Nanotechnology could be a driving force for Maryland’s tech sector

Baltimore Business Journal

Nanotechnology, which involves some of the smallest bits of science, might have a big future in Maryland.

Industry experts say that Maryland — with its growing technology business scene, significant state support and large research universities — is uniquely positioned to make big gains off nano.

“I think this is a way to diversify our economy,” said Brian Darmody, a board member for Tech Council of Maryland. “The state has been pretty dependent on federal research and development because of our proximity [to federal agencies].

“We need more commercial applications.”

Nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology serve as the foundation for new developments in many science and technology fields — disease research, data security, pharmaceuticals — and the industry is expected to grow as scientists find more uses for the tiny technology.

Nanotechnology requires a tall order of resources that Maryland happens to have — researchers, special labs and a pipeline of potential workers.

What’s more, Maryland already has a robust lineup of business resources for technology companies and is home to both the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“There’s good organizational structure in Maryland, with TEDCO [Maryland’s Technology Development Corporation], Maryland Innovation Initiative and the Maryland Venture Authority — lots of opportunities,” said Darmody, who is associate vice president for research and economic development at University of Maryland, College Park.

Maryland has put a lot of effort toward fostering new technology companies and has paid special attention to companies in life sciences and cyber security.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has heralded cyber security as one of Maryland’s most promising economic drivers and even included in his fiscal 2014 budget a special tax credit for investors who put money into cyber companies.

Nano could also be an economic driver — its technologies will touch virtually every other science field. Nanotechnology is being used by pharmaceutical companies, in biofuels and in cancer research.

Globally, nanotechnology is expected to grow to a $30.4 billion industry by 2015, according to a January 2012 report Global Industry Analysts.

“Almost every aspect of life science development is going to lean on at some point a nanotechnology,” said Judy Britz, executive director of the Maryland Biotechnology Center.

But despite the niche’s promise, some nano experts say Maryland isn’t meeting its full potential.

Pixelligent and CEO Craig Bandes set up shop in Baltimore last year.

Craig Bandes, CEO of Baltimore-based Pixelligent, thinks Maryland can do more to advance nanotechnology.

“I think Maryland has not made it a priority,” said Craig Bandes, CEO of Pixelligent, a Baltimore nanotechnology company.

Bandes thinks it is a matter of better utilizing the resources the state has already set up for technology companies, such as tax credits.

Universities play a large role in nanotechnology development. Their researchers are a key source of the scientific ideas that can be turned into marketable technologies.

But Maryland universities have historically lagged behind the nation’s leaders in getting their research out of their labs and into business ventures.

Johns Hopkins University, Maryland’s leader in tech transfer, brought in just a fraction of the licensing revenue of the nation’s leaders — $15.2 million compared with $191 million at Northwestern University and $182 million at the University of California System — according to a fiscal 2011 technology licensing survey by the Association of University Technology Managers.

The state and the universities themselves are trying to catch up. The schools are rethinking how they approach commercialization by going after ideas instead of waiting for professors to suggest them.

Gov. O’Malley’s fiscal 2014 budget includes an extra $24.4 million for the University System of Maryland for program improvements, which will include joining the tech transfer offices at two campuses, University of Maryland, Baltimore and University of Maryland, College Park.

By Sarah Gantz on March 8, 2013

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