Northrop Grumman Corp. (NGC) might not be the first business entity that one thinks of as being involved in a technology incubator.
But given the overload of new inventions in today’s high tech world that never see the light of day, the real trick is developing technologies and getting them to market. That’s why NGC has joined the trend of corporations partnering within the academic world by founding the Cync Program at UMBC’s Advantage Incubator@bwtech.
NGC’s interest is not only facilitating small business growth, but also facilitating the creation of new services to offer its clients — and it hopes that combination will lead to more lucrative government contracts in the growing cybersecurity field, while heightening its access to a pool of young talent from the university.
NGC and clients in the incubator can also collaborate with the faculty and students of UMBC, which graduates the most computer science and IT majors among Maryland research universities, according to U.S. Department of Education data.
The Cync Program’s research focus areas include, but are not limited to, situational awareness/visualization, sensors, processing, workflow management and modeling and simulation.
The center is one of the Advantage Incubator’s three services, said Vic Hess, partner with Columbia-based Genna Associates, who will be on-site to integrate, coach and assist the incubator residents. The other two are standard incubation, with Class A office space and support focused on cybersecurity solutions to the federal government; and what is known as the Beehive, which is offered by UMBC for professionals who fly into the area and want to operate in the local tech arena.
“It’s like renting office space, by the month in this case,” said Hess about the new 100,00-square-foot facility in the UMBC@bwtech Research Park. “If you’re in California and want to fly in here to do business, you have a place to hang your hat and work on integrating into the local cybersecurity community.”
But it’s the Cync Program that’s the big news today. It will offer companies that are developing a technology that fits into NGC’s plans 18 months of free rent, as the corporation introduces the new resident company to one of its corporate scientists from that given discipline.
“And while [NGC] teams with that company on procurement, they take no intellectual property or product rights,” Hess said. “While they want to use the technology when they do business, the incubator resident maintains ownership of the company.”
Breaking Down Barriers
“The key here is that what Northrop Grumman is doing is very innovative, because it’s unusual for a large corporation to offer those resources for emerging technology companies and combine it with incubation,” Hess said.
“That’s good for everyone because, for one, it targets entrepreneurs who are on a mission. If they’re focused, we can help them,” said Hess, adding that the goal is to create new knowledge and technology in the marketplace.
Locating at a university-run facility like UMBC@bwtech Research Park is also part of the plan (as it was for Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin and McLean, Va.-based Science Applications International Corp., both of which have paired up with the University of Maryland, College Park, in a similar fashion), as it offers access to professors and students.
It’s somewhat of a surprise to many observers, however, that the campus is in a federal Hub Zone.
“That qualifies the entrepreneurs for certain set-asides that are available for bid from the federal government. They are for low-income people — who, in this case, are the students,” said Hess. “They fit the designation.”
Alex Euler, director of the Advantage Incubator@bwtech and the Cync Program manager, said that he and Hess noticed the widening landscape for cybersecurity companies in Maryland and thus looked for an appropriate place to start a niche incubator, given the proximity to all of the area’s federal assets and intelligence agencies, notably NSA.
“We found a location and Chris Valentino [Northrop Grumman cybersecurity director and technical fellow] approached us about coming up with a technology acquisition program, since that’s not his expertise,” Euler said.
“We told him that one of the big barriers to technology startups is access to leasing space, since it can be expensive,” he said, “and when you are dealing with the tech community, there can be other hurdles, like gaining entrance to a particular sector.
“As it turned out, [NGC] liked our business incubation and contacts,” he said. “So we started Cync [which accounts for about 40% of the space in the incubator], which is a corporate venture program. So Northrop Grumman will invest business and technology resources into these startups and help them develop cybersecurity technologies.”
A New Door Opens
Euler said that the incubator accepts companies on a rolling basis. “Our target incubation period is 18 months, which is an aggressive, but flexible schedule. We will keep our tenants as long as progress is being made,” he said.
As for NGC’s end, the corporation has signed an agreement to run the program at UMBC for three years and hopes to have eight companies in the Cync program soon; to date, two have been accepted. “We’re pursuing companies locally and nationally,” said Euler, noting that he just returned from California and Texas. “We get several applications a week.”
Valentino said that technology incubators represent a first step for NGC “in building our cyber ecosystem, where we can discover new technologies, develop them and accelerate them into the marketplace,” he said.
“This is a new endeavor for us,” Valentino said. “We wanted to, in an innovative way, open our eyes to new technologies and the small businesses that are creating them. We’re hoping to provide a bridge to make those types of connections, be they from tech transfer concepts or individuals coming up with great ideas.
“Our goal,” he said, “is to create an environment in which innovators are creating new technology and new ideas and giving them the opportunity to expose them broadly. We’re the enabler. That’s our role in this case.”
Follow the Market
Another reason for NGC to join the incubator is the recognition of where the market is heading.
“Much of the innovation that is occurring in cybersecurity is coming from the startup and early stage companies,” said Ellen Hemmerly, executive director of bwtech@UMBC Research & Technology Park.
On UMBC’s end, the impetus to start the incubator came from a couple of directions.
“About 18 months ago we started getting approached by small, minority-owned businesses,” Hemmerly said, “and, of course, we’re in a federal hub zone. We’re fortunate to have that designation, and they knew that it could be beneficial to them, as is our location near Fort Meade, D.C.,” etc.
That’s when UMBC founded the Advantage Incubator, offering 3,500 square feet, and that was occupied by six companies, including Fearless Systems, Intellibit, Farfield Systems, Premiere Management, Technology Security Associates and the Nixon Group.
Hemmerly said that only Farfield is moving into the incubator’s new building, but, happily, it’s into its own space; Premiere grew as well, and moved to Columbia.
But what’s really exciting, Hemmerly said, is that UMBC already has a good collection of startup, medium-sized and large (like NGC and Telcordia) companies in the new Advantage Incubator.
“The larger companies and the startups are complementary and we expect business opportunities to happen between those sectors,” she said. “Large companies need to partner with small businesses for government contracts as subcontractors, and for set-asides that are there for small businesses. The setup is mutually beneficial.”