Innovation makes businesses move and keeps customers coming back and bringing others with them. While innovation is vital to business growth, there’s no one formula. Rather, it’s adapting and changing to the needs of stakeholders, consumers and the community.Frederick County’s businesses have a variety of resources to tap into to meet their changing needs. The Frederick Innovative Technology Center (FITCI) helps small businesses succeed with tools that help them build a solid business foundation. For companies that need trained workers, Frederick Community College’s Monroe Center offers training opportunities in real-world settings.
Techfrederick exists to connect Frederick’s high-tech community through education, human resource development, and training programs and seminars aimed at entrepreneurship. The Maryland Tech Council chose to put its headquarters in Frederick because Frederick’s access to outdoor recreation as well as nearby metro areas appeals to employees.
Here is a look at each of these entities:
The Frederick Innovative Technology Center
FITCI is all about innovation. The business incubator was created in 2004 at Hood College to give small business creators the tools they need to establish a successful business. FITCI has helped many startup companies, especially those in science and technology grow into viable businesses. FITCI is taking its mission to the next level with the spring 2023 opening of The EDGE@321, a community innovation center designed to be a hub for emerging and established innovators.
“Science and technology people are some of the hardest working people; they just put their heads down and work,” says Kathie Callahan Brady, president and CEO of FITCI, but getting them together can be a challenge. When they do get together, however, sparks can be created. “It’s amazing the innovation that happens with collaboration,” she says. Through a 12-week community mentorship program, budding entrepreneurs can learn from those who have been there.
FITCI’s main job is to provide startups with coaching from experienced CEOs, connections to help grow the business and access to funding sources. Members can tap into classes, network through events, meet with advisors and attend programs that serve the needs of emerging companies.
FITCI has had some major success stories over the years, including helping to launch RoosterBio, which has become a leading supplier of human mesenchymal stem cell systems. Another is Theradaptive, which specializes in advanced protein engineering.
Current FITCI members are making their mark in life sciences and in other fields. Wellspring Digital has perfected the art of digital marketing strategies and has just broken the $1 million revenue mark, while Key City Compost has made food composting easy and convenient for Frederick residents.
ServeFed, which provides occupational health services and support, had just eight employees in 2016. Today, the Frederick-based company has 400 employees in 42 states. American Shochu Distillery, maker of barley shochu, spirits distilled from organic barley made in a traditional Japanese style, “is the perfect place to do this with all our distilleries,” Brady says. Tellor Inc. hopes to introduce outsiders to the world of cryptocurrency, and the company, founded in 2019, has already seen growth.
Veralox Therapeutics is an up-and-coming life sciences company that’s developing new therapies for life-threatening immuno-inflammatory diseases. NanoBioFab aims to speed up the time it takes to get nanomaterial products to market. Mesa Science Associates works on drug development for researchers and is working on a drug that will help control seizures in dogs.
Nanocrine combines the world of cell biology with software that helps to shorten the time from research experimentation to publication of results. CarrTech is also taking a different approach with technology by developing a two-in-one needle to make it easier and safer to administer medicine. Cornerstone Genomics uses digital tools to speed up the process of research for human and wildlife biology.
FITCI’s job is to create jobs, Brady adds. “People find us through word of mouth,” she says. Scientists, for example, “talk us up with other scientists. The failure rate for small businesses is really high, and it takes five to seven years to incubate a life science company. We’re not going to create more growth with that.”
But what FITCI can do for members, besides offering coaching, connections and capital, is to offer shared lab space. Wet labs from 200 to 500 square feet provide autoclaves, deep-freeze freezers, reverse osmosis water and other essential elements needed for science product development and research efforts.
“The secret sauce at FITCI is amazing CEOs who volunteer their time to grow other companies,” Brady says. “That has helped us get to a 93 percent success rate, which is unheard of.”
The Monroe Center, located several miles from Frederick Community College’s main campus on Monroe Avenue, was originally built to house FCC’s construction trades training program. Today, the 55,000 square-foot building houses that and much more. A 2017 renovation made it possible for FCC to enhance its business and technology training, culinary and health training programs. The space also made it possible for FCC to partner with Frederick County Workforce Services to provide short-term training to respond to business needs.
“One of the things we’re trying to do at the Monroe Center and FCC is be very responsive with our programs,” says Molly Carlson, FCC associate vice president for continuing education and workforce development. For example, Frederick is looking to expand its broadband reach, so FCC is planning to train people in broadband installation.
“We have the workforce,” she says. “We’re just trying to jump out ahead of the need.” Another example is the federal dollars available to repair, replace and improve aging infrastructure, like roads and bridges. FCC is looking to train people for those upcoming jobs. As the tight supply chain loosens, there will be a need for forklift drivers at warehouses, and FCC is planning to have people trained for these jobs. “Training at the last minute isn’t helpful,” she says.
Frederick’s growing biotech sector also has specific training needs, Carlson says. Although FCC offers training that leads to AA degrees in biotech fields, many Frederick County biotech firms need entry-level workers who have completed short-term training. “We weren’t addressing the direct needs of the biotech companies,” Carlson says.
Enter the Biotech Boot Camp. This four-week training gives students without college the skills needed to get entry-level biotech jobs. So far, two cohorts of students have graduated from this program, and most of them have job offers from local companies. “Some start into degree programs from there,” Carlson says.
FCC is also working with Frederick County Public Schools to boost high school-level training for students who could get jobs with local biotech firms after graduation. “If we are going to train students for biotech jobs in the future, we need them to learn these skills while still in high school,” she says.
The Biotech Boot Camp teaches students the skills needed to work in a medical lab setting. For example, students learn how to enter and exit a medical lab by following strict cleaning procedures.
FCC has a new program for students attracted to culinary careers, called Food Business Entrepreneurship. “We have a culinary degree program, but maybe a student already has a background of working in a kitchen and wants to learn business skills,” she says. This program is funded jointly by the city and county and the first class has 40 people.
This training will come in handy for people who want to open their own food truck, work as a personal chef, or open any food-based business. The first training program will conclude in the spring of 2023, and students will put together a business plan and compete for grant funding through pitches they develop.
“We’re seeing that’s what adult learners want to do,” Carlson says. “They don’t necessarily have the time for a degree, but they need a targeted training program.”
Techfrederick’s mission is to highlight, develop, grow and foster awareness of Frederick’s tech community. “We foster innovation in three ways,” says Amy Pontius, executive director. The first is collaboration within the tech community, including creating a sense of communication and community spirit among tech professionals.
“It’s a safe place to share ideas, which helps to fuel innovation,” she says. Annual events enable tech professionals to gather in low-key ways to create camaraderie. The annual techfrederick Games in Baker Park each October is one example. The October 2022 games drew 125 players and 40 to 50 supporters.
“It’s a nice mix of silly physical games and brain games,” Pontius says. Physical games include relays and lawn-chair volleyball. Clue IQ builds on the board game and the popularity of escape games. There’s also Speed Scrabble and Shoot and Score Connect 4. A casino tent allows players to try their hands at blackjack and roulette for points.
The second way techfrederick fosters innovation is through a quarterly networking breakfast featuring specific information geared toward helping tech professionals put their ideas into action.
The third way is through the ASPIRE Training Program, in partnership with the Maryland Department of Labor. Through a $1.5 million grant, techfrederick can subsidize high caliber, high level training that helps companies and individuals update tech skills. Valuable certifications can be earned in Python, AWS, project management, SAFE training, and Elastic for a nominal fee.
Techfrederick is also sponsoring a pay and benefits survey focusing on IT and related management jobs in the Frederick area.
Maryland Tech Council
The Maryland Tech Council represents tech-based companies all around Maryland, but is headquartered in Frederick. That’s largely because most of the council’s workforce lives in Frederick County, says Todd Marks, the council’s chairman.
“Frederick is a great place for startups,” Marks says. It not only attracts companies focusing on life sciences and biotech, but the region is attractive to manufacturers and suppliers, which often rely on robotics technologies. But there’s another pull. Frederick’s location not too far from D.C. and Baltimore, but with ready access to mountains and outdoor recreation, attracts millennials who seek a live-work-play atmosphere, he says.
“Frederick is a great place for the live-work-play environment,” he says. “It allows for a lot of startups that want access to that talent, which skews millennial.”
The council’s vision is to propel Maryland to become the number one innovation economy for life sciences and technology in the country. They are the state’s largest trade association in those fields and provide value by giving members a forum to learn, share and connect, according to their website.