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 you first connect with TEDCO?
GEORGE DAVIS: I wasn’t that familiar with the whole structure of TEDCO, other than what people talked about. I saw it a lot—I saw it in the tech transfer world at Hopkins. A few associates and temporaries in the field said, “You ought to think about this. It might be something you can really add some value to.” And so, I did. I looked, I peeled the onion, and I said, “hey, what a cool platform.” When I really started looking at it and the mission of it, I got really excited, and so I threw my name in the hat. I did a couple of presentations, met with the board, and must have said something right, because they offered me the position, and I didn’t hesitate. This was just a month or so ago. I decided to come on board, and today’s day two.
Q. Tell us about the direction you’re hoping to take TEDCO. What’s your overarching vision for the organization?
A. I put a presentation together and I really looked, outside looking in, at what we could do with this: What’s missing in Maryland? What are we trying to do? Any time I look at something, whether it’s as an investor or an advisor, or to run a business or get involved, I start with “What’s its purpose?” You have to have purpose and relevancy. You have to know why you’re doing what you do; the hows and whats you can figure out and with the right brand.
I bring a wealth of experience. I’ve been there in the trenches doing this. And as I told the people here, and I told the board, what we have to make sure we understand—and we all collectively have to do this—at the center of the universe has to be the inventor, the innovator, the startup, the entrepreneur—not us. We’re not the central leadership. We have to make them at the center of it, and we have to lift them up, and if we make them great, then we all win.
[They asked me:] “What would you do? First hundred days, what’s your vision for tech?” I said, “First of all, I’ve been looking at this thing from an outside-in [perspective], so I need to get in there and do an audit. I need to understand the culture, the pedigree of the people—the individuals—the projects, the programs, how to be a manager. What is the asset_what does it look like?” We got a guy here, John Wasilisin, who has put his arms around this thing for 10 years and really got it to where it is. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to lock arms with John to take this to the next step. John brings that compliance, that understanding of politics and legislature—that’s kind of new to me—but he also gets it. He’s been doing this for quite a long time. We’ve become very good friends very quickly, and I’m looking forward to working with him and the entire team to take TEDCO to the next step.
When I looked at TEDCO, I said, “Why am I here? Why did the board want somebody new in?” Well, because they believe they’ve got something really good here that can be made better. It needs to be changed. So, I’ve been brought here to make the change. I made the team understand that very explicitly. That can come in lot of ways. I said, “Don’t get too anxious. Turn that anxiety into energy. We’re going to do this together. But when I look at things that you’ve been building for years, see if we can do it a little better, or a little differently. Build a bigger message, a bigger model.”
I’m going to reach out there, get information, garnish it, understand it, find support and help, bring good advisors to play, and then we’re going to to put a plan in place to see what we have to do. I want everybody to buy into that. It’s got to be bought in by my board, it’s going to be bought in by the team. I need to lead it, but I need to have people follow and get on board with this vision of we want to do.
The word I use with the team is “extraordinary.” Let’s identify extraordinary things to do, and let’s go do them. Whether it’s garnishing more capital, whether it’s a big bench or conference in Maryland a year from now. Why can’t we think that way? Let’s think about doing extraordinary things. And at the end of the day, I think the most important thing we can all do is find extraordinary startups and get behind them.
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