Phillip M. Singerman, a senior Commerce Department official, yesterday was named the first president of a Maryland venture-capital fund formed to aid start-up technology companies in the state.

The agency, the Maryland Science, Engineering and Technology Development Corp. (Tedco), was created by the legislature last year to help bring to market promising innovations created at Maryland universities and federal laboratories. Its board of directors includes technology executives, academic officials and legislators.

The Glendening administration has not yet decided on its legislative budget request for Tedco, said Mike Lewin, state secretary of business and economic development, whose department funds Tedco.

Del. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee's science and technology subcom- mittee, said he hoped the new agency initially would receive about $2 million. Singerman, 54, will receive a $150,000 annual salary and could also receive bonuses from the Tedco board.

Singerman, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development since 1996, was at the center of a sharp debate between congressional Republicans and Democrats over similar federal innovation funds at the Commerce Department.

Republicans fought against the need for this government funding and questioned the ability of federal officials to choose the best candidates for it. Democrats said the Commerce programs helped launch companies whose technology innovations hadn't yet been recognized by the marketplace.

Singerman overhauled the department's Economic Development Administration, the chief target of Republican critics, and last year won the backing of the GOP-led Congress.

Before taking the Commerce Department position, Singerman headed the Ben Franklin Technology Center in Pennsylvania, a business-university partnership that helps fund technology firms in that state.

The Ben Franklin program had an $8 million loan program that attracted about $20 million in other funding from federal, business and nonprofit sources, Singerman said. Among its recent success stories is CDNow Inc., a Philadelphia-based online music retailer that got a boost from the Ben Franklin Center, he said.

"I think innovation comes from the interplay between the private sector, universities, federal labs . . . and the marketplace," Singerman said. A government-backed program such as Tedco won't substitute for private investment capital, but "it can help channel those funds [to start-ups] and make them grow more quickly than otherwise."

CAPTION: Phillip Singerman has been an assistant secretary of commerce.