Celebrating Survival

In Baltimore's Tech Sector

Annapolis-based USinternetworking Inc. may have gone through several rounds of layoffs, a few top executive changes and a tough stint operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but none of that mattered much last Thursday.

The 900 people gathered at the Baltimore Convention Center were there for good news: USi survived, as did many of the tech firms in the area.

Five years ago, the newly formed Greater Baltimore Technology Council held its first TechNite, a celebration that aimed to form a more cohesive tech community in the Baltimore area. As if to prove that an industry existed, the organization called on 10 local entrepreneurs to tell their stories.

Last week, having gone through the downturn and slow recovery, the group revisited those 10 companies. "A couple of years ago, the pundits declared that tech was dead, irrelevant to our region," said Newt Fowler, the organization's chairman. They were wrong, he concluded.

So the audience was treated to an off-Broadway interpretation of each company's fate, with actors providing beatnik-style narration to the beat of drums.

Nauticos Corp., a Hanover ocean exploration company, recovered an engineering submarine that was lost in 1968 but, the narrator noted wryly, has yet to find Amelia Earhart. The company was acquired by Houston-based Oceaneering International Inc. in 2003. Thus, mark one up in the success category.

None of the 10 from five years ago was counted a complete failure, though the performers did note the struggles of Hunt Valley tech support and testing firm Absolute Quality Inc. after its largest customer, a dot-com, went out of business and stopped paying the bills. A merger with Vinciti Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., helped keep the firm alive.

The biggest cheer of the night went to the company that may have put Baltimore on the national tech radar: Advertising.com, which scrapped a business model, endured the Internet advertising drought and was acquired by America Online Inc. in June for $435 million.

-- Ellen McCarthy

Shawn Dann adjusts a search system that Nauticos uses to comb the ocean floor.