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InvestMaryland Challenge celebrates entrepreneurship, winning finalists

GrayBug won the $100,000 grand prize in the life sciences category of the InvestMaryland Challenge.

Entrepreneurs often follow a rough road to success, but on Monday evening, state officials and business sponsors proved there is help along the way.

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge culminated with the announcement of the three $100,000 grand prize-winning companies and presentations of in-kind awards worth a combined value of over $125,000. Participating companies represented some of the most innovative early-stage operations from Maryland and beyond.

Find a full list of winners here.

Governor Martin O’Malley, who welcomed grand prize winners to the stage inside the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Brown Center, said he identified with the start-up spirit of contestants.

“I’m an entrepreneur trapped in a public servant’s body. I believe in doing the things that work. I don’t have time for ideology. I don’t like bureaucracy. I’m not into process and I’m not into hierarchy. I’m into doing things that work, less of the things that don’t and putting together common platforms that allow people to come together and collaborate and innovate,” O’Malley said.

The contest began as the brainchild of former-DBED Secretary Christian Johansson and Governor Martin O’Malley. Company submissions from across the United States began flowing in in September 2012. Participants were narrowed down from over 250 to 60, then 33 and finally nine, to include three finalists in each of the general industry, life sciences and information technology categories.

“Tonight we’re fulfilling the need we saw to connect our entrepreneurs with the resources and the experts that turn great ideas into reality,” Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development Secretary Dominick Murray said.

Murray said the contest fulfilled its goal to shine a spotlight on Maryland innovation. “Beyond the money, the challenge showed a national audience what a diverse, strong, creative and growing group of entrepreneurs and start-ups Maryland has,” he said.

Recognition gained as a contest finalist and $100,000 winner in the information technology category, has already paid off for RedOwl Analytics, which creates digital communication tracking tools, according to CEO Guy Filippelli.

“Ever since we were announced as a finalist, we’ve had people calling us and writing us. I can only imagine now that it will bring us great credibility. I’m really just looking forward to another year where we deliver software to clients and get great results,” Filippelli said.

GrayBug,  which specializes in the delivery of medication to the eye, won the $100,000 prize in the life sciences category. CEO and founder Justin Hanes, Ph.D. likewise said the award’s recognition was the most valuable prize.

“A company like ours needs funding to move further along and get our products approved for use. The cash is great, for sure, but the exposure will help us raise the additional capital we’re going to need to to move forward. This is really important for an early-biotech company like ourselves,” Hanes said.

CEO Scott Holland of i-lighting, which manufactures easy-to-install LED lighting, said his company’s $100,000 win in the general industry category will allow for greater expansion.

“Now that we have more capital, I’m looking forward to moving the company farther faster. We have the right people, we just needed the funding, and now that we have that, we can move on and up,” Holland said.

The governor praised Maryland’s innovative companies and said he believed they would play a role in solving worldwide problems.

“One of the biggest problems facing our state, our country and possibly our planet is how do we create more jobs and more prosperity even as populations grow and our bio capacity remains finite. The only way to do that is through innovation and through developing the skills of our people, innovations in the security of our people and innovations in sustaining our way of life … To see all of you here tonight, I cannot tell you how good that makes me feel that we’re hitting those goals,” O’Malley said.

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