Maryland tech incubator opens

With 80 percent of its space filled, the Chesapeake Innovation Center, a technology incubator for start-up firms developing homeland security technology, formally opened its doors with a ceremony yesterday.

The Annapolis, Md. incubator houses seven new companies, all hoping to develop markets with government agencies and in the private sector. Incubator officials selected companies based on a list of technologies needed by the National Security Agency — a partner in the venture along with Anne Arundel County's Economic Development Corp.

Companies include wireless communications firms, security technology companies, a firm developing systems for first responders to gather information about chemical or biological exposure and transmit data and one biotech company developing a treatment for anthrax exposure.

Under NSA's guidance, incubator officials are looking for knowledge management, data mining and peer-to-peer communications firms to move in, said Director John Elstner.

The incubator, housed in an Annapolis office park, soon will expand its space to 24,000 square feet after renovations on an adjacent floor are complete, Elstner said. After the expansion, it will have space for 20 to 25 companies, he said.

The center offers young companies office space and access to consultants, capital, potential customers and each other, Elstner said. The last benefit opens up the possibility of collaboration.

That potential is already paying off for companies such as RealInterface, said its president, Chris Sleat. The company is developing technology that will allow first responders access to a terrorist attack, chemical spill or other disaster to assess victims to find out if they've been exposed to chemical, biological or nuclear agents, he said. Through interaction with other companies at the incubator, Sleat and his team have begun to add new authentication and location-based capabilities to its systems.

Elstner predicted a wide market for companies that successfully get their technologies to a marketable stage.

"The homeland security market is a little bit hard to get your arms around," he said. "By our definition, homeland security is everything spent by the federal government to protect the homeland, but also everything spent by private businesses to protect their businesses.

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