Fourteen of 40 companies at the William Hanna Center for Innovation at Shady Grove already have moved to new space, and county employees are working with the rest to find new homes, county economic development head Steven A. Silverman said Wednesday.
The new sites include the Germantown Innovation Center and the Montgomery campus of Johns Hopkins University in Rockville, as well as private space, he said.
The county is in the process of replacing its oldest business incubator with a national cybersecurity center aligned with the National Institute of Standards and Technology of Gaithersburg. That plan has been met with opposition from not just tenants, but several Montgomery state legislators and former County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is running against County Executive Isiah Leggett in the Democratic primary in June.
Responding to a question from the legislators on why the incubator space was chosen as a home for the cybersecurity center, Leggett wrote in a letter Wednesday to Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Dist. 18) of Chevy Chase that the decision was “the result of a careful evaluation of the comparative costs of all options.”
Continuing to operate the Shady Grove facility as an incubator and leasing space for the cybersecurity center would cost the county and state millions of dollars more during the next few years than using that facility, according to the Department of Economic Development analysis.
The cybersecurity facility is a good way to get high-tech companies such as Google and Intel to open offices in the county, with the ultimate goal of the county being the national hub for civilian cybersecurity, Silverman said. NIST has agreements to work with those companies on various projects.
Leggett said in the letter that the county “could have done a better job of communicating” with the bioscience companies in the Shady Grove incubator, but he noted that the county did inform them of the plan in November and they have until June 30 to relocate.
The incubators were originally designed to house companies for a period as short as a year before they became strong enough to venture into private space, Silverman said. More than half of the Shady Grove tenants have been there for more than three years and 11 for more than five years.
David Beylin, CEO of Brain Biosciences, one of the tenants at the Shady Grove center, said the collaborative environment at the incubator is hard to recreate in private space. He said leases for 3,000 square feet were “pretty much the minimum around here,” and that would be more than he would need.
Philip D. Schiff, CEO of the Tech Council of Maryland in Rockville, sent out a memo to members asking if they have smaller space of up to 800 square feet for the Shady Grove tenants.
The Germantown incubator has 11 wet labs, and the county is reviewing whether to convert space there into more labs, Silverman said. Employees also have met with private real estate representatives and are reviewing proposals from them to create smaller lab space, he said.
In his letter, Leggett reinforced his support for life science companies, noting that the county has issued millions of dollars’ worth of grants to such firms and started a local biotech investor tax credit program. The county also supports BioHealth Innovation, a public-private organization in Rockville.
That group leverages about $7 for each $1 the county invests, said Ethan Byler, its director of innovation programs. That includes support for not just large biotechs but small companies, including grants of $3,000 to $5,000 for them to hire professionals who prepare larger funding requests, he said.