the morning session keynotes, offering key insights and tips about their respective investment processes and industry ecosystem building. 

Ackerman spoke directly to the promise of an evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem: “It’s not just about writing checks…I told Martin O’Malley it’s not just about the money. If you have the talent you will find the money. It’s about creating an ecosystem and pulling it together so that the talent can establish itself and the capital will follow.”

An important element to creating a vibrant ecosystem is successfully commercializating the technologies created within the local universities, and it was abundantly evident that TEDCO’s Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII), led by Art Santhanam, PhD, is succeeding in just that.  MII was mentioned in several sessions, including the opening remarks by Julie Lenzer, Chief Innovation Officer at UMD, and it was hard to walk ten steps in the exhibit hall without passing an exhibitor or an attendee that didn’t have ties to the program.

Julie Lenzer, Chief Innovation Officer at UMD discusses MII program success

The collective strength of startup ecosystem and its deep talent pool was on full display at the EXPO. 90 entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders led panels and discussion sessions covering a wide array of topics, each delivering valuable takeaways and opportunities to interact with prominent thought leaders. 80 exhibitors, including companies, resource providers and entrepreneur support organizations lined the exhibit hall to showcase their respective products and services.   

TEDCO also added a new feature to this year’s Expo: The Entrepreneur Hub, which included a networking lounge, a resources spotlight stage for mini information sessions and an entrepreneur speed dating event for rapid fire networking.

Dr. Marco Chacón, Founder and former Chairman of Paragon Bioservices, and current Founder of IRAZÚ Bio-holdings, delivered a lunchtime keynote address that anchored the day’s action. During his lively conversation with Tina C. Williams-Koroma of TCECURE, Chacon discussed the challenges, triumphs and lessons learned from his Paragon Bioservices journey, which resulted in its $1.2B acquisition by Catalent Pharma Solutions in May 2019. 

“No man or company is an island,” shared Chacón which was one of his core principles which helped him to build the team at Paragon. “I had a team of solid individuals that stuck with me, some of them for the better part of 20 years.” He also mentioned the importance of the “people who you are related to your company by extension,” giving special credit the BioPark and also emphasizing the importance of your service providers and the client base who are an important part of the team.  

Chacón also emphasized Paragon’s location in Maryland as an important element of their success. “We are very fortunate to be in a marketplace like our region.  Baltimore has two leading universities with major cancer centers and clinical trials with all kinds of capabilities and expertise, as well as NIH, NCI, DoD and other universities.  There is always a wealth of talent.”

The 2019 Expo would not have been possible without the support of key sponsors like AARP Innovation Labs, University of Maryland Ventures and the State of Maryland, as well as the many other organizations that helped contribute to the event.

The packed agenda concluded with an evening reception at The Hotel at the University of Maryland that included a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) HQ2 in the University of Maryland Discovery District. AURP HQ2 is the first AURP office in Maryland and will serve as the launching pad for expanding “…outreach to state governments, research universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), community colleges, federal labs, corporations and communities to expand interest and to build research parks and innovation districts,” according to an AURP press release

Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Shulz, Brian Darmody, CEO of AURP and the Associate Vice President of Corporate Engagement for the University of Maryland and Tammi Thomas, TEDCO’s Vice President of Marketing, led the ribbon cutting ceremony. 

The evening reception and celebration, featuring the addition of yet another entrepreneurial resource to the region in AURP HQ2, was a fitting bookend to TEDCO’s 2019 Entrepreneur Expo that showcased the best of what is and what is to come for this vibrant, evolving ecosystem in Maryland.

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