College of Southern Maryland to open $1 million-backed tech incubator, research center

Repost from Morgan Eichensehr – Reporter, Baltimore Business Journal

College of Southern Maryland in La Plata is set to open a new 20,000-square-foot research and education facility, backed by over $1 million in funding.

The new Velocity Center, to be run by the college’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute, will be part research center, part technology incubator and part education facility. It will be housed in a former warehouse in Indian Head, a longtime military town near the Southern Maryland campus.

The Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute can leverage a $1 million endowment and about $200,000 in additional public funding to buildout the center. Tommy Luginbill, director of the Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute, said the college received support from state, county and local representatives to get the project off the ground.

Designed to have the look and feel of a military lab, the Velocity Center is intended to create a bridge between the civilian community and the 3,500-acre Naval Support Facility that sits at Indian Head. The center will have lab and classroom space where Southern Maryland students can attend workshops, meet with researchers, and study alongside military contractors and scientists.

“We wanted students to be able to occupy space with the Navy scientists, to learn from them and work with them, and see what kinds of ideas can come out of that,” Luginbill said.

The center will house the college’s robotics team and cybersecurity team. The college plans to build a new high-tech robotics practice course where it can hold showcases and invite other robotics teams from across the country to compete in Southern Maryland. There will also be space devoted for other public and private partner occupants. Luginbill said he has gotten interest from federal contractors and even e-gaming companies that could take office space in the new center.

The tech incubator element of the center will be dedicated to providing local entrepreneurs with co-working and office spaces to work on their business concepts, as well as proximity and potential access to resources and talent from the naval base. The hope is that collaboration among students, contractors and scientists will stimulate entrepreneurship and the flow of ideas across disciplines, and spark greater economic activity for the area.

Indian Head residents and workers also hope the Velocity Center will help revitalize the town, and bring more jobs, attention and commercial activity. The town has struggled in recent years due to enacted security protocols that blocked the free flow of traffic between it and the military base.

Increasing entrepreneurial activity in some of the more rural parts of the state has been a particular focus in Maryland recently. Luginbill said that in part fueled the idea behind the college’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute.

“There are often limited industries and job opportunities in these rural areas,” he said. “We wanted people to be able to create their own opportunities here. As an entrepreneur, you can really create any job you want.”

In that vein, state-backed funding organization, Maryland Technology Development Corp., supported a new incubator concept that aims to expand entrepreneurship beyond cities and promote collaboration opportunities between rural and urban entrepreneurs. Through the program, backed by $125,000 in state funds, there will be quarterly symposiums that allow for representatives from different rural/urban industries to discuss the biggest problems facing their businesses, and challenge events that allow entrepreneurs to try and tackle those problems.

“There are great pools of ideas, talent and resources in our rural counties that sometimes get overlooked,” said Mike Thielke, who is helping lead the new incubator project. “We need to work on bridging that gap.”