Friday, Feb. 15, 2008

In switch, Amethyst Technologies expands into incubator

Health care technology company shifts to Catonsville facility

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
‘‘The engineer in me wants to do things the right way and improve things,” says Kimberly Brown, CEO of Amethyst Technologies, which is expanding into a Catonsville incubator.
Amethyst Technologies LLC of Bethesda has expanded into the technology incubator of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Catonsville, where CEO Kimberly Brown hopes to establish business relationships with about 20 life science startups there.

Amethyst specializes in regulatory compliance services for the biotechnology and health care industries and has a nearly 10-year client in the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring. Brown is a recent graduate of UMBC’s Activate Program, which trains women to be entrepreneurs and create startups.

As an established company, Amethyst is considered an unusual tenant by officials at the bwtech@UMBC Incubator and Accelerator. It enters the incubator as a second-time startup. Brown purchased the company last year and changed its name from Cell Systems to Amethyst, her birthstone.

‘‘When new management takes over a somewhat dormant company, they often have new ideas for introducing new technologies or market into new fields in order to expand the business,” said David J. Fink, director of entrepreneurial services. ‘‘That’s the case with Amethyst.”

Brown joined Cell Systems as an intern 10 years ago while working on her doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. The company offers a wide range of services, from helping biotechs validate specific processes in product development to meet Food and Drug Administration regulations to helping hospitals validate sterilization and other systems. One of Brown’s current goals is to develop a product to mitigate hospital-acquired infections.

‘‘The engineer in me wants to do things the right way and improve things,” she said of Amethyst, which has 11 employees. Fink called Brown ‘‘very smart and she is in a niche business that she understands. She is just about the perfect company for us, for the incubator, since she knows her science well and it will grow.”

Brown said that in the past year she has increased her company’s client list from one to 10 just by word of mouth and she projects $1 million in revenues for 2008. Amethyst’s clients include biopharmceutical company Intracel Resources LLC of Frederick; MTX Lab Systems Inc. of Vienna, Va., which sells high-end microplate laboratory products; and Avant Garde Scientific Inc. of Damascus, which sells, installs and services sterilizers, washers, necropsy work stations and other lab equipment.

After earning her doctorate, Brown worked for Cell Systems as a contractor to the Pilot Bioproduction Facility at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research for nine years. She wrote a validation master plan for the facility and a calibration program. She increased the productivity and efficiency of Cell Systems with a series of computer programs to manage the FDA-regulated activities at the facility.

Still, Brown lacked business know-how when she bought the company for an undisclosed amount from Jay Olpin.

In the Activate program, Brown, as one of the technologically advanced students, teamed with those who possessed business abilities and knowledge.

‘‘I did not know much about running a business, how to protect your intellectual property, financial systems, accounting, anything,” she said. ‘‘As a scientist, you just think about your product. The program is specially designed to improve low numbers of women running businesses. The whole focus is to increase the number of women in technology businesses. There are not many in million-dollar businesses.”

Fink said women who have graduated from the program, now in its fourth year, have founded about 15 companies.

Brown hopes Amethyst will grow by benefiting from the support and networking that the Catonsville incubator provides, such as monthly networking events for senior managers, marketing analyses, strategic planning and winning grants. This year, the company will explore marketing strategies for the first time, focused on gaining hospital clients, she said. Congress appropriated funds for Amethyst in its defense department budget in connection to its work for Walter Reed.

About half the company’s workers are at the incubator; half are at Walter Reed.

Brown expects to be in the incubator for the maximum three years allowed by the college. So far, Amethyst has little competition, Brown said.

‘‘There is competition, but not in a business like mine,” she said. ‘‘Most are consultants or large companies.” She claims a distinct small-size advantage that makes Amethyst more flexible than larger companies. Brown is also expanding environmentally friendly business services, especially for hospitals.

In 2006, Anne Arundel County appointed Brown, a Laurel resident, to its Commission for Women and Minority Business Enterprise Committee.