The Download: Maryland’s tech council asks for help for biotechnology entrepreneurs

Montgomery County’s decision to close a business incubator for biotechnology companies to make way for a cybersecurity center has presented something of a dilemma for the Tech Council of Maryland.

As a trade organization representing both the state’s life sciences and advanced technology industries, the either-or scenario presents a situation in which some portion of its members will be left disappointed.

In a letter sent to County Executive Isiah Leggett last week, TCM’s chief executive, Philip Schiff, asked county leaders to provide the displaced firms with relocation assistance, but stopped short of calling on them to keep the incubator open. In the long term, Schiff said the county needs to reaffirm its support for the biotechnology industry and rethink the way it provides support to its entrepreneurs.

“Gone are the days when a real estate-centric incubator model successfully serviced entrepreneurs. To remain competitive, we must build a new model that offers a broader suite of service for innovation companies, from investment resources and mentoring to networking and access to operational expertise.”

Still, Schiff writes that the arrival of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence presents a unique opportunity for the county and state to become a hub for the fast-growing cybersecurity industry. That could mean more companies, jobs and tax revenue.

“Montgomery County has a unique opportunity to build on its legacy of success and create a new national model for supporting early stage technology entrepreneurs. Careful consideration of the interests of all technology disciplines — cyber, life sciences, and advanced technologies — is an essential stepping-stone toward that goal,” the letter states.

a family affair

Serial entrepreneur Sean Glass is embarking on yet another business venture, and this time it’s a family affair.

GBS Health and its associated doctors aim to provide more efficient health care by using facilities that are designed to allow specialty physicians, such as obstetricians and gynecologists, to conduct consultations, surgeries and follow-up visits for patients whose procedures don’t require a hospital stay.

Glass serves as chairman and chief executive. His father, an anesthesiologist, is president and chief medical officer.

The start-up intends to build a network of medical offices and physicians in Maryland over time by purchasing independent practices from doctors. Glass expects the first deal to close in the next two to three months.

Glass may be best known as the founder and former executive of Higher One, a company that provides financial services to universities and their students. More recently, he founded EmployInsight, which makes software for firms to assess potential hires.

Glass is also the managing partner of Acceleprise, the District-based accelerator for enterprise technology companies.

“I tend to think about things in more fundamental business terms. That’s really applicable to health care. How do the economics work? Why is it done that way? Is there a better way to do it?” Glass said.

Health care presents a much larger market than his prior ventures, Glass said, but it also comes with a much broader range of legal and regulatory obstacles. Thus, the firm has retained advisers and lawyers with a deeper knowledge of the health care market, he said.

A deal for Audax

District-based Audax Health got a financial booster shot last week when Optum, a subsidiary of United Health Group, acquired a majority stake in its business, the companies announced.

The terms of the deal, including the size of Optum’s ownership and the amount paid for it, were not disclosed.

Audax Health got its start in 2010 as a social network where people suffering from chronic illnesses could learn more about their condition and connect with other patients. The company has expanded since then into a trio of software products that helps people assess, track and improve their overall health.

Chief executive Grant Verstandig said that the infusion of cash from Optum, along with access to its vast network of care givers and patients, will allow the company to accelerate its plans to reach more customers.

“The vision, the mission and the values of the business are being kept 100 percent intact,” Verstandig said.

Audax counts 120 employees to date, split between its offices in Georgetown and San Francisco. The company hired former Zynga chief operating officer David Ko in December to serve as president and COO.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries. Steven graduated from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. He resides in the District.
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