This report was corrected Jan. 30, 2012. An explanation follows.
The group behind Maryland’s strategy to pump $70 million in venture capital into small high-tech businesses and startups is confident of the program’s progress as it gets under way this year.
Officials with the Maryland Venture Fund Authority, which oversees the new InvestMaryland program, and the Department of Business and Economic Development on Tuesday briefed members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee about the showpiece of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) economic agenda last year.
The plan calls for raising the money through auctioning tax credits to insurance companies. The funds will then be awarded to three or four state-approved private venture capital firms for investment in bioscience and other high-tech companies.
“We’re feeling really good at the progress made through 2011,” Peter Greenleaf, president of MedImmune in Gaithersburg and chairman of the authority, said later in the week. “We’re confident we’re on track.”
Twenty holding companies representing 48 insurance companies doing business in Maryland have submitted letters of interest in the program’s tax credit auction, he said.
The 48 companies constitute 24 percent of the 200 companies eligible for the credit, he said. But together the 48 companies total $560 million of the $1.7 billion, or 33 percent, in estimated total premium tax liabilities over the five-year period in which companies can claim the credits.
The nine-member authority has used the benchmarks that other states with similar programs have used for this part of the process and is excited about the early interest, Greenleaf said.
“We should be able to run a successful auction,” he said.
Applications for the credit are due Feb. 1, with the auction scheduled for March 15.
Greenleaf also discussed Grant Street Group, the Pittsburgh company that was hired to manage the online auction.
“We chose them for their solid performance history,” he said, referring to the 125,000 auctions the group has handled, involving more than $11.6 trillion. Grant Street also has worked with many municipalities, including Baltimore, and had the most experience among the three companies competing for the job, Greenleaf said.
The authority began meeting in August to discuss how to proceed with that auction and selecting the venture capitalists that will make the investments. Members most recently met Thursday to review the auction strategy, marketing outreach and plan for training companies to participate in the auction.
London firm picked as VC consultant
Greenleaf also updated the committee on the authority’s progress with the venture capital component.
The authority last month selected Altius Associates of London, with a regional office in Richmond, Va., as its venture capitalist consultant. Members chose Altius, which manages $19 billion in investment portfolios, based on the company’s proposal and track record, Greenleaf said. Altius was selected from 11 consulting firms.
“We believe Altius’ knowledge and proximity to the state will bode well,” he said.
The authority began taking venture capital certification applications this month and plans to send out its requests for proposals to certified firms March 20. Members will recommend firms to the Department of Business and Economic Development in May. Money from the auction is to awarded to the first venture capital firms in June.
Authority members plan to meet in February to establish investment strategy and plan the selection and awarding of firms.
The Tech Council of Maryland is pleased with the program’s progress, Larry Letow, chairman and acting CEO, said in an email.
“We are confident that the program is in the right hands and progressing,” said Letow, who also is president and COO of Convergence Technology Consulting in Glen Burnie and a managing partner with Maryland Cyber Investment Partners in Catonsville.
“It seems that the program is meeting its deadlines and progressing nicely,” he said. “We have a great deal of confidence in Peter as the chairman of the Maryland Venture Fund Authority.”
Letow also praised Greenleaf and DBED Secretary Christian S. Johansson for their report Tuesday, saying it should instill confidence in the program.
“We can see that Peter and leaders at DBED, like Secretary Johansson, are taking the success of this program very seriously,” he said.
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which also supported InvestMaryland when the legislature debated and ultimately approved it last year, said such programs can take a while to get under way.
Greenleaf said InvestMaryland makes a strong statement about Maryland’s support for entrepreneurs and innovation.
“MedImmune was also born of entrepreneurship and venture capital,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do in 2012, particularly in the next six months.”
InvestMaryland was modeled after programs in several other states, which have seen mixed results. Tennessee’s TNInvestCorp. has secured more than 300 existing and new jobs and spurred about $17.6 million in 37 investments, according to the program’s annual report. Texas has generated more than 2,000 jobs through its investment program, with Wisconsin generating 1,700. Colorado’s investment programs, however, have gone through many funding cuts.
Explanation: The original version misstated the number of jobs generated by Wisconsin’s investment program.