John W. Holaday, the former biotech executive, looks a little out of place as he peers out from behind a bank teller's desk. There should be old-fashioned glass windows between the money handlers and the customers, he decides while knocking on the cherry wood frame. As he steps into the bank's steel-encased vault, a look of reverence washes over his face.
This is not just any bank to Holaday. It's the one he has spent the past year working to establish with partner John P. "Jack" Hollerbach. The crown molding has yet to be installed, the pneumatic tube from the deposit box outside to the office isn't quite up to speed, and the branch is filled with unpacked boxes instead of customers. But within weeks Holaday expects to be the proud chairman of a fully operational community bank in Rockville.
It seems an odd career move for the man known primarily for his work fostering the development of experimental protein-based cancer treatments at EntreMed Inc., the Gaithersburg biotechnology firm he founded in 1992. But to hear Holaday talk, his life's work led to the formation of Harvest Bank of Maryland, among the wet labs and centrifuges of Maryland's biotech industry.
"What fascinated me was how to take concepts from bench to bedside," Holaday said, leaning deeply back in his chair in the confident manner of one who has completed the conception-to-delivery process before. "If we think of ourselves as a community along the 270 corridor . . . there is an amazing gathering of professionals here. But a lot of these people, like me, often have no training in finance," he said.
What most of those people do know, he added, is that their businesses need financing in order to survive. Harvest Bank aims to help them get that financing while providing a range of conventional bank services to employers and employees.
Holaday, 59, retired from EntreMed in early 2003. He had seen the company through an initial public offering, a bubble that pushed its stock to above $98 a share in 1998 and then the threat of running out of cash when early drug trials produced disappointing results. Several months after Holaday's early retirement, he met Hollerbach, a longtime banker, at a meeting of the Washington Dinner Club, an organization of angel investors led by John May.
Holaday and Hollerbach, 51, established an immediate rapport and began to talk about combining their strengths. Hollerbach, whose career included stints at Citibank, Maryland National, Bank of Baltimore, and Cardinal Bank, spent two weeks creating a business plan for a start-up bank that would target the state's life sciences and technology professionals. The document was two inches thick and contained strategies for five years of growth.
By December, the two incorporated the Bank for Biotech Investment Group, a holding company for Harvest Bank. Hollerbach, who likes to compare his partnership with Holaday to the complementary combination of chocolate and peanut butter, says Harvest's targeted vision is what differentiates it from his previous banking ventures.
Harvest will cater to biotechnology firms, medical practices, government contractors and information technology companies. The goal, Holaday and Hollerbach contend, is to become something similar to the old post offices of the Wild West, serving as both a community nerve center and a place of business. In addition to the usual commercial and retail banking services, the founders want Harvest to trade in introductions -- connecting customers with venture capitalists, lawyers and accountants.
"They will come and bank with us because they know us, because we're part of the community," said Hollerbach, now Harvest's president and chief executive.
And if the tech executives who are Harvest's potential customers don't know Hollerbach or Holaday, they'll likely know -- or want to know -- one of the bank's board members. To get the bank off the ground, its founders recruited a group of investors and advisers that resembles an abbreviated yearbook of local tech luminaries.
In addition to Holaday and Hollerbach, the bank's board includes Marie C. Johns, former president of Verizon Washington; Raymond J. Briscuso, executive director of Biotechnology Industry Organization, a national trade association based in the District; S. Tien Wong, former president of CyberRep, a McLean call center company that was acquired in March 2003; J.D. Murphy, president of Computech Inc. of Bethesda and former chairman of the Maryland Technology Council; and John J. McDonnell, co-founder of Bethesda Bioscience Partners.
Holaday said he still gets looks of surprise when he tells people what he's up to now. But that's quickly followed, he added, by inquiries about how soon Harvest will be open for business.
"I thought it was incredibly novel, and I thought there was a real need in that marketplace," said board member Tien Wong, who leads Opus8, a private equity firm in Chevy Chase. Wong was introduced to the idea when Holaday and Hollerbach returned to a meeting of the Dinner Club, this time as presenters rather than investors. "I think high-technology companies have a different need than low-technology companies and having a board and some senior executives who have gone through this type of growth cycle will be helpful for them."
Harvest Bank's success is far from a sure thing. Holaday and Hollerbach say they are within weeks of closing on the $10 million in funding needed to launch the bank, but the real challenge will come in persuading businesses to abandon their current accounts to sign on with a start-up. The partners are not short on ambition. Within five years, they want to have a network of banks stretching from Bethesda to Frederick and from Potomac into Howard County.
But right now the goal is to open the heavy, gold-colored doors of Harvest's first branch. Pleased with the progress made inside the bank, Holaday is equally charmed by what's going on around it.
"To our right is Invitrogen. To our left is EntreMed," Holaday said, pointing in one direction and then the other. "Down the street is the Institute for Genomics Research. Adventist Hospital is over there."
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every other Thursday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.