In honor of FITCI’s 15th anniversary, we caught up with Kathie Brady -- a former-serial entrepreneur now in her third year as President/CEO of the local incubator.
We asked her to look at where FITCI has come, and where it is going.
How it all began:
As you know, FITCI recently formally celebrated its 15-year anniversary. But the concept really started 17 years ago – when a task-force was created to explore the need for something like it in our community. The team, which was made up of a combination of representatives from the City, the County, higher education institutions, & local businesses, did a lot of research to figure out what that “it” was… what resource our start-ups were missing… and FITCI was born.
FITCI first started at Hood College with just six labs and four offices. It had a small footprint and only a year later they were ready to expand to Metropolitan Court. Even at the new location, they were full right away, and the rest is history.
We’ve compiled a lot of our history – including first clients, graduates, directors, etc. into our “FITCI Yearbook.”
Impact on the City economy
If you walk downtown, you pass by many of our graduates. Since its beginning, FITCI has served 124 total businesses. Already there have been some significant companies that have graduated to City locations in the BIO industry, and I think there’s going to be even more new City businesses with the addition of the tech-focused location at the ROOT building.
Looking at our current clients, it’s about a 50:50 split between those clients that are local vs. those who have been externally recruited. To me, this is the best of both worlds —- We see that we have the services available to support local residents who are entrepreneurs looking to take their ideas for to the next level. But we also are attracting new talent from out of Frederick, and out of State. FITCI has been in the news quite a bit and some of our graduates have really made a splash. Rooster Bio, for example, performs tremendously ..and that drives a lot of attention back to us and to Frederick.
Trends among Clients
On the Bio side – stem cell research is really hot right now. We have 6 new companies focused on that topic … all doing very different things… but all in that arena.
On the Tech side – we are seeing a lot of green technologies and health care technology. More and more people are realizing that Frederick has a lot of technology opportunities. Those specializations (green technology and health care technologies) in particular seem to really compliment the resources & culture Frederick offers.
Community Involvement at FITCI (and vs. versus)
When I first arrived, I set a three year goal that I would have 35 CEO’s from the local economy be involved in advising our companies. We easily reached that goal in my second year. Frederick is so much easier to grow a business because of its community. It’s different here.
This year, while we were preparing to roll-out our most recent program – THE EDGE, I requested a Chamber of Commerce “Leaders on Loan” team to help connect our program to more volunteers. When I told Rick Weldon from the Chamber my idea, he just laughed and said “you’ve created a big problem… everyone is going to want to be a part of your program.” Bring it on! He was right. Each EDGE program participant will interact with 109 high-level business volunteers. That’s 109 people the participants will meet, interact with, and potentially build a relationship with.
I think the really cool thing is that the companies & individuals that volunteer their time see benefits themselves as well. When you’re helping others as part of a CEO round table, you are hearing things in a different way than you would have otherwise. It helps give you ideas. It helps expand your innovation and expand your creativity, because you are stepping away from your business. It’s just three hours, but just stepping away for those three hours can open your eyes to something entirely new. It’s a great example of high tides raising all ships.
An Opportunity for Everyone
FITCI isn’t just for techies or scientists. It’s bigger than that. FITCI is a place for entrepreneurs and for those that want to see them succeed.
Just look at the latest line-up of advising volunteers and you’ll see how diverse our participants are. That is very intentional. When you look at all the resources that an entrepreneur needs, it’s all across the board. One of our advisers was the former principal of a school --think of the connections someone like that can provide. One of the advisers has an accounting firm—that background is desperately needed. They all think differently. Everyone brings to the table a different life experience.
A lot. Seriously, a lot. Let’s see…
· Enhance our biotech infrastructure. We want more shared biotech labs because that space fills up very quickly. We are going to do a capital campaign to either move us or renovate the current facility.
· Continue expanding services for our graduates. We want to keep them close and expanding. With the new opportunities we are offering, they can come back in and mentor the next round of entrepreneurs. It builds that strong ecosystem everyone needs.
· Our Portal. We’ve had it open for almost a year. It’s how we share a lot of member information. We are careful to record our programming at ROOT meetings and now, the EDGE program so that everything can be handed down to the next round of entrepreneurs .
· And the Root Cellar. Last but certainly not least, the Root Cellar is our tech shop/maker-space that is coming to the root building.