The University of Maryland has recruited Ken Ulman, the former Howard county executive who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, to transform College Park into a Silicon Valley-like hub filled with incubators and start-up companies.
Ulman announced Monday that he has formed a consulting firm, Margrave Strategies, and said the firm’s first principal client will be the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, the university’s separate fundraising arm.
Ulman’s role will be to find businesses and entrepreneurs who want to form partnerships with the university or bring new energy to College Park by locating their offices there.
U-Md. President Wallace Loh said he and other school officials have been trying to launch such a makeover for years, with limited success. They’re academics, Loh said, and they needed someone who knows how to bring together business owners, venture capitalists and innovative thinkers.
“How do I do that?” Loh said. “I don’t know. But other universities have done it by hiring the Ken Ulmans of the world.”
Ulman, a graduate of U-Md. and Georgetown University’s law school, was elected to the Howard County Council in 2002 and won the first of his two terms as county executive four years later. During his administration, the fast-growing county endured the recession and then had a boom of development. The Democrat was 32 when he started, making him the youngest elected county executive in the state.
He took pride in bringing a younger perspective to the office and challenging the way the county had done things. Changes his administration brought included streamlining the application process for county jobs, reducing the number of county vehicles employees were allowed to take home and getting rid of sugary sodas in county facilities.
Ulman launched an entrepreneurship center to support local businesses, helped manufacturing companies adapt cutting-edge techniques and opened the Conscious Venture Lab to nurture entrepreneurs who are also looking to do good.
Ulman was a fundraising powerhouse for Brown. On the campaign trail, Ulman focused heavily on job creation and strengthening the state’s economy, areas where Brown was accused of not doing enough.
While campaigning, Ulman was nearly always joined by his wife, Jaki. The two met while students at the University of Maryland in the mid-1990s. Their two young daughters, Maddie and Lily, often campaigned with them. The day before the election, 8-year-old Lily joined Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to perform at a get-out-the-vote concert at a retirement community.
Ulman said he was stunned by Brown’s loss to Republican Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman who campaigned on a platform of controlling spending and cutting taxes. As Brown conceded the race on election night, Ulman stood behind him, looking as if he had been punched in the gut. Jaki Ulman cried.
The Brown-Ulman ticket lost by a small margin in Howard, where voters also chose Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman to succeed Ulman as county executive.
Ulman found himself essentially unemployed after Kittleman’s swearing-in this month. He struggled to explain the loss to his daughters.
But the unexpected defeat was liberating in some ways, Ulman said. For the first time in years, he could choose what he wanted to do with his time. And he was excited by a flurry of job offers and opportunities — none more so than the opportunity to work with his alma mater.
“I kept coming back to the role the University of Maryland plays — and the role that the University of Maryland could and should play,” Ulman said.
The university’s potential to be even more of an economic driver in the state was something that Ulman and Loh had discussed during the campaign, and it was something they came back to after the election. When Ulman talked through his options, his wife and others noted that his voice changed when he talked about the university.
“To me, there are just so many exciting things happening at the University of Maryland, College Park,” Ulman said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface.”
In addition to working as a consultant to the university, Ulman will teach a class about innovation in government.
He said he hopes his client list will grow and said his firm — named for the street in Columbia where he grew up — will provide advice on strategy and fostering innovation.
At this point, Ulman said, he has no plans to run again for political office. But he noted his age and added, “I wouldn’t close any doors.”