Catalyzing growth and collaboration among innovative organizations in Maryland’s startup ecosystem
George Davis is the incoming CEO of The Maryland Technology Development Corporation, otherwise known as TEDCO. Since its creation in 1998, TEDCO has been a leading provider of funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, innovators, and early-stage companies in Maryland and beyond. The organization runs a broad range of programs focused on bringing groundbreaking ideas to life and forging business collaborations between Maryland’s many science, technology, and educational institutions.
TEDCO’s board of directors appointed George as CEO in June. Prior to joining the organization, George held leadership positions at a number of a investment, research, engineering, and technology firms, including GM3/Gamma 3, Gemstone Biotherapeutics, Perthera, Avatech Solutions/Rand Worldwide Inc, and Aether Systems.
EDWIN WARFIELD: How did your prior roles lead you into the Maryland startup community?
GEORGE DAVIS: I joined the board of a company called Avatech Solutions, based out in Owings Mill, Maryland. I was actually recruited by Jim Hindman, who was the founder of Jiffy Lube. He became a very good friend of mine. They were a large reseller of Autodesk-based CAD products, so it was big nationwide sales force, an engineering force, providing someone else’s software and support, all across the country. It was the first time I ever had to manage a big sales force so I learned a lot from that. The CEO was moving out, they were looking for someone to come in—lo and behold, I landed the job.
I looked at restructuring the business. It had gotten a little ahead of itself from a cost perspective and expenditure perspective. How do you create value in a reselling business? Well, you generate cash—that’s the only way to create value—and you try to grow it, so that’s what we were doing. We were skinning down the expenses but expanding sales opportunities, and we were moving in the right direction. It was $60–70 million of sales business; had the potential to get to a $100 million.
What I had to do at that company was double its size. It was the only way to create value for the shareholder. It was a public company, a microcap company, very tough to run and create value. I had to make it bigger. I found a partner, a company called Rand Worldwide that was based in Canada, and which had recently been acquired by a private equity firm. We got together and I brought the companies together. This was in 2009, 2010.
In 2010, we got the deal done. It doubled the size. It became Rand Worldwide, but it stayed in Maryland. Its headquarters are still here up in Owings Mills. Now, it’s a $100–110 million type business, good profits.
In 2012, I was looking for some things to do. Dave [Oros] and I sat over a cup of coffee and talked about some things we could do, and he said, “Hey, you know, Baltimore needs us. Baltimore needs more seed fund. There’s a tremendous amount of untapped research and science here, and people are leaving, and we’ve got to try and help.” I said, “great idea.” We found some other partners, put some money together, started a little platform, and called it Gamma3.
We got very involved with tech transfer. We had some friends of friends—we knew Aris Melissaratos up at Hopkins, and we looked at APL and University of Maryland—and we said, “wow, over $2 billion of research money’s gone through these zip codes every year—there has got to be some great opportunity here.” Lo and behold, we found seven companies to invest in. Some we started, some we tagged along. Six were life science, one was a cybersecurity play. Imagine that: life science and cyber in Maryland. I’m happy to report they are all doing very well.
One of the portfolio companies we had was called Gemstone, and the inventor did not want to leave Hopkins. We looked at it very closely, did some options and some studies, and ended up agreeing to start a company in licensing technology. They asked if I would run it for a while. Why not? I jumped on board. Two-and-a-half, three years later, I was still running it. I got to work with some great young PhDs. I worked with Sharon Gerecht up at the engineering school and then we tacked on another technology from the medical school, so had a series of IPM patents, two cool technologies for advanced wound care. Over the years, working with a very small team, including a lot of consultants and advisors, we de-risked the technology and had made it really ready for commercialization. That company right now, as I transition away from that, is getting the funds necessary to move both of those products to FDA approval.
One of the things we wanted to do with Gamma3 was not just provide capital, but we wanted to keep resources here. Watching people get educated at Hopkins and then leave is not a fun thing to observe. I’m happy to report that our companies will keep the people right here, and recruit people into the region—a great thing. We get a lot of co-investing with the Abell Foundation, some of the partners with Camden, so I’ve gotten re-exposed to the innovation economy in Maryland, and I’ve really loved what I’ve seen from the passion, people, and technology perspective.
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