Innovation Center Opening Its Doors to Start-Up Firms

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2008

The promise of a science and technology project to bring together business leaders and college students on a campus in Germantown is a step closer, with the planned opening this fall of an innovation center to nurture start-up companies.

The Germantown Innovation Center, on the upper county campus of Montgomery College, is to take in its first tenants in the coming weeks, with a grand opening for the 32,000-square-foot business incubator set for Oct. 20.

The development comes as the first glimmer of a larger project that will span at least the next 10 years at Montgomery College in Germantown. Also planned are an $85 million Bioscience Education Center, with classrooms and state-of-the-art laboratories for students, and a 40-acre Science and Technology Business Park, intended to create a hub of biotech businesses in a place where students can learn from them.

"It's very exciting," said Hercules Pinkney, provost and vice president of the college's Germantown campus, as he walked around construction crews last week in the renovated building that will soon become home to the innovation center.

With the three-part biotechnology project, officials said they hope to capitalize on the campus's location along the Interstate 270 corridor, where an array of biotech businesses, dubbed "DNA Alley," exists. The campus is also within reach of notable federal laboratories and installations.

"We're trying to create a synergistic environment between the businesses, the faculty and the students," Pinkney said.

The first part of the project is the innovation center, a $6.65 million county project, funded with state assistance. It is intended to host 25 to 35 start-up companies, with county economic development officials providing business and technical support.

About 30 to 40 percent of the tenants are expected to be bioscience-related, and 50 percent might be technology firms, said John Korpela, manager of the county's incubator program.

"We're already showing the space to prospects," said Korpela, who added that a move-in date for the first companies could come early next month, depending on occupancy permits.

The innovation center will be on the second floor of the campus's new Goldenrod Building, for which the college secured a lease-purchase agreement. The college is subleasing about half of the space to the county. The building will have college classrooms, conference rooms and faculty offices on its first floor.

Ultimately, Pinkney said, "start-up companies will have a place to be nurtured, grow and then grow into the business park."

For students, benefits of the larger project will include internships and part-time jobs with biotech firms. College officials said they also hope that business leaders will become guest lecturers and curriculum advisers.

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