The next big thing is out there, waiting to be found. And chances are good it can be found at the crossroads — that is to say, that divine intersection of a good idea; a fertile, receptive market; a persistent, confident entrepreneur; and more sleepless, work-filled nights than anyone in their right mind could ever be comfortable with.
A brief survey of technology incubators throughout Maryland revealed one universal truth: All incubator tenants tend to fit that description; otherwise they wouldn’t be there.
But some, it must be said, are definitely hitting their stride and preparing to make a name for themselves in a big way. The following list provides a sampling of these companies throughout the state, recommended by the incubator directors themselves.
Social Growth Technologies
Social Growth Technologies, a tenant of Columbia’s NeoTech Incubator, has created Social Ingot, an in-game advertising platform that allows users to engage with brands through gaming.
Founded in 2009 by Paul Capriolo, the company has figured out how to offer players in-game rewards for interacting with a brand. That could involve earning playing credits or virtual currency used in games just by watching a commercial, “liking” the brand on Facebook or making a purchase at a retail store, to name just a few examples.
“We saw new revenue models popping up, but current solutions weren’t meeting the needs of game developers,” Capriolo said. “We wanted to create something more technical and flexible that would monetize better and provide a better user experience.”
Response has been overwhelming, he said. “We can now reach more than 250 million unique users every month delivering billions of impressions. We work with some of the largest advertisers and brands in the world — and it’s only getting started.”
Social gaming has emerged as a hot opportunity for a number of reasons.
“It’s a young industry, it’s the fastest growing sector of the Web, and it’s changing every year, so companies that are adaptive and responsive will win,” Capriolo said. “What was missing was a solution that could meet the needs of every type of game on every type of platform and device. We wanted to provide the foundation for game developers and platforms to monetize in a way that made sense to their users.”
The Social Growth Technologies team understands both advertising and social gaming.
“Because we’re plugged into the community, we see what’s happening or guess where it’s headed,” Capriolo said. “We are ready to not just adapt, but influence the evolution.”
Next steps: international expansion while educating large brands and demonstrating how valuable and massive the new advertising channel can be for them.
Annapolis-based SemaConnect has been a tenant of the Chesapeake Innovation Center for 18 months, during which time founder Mahi Reddy has concentrated on bringing the ChargePro Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Station to market.
“At first it was an uphill climb,” Reddy observed, primarily because of the rarity of electric vehicles and a lack of consumer knowledge about them.
But after deploying more than 500 charging stations nationwide, with 1,500 more scheduled this year, interest has picked up on both the consumer and business side.
The charging industry is set to become a multi-billion-dollar industry, as all automakers have plans for introducing EVs, he said.
For now, ChargePro stations are aimed primarily at commercial locations, with hundreds installed at prominent Walgreens locations throughout the United States.
Locally, they can be found at BWI Airport and at the Knighton public parking garage on West Street in Annapolis.
A confluence of factors — decreasing EV production costs, global warming concerns, a waning appetite for foreign oil dependence — is driving the EV market, Reddy said, which bodes well for the success of EV charging stations in general.
SemaConnect went national in 2012, deploying a national sales team in major gateway cities that include New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.
The plan: develop and produce a complete line of charging stations, including solar stations completely off the grid, while expanding software-based tools that station owners and EV drivers can take advantage of.
“SemaConnect is set to become the top EV charging station company in the U.S.,” Reddy said. “We’re ready, we’re excited, and we’re happy to be moving our transportation sector into a cleaner, greener future.”
Tox Path Specialists LLC
A recent graduate of the Technical Innovation Center at Hagerstown Community College, Tox Path Specialists specializes in nervous system disorders, a niche area important for new drug development targeting maladies such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, strokes and potentially autism.
“What we do requires a level of professional and technical expertise not readily available in other companies, even in the largest pharmaceutical firms,” said founder Dr. Mark Butt. “As the nature of drug development gets more difficult and the targets for therapeutic intervention get more complex, the intellectual property of our company becomes increasingly more in demand.”
Tox Path Specialists has grown from a core of three individuals offering essentially strictly consulting services to a group of around 15 people providing a wider range of services.
These include advanced technical services (processing specimens to determine the safety and efficacy of particular therapies); professional services (scientific interpretation of tissue specimens); and morphometry (investigating the number and/or size of structures of interest, including neurons in the brain).
Post-graduation, the company plans to continue offering support services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms all over the world.
“As the population ages, a growing proportion of people will be experiencing neurodegenerative disease, so there will continue to be a push for therapies to improve the quality of life of affected individuals,” Butt said. “Presently, we have moved to larger facilities to better accommodate our scientific and technical needs.”
Scott Stouffer didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, just the cash-back process. Located at the Shady Grove Innovation Center in Rockville, his company, Grodo Inc., developed a cash-back rewards program that can be attached to existing credit and debit cards.
The idea, Stouffer said, was to create a savings vehicle that offers an incentive to increase spending at participating brand retailers. The software system securely and automatically tracks transactions, provides cash-back rewards earned for shopping at retail partners, and allows customers to review spending habits on a secure online dashboard.
“It doesn’t replace club cards or discount cards, but complements them,” Stouffer explained. “It’s designed to appeal to people who aren’t necessarily loyal shoppers, those who are spending money in a lot of different stores but could easily consolidate their purchases in one place.”
There are no points to redeem and no expiration dates, just a periodic check mailed to the consumer.
Grodo’s pilot program launched in November 2011 and targets roughly 50 stores in one central Pennsylvania region, with plans to expand to 1,000 stores by next year.
“We’re trying to prove that market value, and the initial data are extremely compelling,” Stouffer said.
Participating retailers at the moment include Weis Markets, Rite Aid drug stores and Sunoco gasoline stations.
“We will be building out our retailer alliance during the second half of this year and early next year, and hope to expand to a national footprint in about two-and-a-half years,” Stouffer said.
The initial market is driven largely by grocery retailers, where the largest portion of consumer spending lies. However, there’s potential for the concept to be picked up by other retail sectors.
“We’re also able to make ad hoc offers,” Stouffer noted, which could be used by clothing retailers or other stores to more easily offer percentage savings on targeted purchase levels during set periods such as the Christmas shopping season or back-to-school time.
“It feels pretty powerful,” Stouffer said. “Entrepreneurs are always optimistic, but we feel this really could be game-changing in the retail and consumer arena.”