This month Julie Coons marks her third anniversary as head of the Tech Council of Maryland. The former Iridium, Teligent, and Commerce Department official, who reads and speaks Japanese from her days living there during and after college, has logged 50,000 miles learning the byways of Maryland. In the process, she’s helped re-create the formerly sleepy TCM as the hub of tech leadership in the state, a group now speaking with a single and growing voice on hot issues. We met up with Julie last Friday in one of her hundreds of conference rooms around the state—a Starbucks. She’s an unrepentant coffee-holic.
Although this was Julie on the streets of Bethesda Friday, she really does have an office and was not flagging down cars for contributions to TCM, whose coffers she has replenished.
In her 36 months, Julie’s grown her staff from 10 to 17, and this summer moved the office from a non-descript suburban low rise to an airy and multi-tenanted campus at Great Seneca and Key West that was formerly the headquarters of Manugistics (sold to JDA Software of Texas in April last year). It’s just a block away from the old place so they could carefully transport computers and coffee mugs in their cars. IBM’s John Nyland finished his 3-year term as Chairman in May and has been succeeded by longtime board stalwart Ed Rudnic, CEO of MiddleBrook Pharmaceuticals (formerly Advancis). Just like the TCM was close to Republican Gov. Ehrlich, so too do they see a lot of new Democratic Governor O’Malley. A good thing: Due to a tightening state budget, Julie expects the coming year to be tough legislatively, and is spending 30% of her time lobbying in Annapolis.
In fact, she sees TCM’s intensified legislative advocacy as a major attraction to membership, which has remained stable at 500 firms. At the same time, she’s managed to grow revenues by recruiting a higher number of big members. To those who assume the TCM is just a biotech thing, Julie’s fond of pointing out that more of their members are actually federal IT firms like Lockheed Martin and IBM, or other kinds of tech like broadband satellite provider Hughes Network Systems. Even geographically, they’re diversified: 10% of members are from DC and 12% from Virginia. 45% come from Montgomery County, and the balance from the rest of Maryland.
You cite the merger of MDBio and TCM a year ago as one of your major accomplishments. So what is MDBio?
It’s an operating foundation with offerings like a big mobile lab that travels around the state to high schools to teach kids science skills. It also makes targeted investment in biotech companies, like Cylex in Howard County. And it collects salary and other data on biotech. Its primary source of income is a bioprocessing facility in Baltimore that the state built and asked it to manage. That income would be fairly negligible to the state but is significant when you dedicate it to the mission of encouraging biotech in Maryland.
What drove the merger?
Our missions dovetailed, so we can coordinate our efforts. They had been a staff of six located in Frederick, and we were able to move them in with us and reduce it to four. We hired a great director for it from the industry, Rick Zakour, and are more active than ever.
What are TCM’s bigger activites this fall?
We’re hosting the MidAtlantic BioTech conference October 24 to 26 and expect over 800 at the Bethesda North Marriott. We’ve got top speakers like AstraZeneca CEO David Brennan and the head of the Bioindustry Technology Organization, Jim Greenwood. On November 7, we’re doing our second annual CIO & CTO Live. Last year we had 200 people, and this year we’re expecting double that. We also just launched a member portal called TechAlliance professional community—a members-only benefit to post, download, and blog. We’ll be promoting a lot.
Julie at last year’s CIO & CTO Live! awards flanked by Convergence Technology Consulting Prez Larry Letow and Steve Kozak of The Greater Baltimore Technology Council. This year’s event is Nov. 7 at the North Bethesda Marriott.
Where does the Maryland tech industry rank nationally?
In terms of federal R&D spending, we get more per capita than any other state. For federal contracts awarded, we’re second to Virginia. In terms of life sciences we’re the fourth largest cluster behind Boston, the Bay Area and San Diego.
What’s driving growth?
Several of our biotech firms have moved from research to commercial phases. AstraZeneca’s acquisition of MedImmune will not only keep operations in the state but also result in new investment here. Our federal contracting community is very healthy and growing.
What kinds of advocacy efforts is the TCM engaged in?
Funding and tax incentives mostly. It helps that the governor and Maryland’s Congressional delegation are all big proponents of the tech community.
What’s a recent legislative win?
The BioTech Incentive Act passed last year has been a great success. It allows venture firms to take a tax credit of 50% of their investment in Maryland biotech firms. A Stem Cell Funding Act passed in two successive years has helped fund local R&D efforts.
Any vacation lately?
Cape Cod over Labor Day, riding bikes and stopping for lobster rolls. And I get to our weekend house in Calvert County north of the Solomons, which is really quiet and peaceful with lovely water views.
You like to cook. Any new recipes?
Oh yes, a great gazpacho I found in Gourmet Magazine: You just make sure to add sherry vinegar and fabulous olive oil and turn on the food processor.