The download: Two leaders leave Tech Council of Maryland

By Steven Overly
Monday, February 14, 2011

Two top directors at the Tech Council of Maryland announced plans to leave the organization within a few days of one another, leaving leadership vacancies at one of the state's most ardent supporters of the high-tech and biotechnology industries.

Rick Harris left his role as executive director of the MdTech division in late January to head the Association of Proposal Management Professionals. Then last week, Ric Zakour announced his intention to retire as executive director of MdBio, the council's biotechnology arm, in March.

Those divisions merged to form the Tech Council in 2006 after separate trade associations representing the high-tech and biotech industries set aside differences to combine voices. Both Harris and Zakour said they have played a role in shaping the organization post-merger, taking it from a sleepy group to one with regular education and networking events, as well as a strong presence in Annapolis.

"It was an association, I would say as little as seven to 10 years ago, that only held networking or social events," said Harris, who had been with TCM for six years. "We concentrated on giving people the best education mixed with a social event so they could go out and win new work."

Harris's move puts him at the helm of an international association after 23 years in the field. The group, which will relocate to Washington, represents those who draft proposals to win government contracts. Zakour, a veteran of Maryland's biotechnology industry, said he'll take some time to put personal affairs in order, but doesn't expect to be out of pocket for long.

"I just sort of want to sit back and take a look at what's there, but sit back and not make any predetermined judgments," Zakour said. "That's something I've never done before."

Renee Winsky, the council's chief executive since July 2009, said there aren't immediate plans to reconceive the organization's leadership structure, but the dual vacancies provide an opportunity to stop and consider whether the current system best serves the member companies.

The departures come as the group is actively lobbying state legislators, but Winsky said between a full-time lobbyist, herself and an active board, the organization's voice won't fall silent. "In the next 60 days, we'll figure out what we need in terms of staffing," she said.

Server switch

The iPhone debuted on the Verizon network last week, ushering in the first competition for the Apple smartphone among carriers since the device hit shelves in 2007. Even before consumers had them in hand, tech and business circles pondered whether Verizon would steal subscribers from AT&T.

If that is the case, it could keep the folks at Sterling-based Neustar busy. Part of the company's business involves switching telephone numbers from one carrier to another when a number's owner changes networks, said Steve Edwards, senior vice president of carrier services.

He declined to comment on whether the company expects to see a mass conversion due to the iPhone-Verizon deal. Neustar said the company must adhere to strict neutrality guidelines in order to keep the trust of every carrier.

Entrepreneurship U.

George Mason University has begun raising a $1 million fund to provide grants to start-ups whose technology-in-development demonstrates market potential. Roger Stough, vice president for research and economic development, will oversee the program, named the Mason Enterprise Initiative.

As part of the program, McLean-based venture capital firm Amplifier Ventures plans to establish a satellite office on campus. Stough said the university will also reach out to other local venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to help the institution decide which of its own intellectual properties should be brought to market.

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