Montgomery County's highly competitive business environment draws a mix of companies. However, the county also has consciously developed an eco-system that is especially conducive for innovative startups in information technology, biotech, and other leading-edge fields with a package of resources that includes tax credits, access to funding, financial assistance and a network of four business incubators. This strategy has led to a synergy among new small tech firms and industry giants that is a major reason the I-270 Technology Corridor in Rockville is internationally recognized as a center for life sciences and emerging technologies.
More than 1,000 companies have operations here including GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune and IBM. In the eastern part of the county, the U.S. Route 29 Corridor is another growing technology hub with more than 100 major employers. Its heart is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration headquarters that will eventually feature more than 2.1 million square feet of office, lab and support facilities. Montgomery is home to 44 tech companies on the Inc. 5000 list. Among them are Strategi, a specialized management and technology consulting firm, and Kamis Professional Staffing an IT talent recruiting company.
The county’s programs not just help new firms get off the ground; they create a welcoming atmosphere that makes owners consider Montgomery their home – not just a place to do business. Eric Thomas, CEO of L-Soft, decided to open his business in Montgomery County in 1994 instead of New York City because most of the talent he wanted to hire lived here. Later, when he moved L-Soft to Bethesda, he received a $25,000 check under the MOVE program, which helps new cybersecurity, green technology, IT and life sciences with their first-year rent.
“All this makes you feel welcome and that the government really cares,” Thomas says. “And while it is tough to find IT talent all over the country these days, it is easier here.” Thomas is not the only tech business owner who feels such gratitude. “Montgomery County has been good to us,” Sharon Frank, owner of InfraTrac says. “We started as a Maryland company, and funding programs helped us stay a Maryland company.” Frank saw the commercial potential in technology, developed at the University of Maryland, that uses a chemical marker to help prevent counterfeiting. She began InfraTrac In 2006, and two years later, moved into the Business Innovative Network incubator in Silver Spring.
“We are a virtual member. It gives us an address and access to services, and it has made us part of a community,” Frank says. “I can go to training sessions, get one-on-one counseling, learn from other members and use the conference rooms.” Montgomery County’s tax credits for certain kinds of investments have also helped her fund InfraTrac.
Kitchology Inc., which is developing a mobile food platform to deliver the optimum food experience to families with specific dietary needs, is home to the business incubator in Germantown. Owners Iris Sherman and Alain Briancon praise its inexpensive rent, well-appointed conference rooms and proximity to Washington, D.C. The incubator also provides them with a gateway to resources and funding sources, plus offers free parking. They hire interns from nearby colleges. The biggest boost to their two-year-old company was receiving a $100,000 loan from TEDCO, an independent organization founded by the Maryland legislature 1998. Only 15 such loans are awarded annually.
Sherman lived in Maine when she and Briancon decided to go into business together. It made more sense to start their company here, so she moved. Now their satisfaction with Montgomery County isn’t just about the money.
“Being an entrepreneur is very difficult, and the county does an excellent job being a catalyst and conduit for us,” Briancon says. “They are so in tuned to helping you make connections. Knowing people are working for you is a very good thing." But the advantages of being a tech company in Montgomery County go beyond the formal program offerings. “The structural help from the county is very beneficial, but there is also a subculture here of people helping each other. That is an eco-system that is very important to drive growth,” Briancon says.