Thursday, June 12, 2008

Barbe ‘a transformational leader’

Executive director has strengthened the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute in College Park for more than 20 years

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Susan Whitney⁄The gazette
‘‘I’ve always had an interest in entrepreneurship. Most people with that spirit can trace it back to their early stages with lemonade stands and fixup shops,” says David Barbe, leaderof the University of Maryland’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute since 1985. ‘‘I always wanted to make money on my own.”
David Barbe never was one to dodge risk, even when it meant leaving a lucrative federal position to start a university program in which undergraduate entrepreneurs would live and work together.

Barbe, 69, of Clarksville has been a driving force behind the University of Maryland’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute — Mtech — since 1985, helping establish an educational continuum that takes young entrepreneurs from basic ideas to sustainable ventures. He was honored in March with the Olympus 2008 Lifetime of Educational Innovation Award.

Barbe, an engineering professor at the university’s College Park campus and executive director of Mtech, is responsible for developing the Hinman CEO Program, the Technology Startup Boot Camp, the $50K Business Plan Competition and several technology entrepreneurship courses.

‘‘I’ve always had an interest in entrepreneurship. Most people with that spirit can trace it back to their early stages with lemonade stands and fixup shops. It was the same for me,” Barbe said. ‘‘I always wanted to make money on my own.”

Barbe, with a doctorate in electrical engineering, worked many jobs before joining the university, including running his own company. He also worked in the U.S. Naval Research Lab and the Pentagon.

Herbert Rabin, director of Mtech since its launch in 1983, selected Barbe to help him refine its programs. He describes Barbe as insightful, organizationally conscious and instrumental in maintaining student interest in entrepreneurship courses.

‘‘We wanted to create a technology entrepreneur culture,” Barbe said. ‘‘It’s important to have, since nowadays students demand it.”

Mtech, run through the A. James Clark School of Engineering at College Park, has brought more than $17 billion in fiscal benefits to Maryland and has generated more than 7,200 jobs since its creation, according to Mtech.

Hinman: ‘It wasan experiment’

Barbe said Hinman CEOs was initially regarded as an outlandish idea. Many people were skeptical of its concept of selecting undergraduates from all majors to live together and form their own companies, while receiving internships and hands-on mentoring.

‘‘It was an experiment, but I wanted to see how it worked. People with entrepreneur tendencies are known to take risks,” Barbe said.

Hinman students run companies out of their dorm rooms, sometimes generating close to $1 million in revenues annually, Barbe said.

Blake Robertson, co-founder of the alert system Alertus in New York, is one of the program’s success stories. After winning the $50K Business Plan Competition - which Barbe created to give startups another boost by offering cash prizes for the best business concepts - Robertson went on to form his company. Alertus now has clients with universities, hospitals and military bases and generates several million dollars in annual revenue.

Robertson said Hinman connected him with like-minded students who helped him channel his energies into one concept rather than non-stop ideas.

Mtech’s Hinman program has been replicated throughout several universities and recently led to the creation of the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program. Hillman is a four-year scholarship program that steers Prince George’s Community College students into the university, with a focus on business ventures.

‘‘I’ve found Dr. Barbe to be a transformational leader. He’s the kind of person who can see things others don’t see. He really cares about people,” said Karen Thornton, director of Hillman and a former Hinman director. ‘‘He’s creating a legacy for the school of engineering.”

Barbe also worked to improve Mtech programs such as Maryland Industrial Partnerships, a program that helps companies develop products using university faculty expertise and facilities; VentureAccelerator, an 18- to 24-month training program for young companies; and the technology incubator, or Technology Advancement Program, which houses startups for a few years and offers consulting while they establish themselves.

Barbe directs‘fantastic team’

Zymetis, a research company currently involved with VentureAccelerator, is another example of Barbe’s work through Mtech. The company produces enzyme mixtures that convert certain elements of waste into ethanol.

Life sciences professor Steve Hutcheson, chief technical officer of Zymetis, said Barbe directs a ‘‘fantastic team,” which helped Hutcheson merge his research knowledge with that of business-savvy people.

‘‘The No. 1 thing about Dr. Barbe is that he makes sure the program continues to grow,” said Scott Laughlin, Zymetis CEO. ‘‘The best managers find talented people and give them what they need, to do what needs to be done.”

Mtech has also had a significant role in the foundation of Martek, producer of infant formula that aids in sensory development, in Columbia and Digene Corp., a Gaithersburg biotech that was acquired by Qiagen of the Netherlands last year for about $1.5 billion.

When not thinking up new ideas for Mtech, Barbe spends his time traveling to places such as Portugal, where he helps establish business programs in local universities.

‘‘I love their fish dishes,” he said. Barbe also enjoys mussels marinara at Pasta Plus in Laurel and sits at the same table every time he visits.

Barbe lives with his wife, Irene, and has four children and five grandchildren. At home, he enjoys fixing things and is constantly busy around the house, usually on ladders.

Barbe attributes most of Mtech’s success to the people working within the program.

‘‘I may have been the catalyst behind many of these projects, but I could not accomplish anything without the commitment of Mtech’s staff,” he said.