November 8, 2011

Hopkins biotech startup raising $1M for eye disease treatment tech

A biotech startup called Graybug LLC is about two-thirds of the way to raising $1 million in equity financing from investors to fund its efforts to develop technologies to fight eye diseases.

Graybug filed the SEC disclosure today, and noted it had already raised $610,000.

Graybug's founder and CEO is Justin Hanes, a biotechnology professor at Johns Hopkins University who also co-founded Kala Pharmaceuticals.

Also listed on the filing as a director is Christy Wyskiel, who is a board member at another Baltimore biotech, BioMarker Strategies, and a CEO of Cureveda, another Baltimore biotech.

Baltimore biotechs continue to attract funding. Check out my coverage here from over the past couple years. The state's biotech tax credit has been a big help for biotech startups in Maryland, who are able to lure investors who then get a nice tax credit for the money they put into a biotech startup in this state. (Graybug raised the money without help from the state biotech tax credit.)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BioTech, University Tech

August 29, 2011

Cool app: University app turns smartphones into live broadcast tool for security

Computer scientists at the University of Maryland have built a first-of-its-kind smartphone app that automatically connects students and staff with campus police by opening up video and audio feeds on their devices.

The app is called "M-Urgency," and for now, it's going to work with Android phones. An iPhone version is coming for the campus.

I have more details in my Sunday story about the app and the burgeoning business of campus security apps.

But don't expect those quaint "blue light poles" -- the ones with the phones that patch you through directly to campus security -- to go the way of the dodo bird anytime soon.


[Image source:]

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets, University Tech

December 14, 2010

Growing Bwtech@UMBC, from life sciences to cybersecurity

Frank Turano was a biology and genetics researcher and professor tied to George Washington University, while his wife was a professor specializing in sensory systems at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

When it came time for the couple to launch their own startup, they looked around Maryland for public and private incubators and ultimately decided on Bwtech at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

“We looked for support to grow a business,” said Turano, who launched Plant Sensory Systems three years ago, a small firm that investigates how to modify plant genes so they produce more biofuel and require less fertilizer. They have five full-time employees now.

“We liked the track record here,” Turano said.

While the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Hopkins have attracted headlines in recent years for developing bioparks in the city, the Bwtech Research and Technology Park has been chugging along for more than two decades, steadily expanding the number of companies and employees that call it home.

More recently, Bwtech officials are targeting cybersecurity, striking a partnership with Northrop Grumman last month to attract researchers and experts who could launch their own companies.
Cybersecurity is currently white-hot in academia, at least among Maryland’s public campuses.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration is trying to push the state into the forefront of the industry, drawing on key government facilities in Maryland, such as the National Security Agency at Fort Meade.

The University of Maryland, College Park recently created the Maryland Cybersecurity Center to promote education, research and technology in the sector. The University of Maryland University College this year launched bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in cybersecurity.
Bwtech@UMBC — as it is known in shorthand — is among 20 publicly sponsored incubators across Maryland.

Across the country, incubators have grown popular as a way to counteract the effects of a punishing recession. With some early funding, hardworking entrepreneurs and investors are taking bets on future growth during a down economy.

Startup companies are attracted to incubators for a variety of reasons, including the potential for low rent, a collaborative working environment with like-minded professionals and guidance from industry veterans.

The Bwtech park, spread across six buildings on two campuses on more than 40 acres, has focused on helping launch startups in the life sciences industry and clean energy. Five of the buildings in the Bwtech North campus, in Catonsville, have been built within the past decade and feature newer office space.

A sixth building, Bwtech South in Halethorpe, was formerly the Martin Marietta research lab, which the state bought in the mid-1990s. The sprawling building near Route 195 is home to Bwtech’s life sciences incubator companies. This building houses companies that have a need for lab space.

Three years ago, the companies that were based at Bwtech numbered more than 900 employees. Today, more than four dozen companies and research organizations employ more than 1,200 people, officials said.

Fifty-two companies, or 91 percent of Bwtech’s incubator companies since 2000, are either still in operation or have been sold, while a small percentage went out of business, according to program statistics.

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July 12, 2010

Biotech: Baltimore needs its own MedImmune?

In yesterday's Sunday Business cover story, I looked at the state of Baltimore's biotech industry, and compared it to its larger cousin to the south, in Montgomery County. Take a read.


What Baltimore's biotech industry needs: an 'anchor'
Young biotech startups hope to grow into major players, fueled by state tax credits and research from Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland

By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

July 11, 2010

Baltimore's biotechnology industry has made strides. Two biotech parks by the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland now anchor the east and west sides of the city. A few dozen biotech startups have made their home here.

But Baltimore's nascent biotech industry doesn't yet have a breakout company — a darling of venture capitalists and Wall Street that has grown past the risky and unprofitable startup phase to achieve a steady stream of revenue and products in the pipeline.

A company like MedImmune in Montgomery County, which produces an H1N1 flu virus vaccine, among others.

"There's no giant here, but it would be nice to have one," Aris Melissaratos said about Baltimore. He's a special adviser for enterprise development at Hopkins and a former head of the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "Every company that starts up strives to do that. Very few succeed."

The future of Baltimore's biotechnology industry remains to be seen. Industry observers put the city up to two decades behind the biotech hub that has taken root along the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery.

While Baltimore's bioparks are still being built, Montgomery planners are moving forward on a $10 billion "science city" with 17.5 million square feet for research and development. That county has more than 250 of the state's 380 bioscience companies, with such heavy hitters as MedImmune and Human Genome Sciences. Baltimore has about 40 biotech companies.

But Baltimore has scored some wins recently, by landing the new headquarters of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, with its $100 million endowment, at the Hopkins Science + Technology Park. And the University of Maryland BioPark is planning a third building for young biotech companies.

Another indicator of how well Baltimore is faring in the intrastate biotech race is an annual Maryland tax credit that lets investors recoup half their investment — up to $250,000 — in a biotech company. Over the past year, 14 Maryland companies were able to attract investors who tapped the credit. Five were based in the Baltimore area.

The companies, by virtue of being savvy enough to attract investors in a tough economy, are some of the bright spots in the industry — and potential future breakouts.

In biotech, success can beget success. MedImmune, which was bought by AstraZeneca International in 2007 for more than $15 billion, has spurred new companies to locate nearby, to do business with it or tap into its talent. The company employs 1,400 in Gaithersburg, and several hundred more at a manufacturing facility in Frederick.

Continue reading "Biotech: Baltimore needs its own MedImmune?" »

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

January 20, 2010

UMBC tops in computer and information science degrees

Update: In this post, originally published Friday, Jan. 15, I initially omitted the University of Maryland, College Park in the table below. I updated the table to include UMCP figures. Also, on the jump, you'll find a letter from two deans from UMCP who were distressed with my omission. It was an honest oversight made in manually transferring the data into a new table; my apologies, folks. -Gus


The CyberMaryland report released this week by Gov. O'Malley is chock-full of interesting factoids and charts, one of which I republished (and modified a little) below.

You'll see a list of Maryland colleges and universities in alphabetical order, followed by the number of bachelor's and graduate degree students they have in computer and information sciences.

I added the "percent of total" column to give us all a sense of each school's computer/info science geeks relative to their entire student body.

As you can see, UMBC in Catonsville stands well above the rest, and churns out many, many undergraduates in the fields.

Hopkins, on the other hand, has a good number of graduate students. Now, who wants to see some statistics on how many of these students actually stick around and work in Maryland after they get their degrees? 


Continue reading "UMBC tops in computer and information science degrees " »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:45 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: East Coast, University Tech

November 18, 2009

Towson U., National Federation of the Blind re-invent CAPTCHA


Researchers at Towson University and the National Federation of the Blind, based here in Baltimore, have come up with a new and more accessible twist on the CAPTCHA services -- you know, those squiggly, hard-to-read letters us humans are forced to enter in a Web application to verify that we're human and not malicious bots.

CAPTCHA technology has been around for more than 10 years and its history has been a sort of arms race between security geeks and hackers. New types of CAPTCHAs are devised, but hackers can write programs that can "read" the letters and numbers. Meanwhile, people with disabilities can struggle with trying to get past the CAPTCHA security, because they have trouble seeing or hearing the CAPTCHA codes.

Computer viruses have an easier time than people with disabilities in getting past some CAPTCHA systems, according to Towson professor Jonathan Lazar, who worked on the new system with the NFB.

"Unfortunately what happens is it becomes very often not a test of if you're human, but a test of whether you can see," Lazar said. "Basically, computer viruses are twice as successful as blind people on the old captchas. It's a problem, and that's why we've been working on building this."

Here's how the Towson system works: The user is shown both a picture and a sound of an easy to identify object. In the case above, we see birds, drums, lion.

Corresponding sounds for each object are then played for the user, who types in what she hears. Lazar said their algorithms can accept variations of the user input, such as plurals, i.e. bird/birds, drum/drums, lion/lions. This type of security approach works because humans are still far better than computers at recognizing sounds and putting names to them, according to Lazar.

The Towson researchers recently filed a patent application for their system, which they call HIPUU (Human Interacting Proof Universally Usable.)

Who knows -- maybe sometime soon this will become the new standard.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:18 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: *NEWS*, University Tech, Web Dev & Apps

October 30, 2009

9 common mistakes to avoid as a startup

jimchungMtech.jpg At the University of Maryland Start-Up Boot Camp last week in College Park, Jim Chung, left, presented his list of common mistakes to avoid as a startup.

Chung is director of the MTech Venture Accelerator program at the university.

Here's his list (paraphrased):

Common Mistakes:

*) You have technology that's looking for a solution (as opposed to tech that immediately solves an existing problem).

*) You make too many assumptions about market share you stand to gain (you engage in top-down assumptions vs. bottom-up validation and lack customer understanding).

*) You have a "nice to have" vs. a "need to have" solution.

*) Thinking: "We have no competition."

*) You have no clear revenue model or path to profitability.

*) Your team is incomplete.

*) You don't have any metrics to measure your progress.

*) Lack of focus.

*) Failure to address the risks head-on.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:58 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, Events (Baltimore area), Startups, University Tech

October 23, 2009

Live blogging the tech startup bootcamp at University of Maryland

Updates will appear at the top of this post:


2:12 pm -- I just spent the past hour interviewing several highly entrepreneurial UM students and a faculty member. Their ideas were fascinating to listen to (aside: I love my job!) I'm gonna spend the next hour working on my print edition story for tomorrow, and then come back around 3:30 pm to cover the 1-minute "Pitch Dingman" sessions, where students will give 1-minute pitches in front of the audience and judges for a $100 prize. Stay tuned!

1:00 pm -- Gordon, the Valhalla Partners research director, was also asked about how entrepreneurs should approach attracting venture capitalists and raising money, without losing too much control of their companies. Gordon advised that it was wise to attract more than one investor. "Venture capitalists are like martinis. One is great, two is better...four is teetering toward catastrophe." Ha! Chuckles across the room.

12:57 pm -- Dan Gordon was asked what venture capitalists look for in an entrepreneur before they invest. His answer, in part: "We look for entrepreneurs who can show evidence they know what they will spend the money on...We want someone who's thought through how the business is going to build." My paraphrase: Don't be a fool!

 12:52 pm -- Dan Gordon, research director for Valhalla Partners, a VC firm, Craig Dye, director of venture investments for the UM business school's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, and Murali Nair, program director for SBIR/STTR and National Science Foundation, fielded questions from an audience of about 60 people during their session. One question: Dye was asked where can entrepreneurs go looking for investors? His answer, abridged: check formal and informal channels. The formal: tap the Angel Capital Association and a website called Informal: start tapping networks.

12:50 pm -- I'm back and catching up: I sat in on the "Where's the money?" session and came back with some good stuff. Will update in a moment. 

11:41 am -- I'm gonna shift gears and leave this session and duck into another session called "Where's the money? Funding for high tech ventures." Stay tuned. I'll bring you more updates in a few minutes.

11:35am -- Raviv: What we mean to become more innovative: it means communicate better; work in teams; appreciate diversity. Also: solve problems; open to changing point of view; expect more than one solution; and think outside the box. Have common sense; become more intuitive; be imaginative and take risks. Lots of characteristics for an innovator. "We all can be taught to become more innovative, better innovators."

11:32 am -- "Lets' focus on some aspects of becoming an innovative individual." Talking about Leonard DaVinci: artist, architect, inventor, etc. His seven principles: curiosity, learn from mistakes, use your senses, embrace uncertainty, balance both modes of your brain, cultivate fitness, connect to all.

 11:30 am: Raviv: "When we thought cd players will dominate the market for many years to come, we got mp3 players."

11:28 am -- Daniel Raviv has started his talk on great ideas and innovation, giving examples of inventions and innovations, from a new Samsung digital camera to Cuban refugees building a boat out of a truck.


11:16: Hinman finishes up his keynote. Now, we're taking a networking break. Everybody's milling around, getting coffee, going to the bathroom. The next session starts at 11:30 am -- I'll be liveblogging from the Business plan track, in the session: Great Ideas: Spurring Creativity and Innovation", led by Daniel Raviv, professor at the dep't of electrical engineering at Florida Atlantic University.

11:15 am -- Hinman says he loves his job working for a venture capital firm but sometimes misses the thrill of starting a company. "There's something about being part of a team and building stuff that's hard to ever get out of your system" - Brian Hinman

11:06 am -- Hinman talks about another company Greenvolts, which builds high concentration photovoltaic systems (huh?). Here's what I'm getting out of Hinman's talk: there's a LOT of innovation going on right now in clean energy tech, with many different approaches. Pretty fascinating stuff.

 11:00 am -- Just met a UM student who wants to start his own business. I'll interview him later during the lunch break and let you know what I learn. I'm looking to interview some student entrepreneurs to get their story because I'm writing a newspaper story for tomorrow's print edition, too!

10:53 am -- Another company Hinman's venture firm is supporting: Sundrop Fuels -- using solar energy to drive a chemical plant to make synthetic fuel. Basically, use the sun to drive a chemical plant. 

10:48 am -- One company Hinman's Oak Partners invests in is Aurora Biofuels, which used patented UC Berkeley tech to develop algae as a source of bio-oil for fuel. Algae as fuel could be a big part of our energy future. How about that?

10:47am -- Gives a snapshot of Oak Investment Partners' "Oak Clean Tech" investment portfolio: $273 million invested in 11 tec companies. Largest investment: solar energy: 28 percent; second largest (tie) batteries and carbon markets (13 percent each).

10:45 am -- Talks about venture capitalists lengthening their expectations from 10 years to 15 years or more for their investments in clean tech. The steps are complicated and costly. Stages of development: lab proof science; field proof of science; pilot production site; commercial scale deployment. "This whole cycle can take 5 years, 10 years," Hinman said.

10:42 am -- Hinman talks about the catalysts for market creation in clean technology: right now major government funding. Sources: Dept of Energy grants and loans, tax credits EPA renewable fuel standard program and something called the California Renewables Portfolio.  "Hopefully subsidies are only here for a period of time so we can build these businesses," he said.

10:30 am -- Brian Hinman, a UM alumni, is giving the keynote address. He was involved in brianhinman.jpgstarting three telecom companies. He majored in electrical engineering and signals processing. Last three years, spent his time working in the clean technology sector.

"It's been a fascinating time for me." Gives three reasons on importance of clean energy innovation: economic crisis, national security, and environmental impacts.

"When you put these three things together, it seems to me it's one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime."

10:19 am -- In case you're wondering, this event is being put on by the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, aka MTech, which is part of UM. UM has made a great effort to integrate business, technology, science and intellectual property in their incubation efforts.

UM President C.J. Mote has a goal to start a 100 new companies out of UM over the next 10 years, according to Dean Chang, director of MTech Ventures and Education.

10:12 am -- Anik Singal, CEO of Lurn Inc., started a little company while at College Park that's taken off in the field of online marketing training.

Right now, he's talking about how he was set to major in Biology and go to Harvard, but instead, turned to business school at Maryland. He talks about tapping every resource imaginable in his senior year, and went full-time into his business.

"I was working 22 hours a day, literally. there was nobody helping me," Singal said. So he turned to resources at UM and asked for help and they turned him on to the Venture Accelerator program.

"Probably one of the best things that ever happened to me," he said. Lesson: No one he knew in his circle of friends and family could help him refine his business plan, so he went looking for the right help.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:16 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Startups, University Tech

August 19, 2009

Learn about things that go BOOM

1861148468_1a8408921b_m.jpgSo this caught my eye: you can take a four-day course here in Maryland where you can learn about explosives, and shock and detonation waves.

You won't be doing this out on a blasting range somewhere; instead, your learning will come via computer modeling. The course is one of many that's put on by the Applied Technology Institute in Riva, Md.

It's being taught by Charles L. Mader, Ph.D.,a retired Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The course is suited for "scientists, engineers, and managers interested in the current state of explosive and propellant technology, and in the use of numerical modeling to evaluate the performance and vulnerability of explosives and propellants."

The cost: $1,895 per person.

Below is the geeky course description. (And here's the course page.)



After an introduction to shock waves, the four-day course continues with shock matching and explosive technology. The formation and interaction of shock and detonation waves are illustrated using computer movies generated by numerical reactive hydrodynamic codes. Numerical methods for evaluating explosive and propellant sensitivity to shock waves are described and applied to vulnerability problems such as projectile impact and burning-to-detonation transitions. One-, two- and three-dimensional hydrodynamic codes for modeling explosive and propellant performance and vulnerability are described and typical applications presented. Hands-on use of codes for evaluating explosive and propellant performance is provided. We recommend that you bring your laptop to this course.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:09 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: University Tech

July 7, 2009

The University of Maryland's guitar hero?

coilguitars.jpg I know next to nothing about electric guitars. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to get a tour of Paul Reed Smith's fascinating guitar factory in Stevensville, for a story I wrote about his business. Some big rockers use PRS guitars, including Carlos Santana and Creed.

So, knowing what I know about PRS's local growth into a big-name guitar company, I was interested to read about the work of Bruce Jacob, a University of Maryland electrical and computer engineering professor, in the field of electrical guitar-making. (What a cool field to be working in, huh?)

It seems Jacob -- with the help of students and partners -- created some new electronic gadgetry that allows you to squeeze many more different sounds out of the same guitar. They formed a company, Coil LLC, that, in addition to guitar-building, is also sponsoring audio electronics development at the university with the help of a $135,000 state grant. It's located in the new TERP Startup lab, a tech-incubation program for university faculty, students and entrepreneurs.

Coil LLC, started selling guitars this week via their Website.

To get a full rundown on what Jacob and Coil are doing, check out this news release out of College Park (which, incidentally, mentions PRS guitars.) And to watch young dudes jamming on Coil guitars, check these videos out. Gnarly! Rock on!

Oh, and if you're daydreaming of quitting your day-job and learning how to build guitars, Jacob even offers a course: ENEE 159b: Start-Up 101 - Electric Guitar Design.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets, Startups, University Tech

June 25, 2009

Johns Hopkins APL cyber attackers got past the firewall


Last week, I reported here that the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab's web site had been voluntarily taken down after officials there discovered they were facing a cyber attack.

The lab, which is in Laurel, Md., (left) does a lot of academic research. But it also partners with our military and with NASA on classified research. A quick recap: Last Sunday, June 14, officials at the APL discovered there was a cyber attack going on. Last week, I was told they had some evidence that it may have started as early as two weeks prior.

As a precaution, the APL officials ordered their external website taken down. A barebones splash page was put up a few days later for their website. And Internet access to all its employees was cut.

On Tuesday, APL restored its external Website, according to Helen Worth, the facility's spokeswoman. But employee Internet access remained curtailed and wasn't expected to be restored until today, Worth told me yesterday afternoon.

In an interview yesterday, Worth said that officials determined that the attackers penetrated past the Website's firewall and into the facility's internal network. But classified information was not accessed, she said.  Worth said it was believed that the attackers were looking for classified information and that officials were "pretty sure" employees' personal information was not touched.

Here's what I did not learn:

:: Worth declined to say which areas of the website were accessed or how officials determined the attackers were looking for classfied material.

:: Worth declined to say whether APL believed the cyber attack came from a source in the United State or from abroad. 

:: Worth also wouldn't tell me if any law enforcement agencies is involved in investigating the cyber attack, except to say that the government agencies they work with had been notified of the cyber attack.

"We have a very sophisticated system," Worth said. "We are well aware that we are a target. And we're now more sophisticated than we are before. We've been on top of security very strongly."

APL is an important facility. I wonder what some of our senators and representatives think about this security breach, especially in light of President Obama's renewed emphasis on cyber security. I'll try to find out. Stay tuned.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: University Tech
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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

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