How the Maryland Tech Council is making innovation happen

What’s the role of tech councils on our region’s future? Our next guest is going help answer that question. Tami Howie is a former lawyer who’s been helping to grow technology companies here in our region for the last twenty years, but she’s turned her attention now to growing the region’s innovation community as the chief executive officer of the Maryland Tech Council. This gives her a unique viewpoint on how the region is growing, and the role that tech council organization have in growing and shaping our community

ABERMAN: You really are in a ringside seat at the high tech counsel. It’s amazing, the progress that you’re all making. What’s it been like for you, taking on the role of running a tech association, having been a successful corporate lawyer, helping so many entrepreneurs all these years?

HOWIE: I am having a blast. I think Maryland is an amazing place to grow technology, and biotechnology. For twenty years, I’ve been in the region, and I’ve been representing companies, and I have had one Maryland company my entire legal career. And the reason for that is, Maryland has never been viewed as a place that can grow companies. They have technology, they have a lot of interesting ideas, but they’ve never been really viewed as a place that can build a company, build a management team around it.

And so, when I took over this role, I was expecting to have a huge uphill battle. And when I got into the role, I realized that it’s a marketing problem. That we actually have amazing technology here, we have amazing management teams here. And we have really great think tanks, but nobody in the rest of the country knows it. So, for me, it’s just been putting the pieces that are already there together, and showing the rest of the world that what we have here in Maryland.

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ABERMAN: Isn’t it funny, and where do you see the overlap between being a really strong deal lawyer, and consiglieri to entrepreneurs, and now being one of leading salespeople for our region’s industry?

HOWIE: Well, I actually probably illegally practice law still. So, everyday is a deal. So when you’re trying to bring the region together—when I came here, there were forty organizations that all claimed they were in the lead in innovation in biotech, and trying to make Maryland’s number one. And what you realize is, everyone was just taking a little piece of it, and not coming together and showing the whole picture.

So, what I have spent a good chunk of my time, in the last year, doing, is going around and finding what everybody is doing well, and pulling it together and making sure it’s one cohesive message out to everyone. Which has taken great negotiation skills, to get everybody to stay in their lane, and highlight what they’re doing, and then partner with everybody else to come together with a full plan, from company, from startup, through hopefully financing and public offering.

ABERMAN: Yeah, I’ve been watching what you’ve been up to, and and I’d very much agree that a lot of challenge our region has is that we’ve got too many silos, and I think that it is a good thing. Now, people, I think, are often confused about what an organization like Maryland Tech Council does. What’s in it for the members, why do people join organizations like this?

HOWIE: It’s funny you mention that. So, I started with a smaller tech council, called the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council, and it was a very small counsel, and it mostly was tech.
Then, I merged with the biotech giant of Tech Council of Maryland, which had seventy percent biotech companies, and thirty percent tech companies. And so, when we came together, we had 62 board members, and we asked the same question, and it took us six months to figure out the answer to that question, because it was so confusing. But what we boiled down to is that, a tech council, and a biotech council, in the region, should do three things. We should educate, we should connect, and we should advocate.

And when we educate, it’s educating companies on areas that they don’t know. Both more educational, university type things like how do you get a pitch together to go meet with venture capitalists, what areas of marketing do I not know, what areas of sales. So, that takes over the education piece. Connecting, probably most people think of as the rubber chicken dinners, or the events that you go to, the golf tournaments, the award dinners, but we view connecting as much more broad. So, it’s connecting you to potential customers, connecting you to money sources, connecting you to workforce development.

And really, holistically helping your company. The last piece is the piece that everybody says they do, but I don’t think they’ve ever really done, which is advocacy. Which is getting in there, making sure we have federal laws, and state laws, that make it great for companies to grow and thrive. And we’ve really taken a front seat in that roller coaster to making sure that we have a great business platform in Maryland.

ABERMAN: And I think for example, what happened recently with Maryland, the Buy Local Initiative was something where you worked with the Cybersecurity Association very closely, that’s a clear example of this. The organization’s grown really fast, and is changing, and you’ve got news about some things that are happening right now.

HOWIE: So, as part of our strategic planning process, we determined that we need to have almost three brands out in the market. So, the Maryland Tech Council, but then there’s some things that are just bio-specific, and some things that are just tech-specific. So, middle of June, just two weeks ago, we announced a new branding. So, we’re Maryland Tech Council, but we have two sub-brands. One is the Maryland Life Sciences, and we rolled that out at the National Bio Conference up in Boston, and got huge response to it. Then, on the tech side, we’re Maryland Tech and Innovation branding. So, we’re very excited about that.

ABERMAN: Well, listening to you, Tami, I get why you took this job. You’re an entrepreneur. This is just your next company.

HOWIE: Right! It is really exciting for me. So, I saw a need in the community. For twenty years, I’ve been making rich people richer, and charging 800 dollars an hour, and while I’ve loved it, and I’ve done billion dollar deals, and worked with amazing companies and entrepreneurs, I wanted to give back to the community. And honestly, I thought I’d slow down a bit. I thought I would reduce my hours, spend a little time with my six teenagers that my husband and I are raising, but that didn’t quite happen. Because I’m working eighteen hours a day, and probably working harder than I ever did as a lawyer, but I definitely think I’m making a difference.

I think that my team of eight, and my consortium of 48 organizations that I represent in the legislature, that we really are moving the needle. Up in Boston, just two weeks ago, we were the talk of the bio conference. Everybody was saying, what is Maryland doing, look at what they did legislatively, look at how many companies they have, and we had, probably, the biggest footprint up in Boston, which we’ve never had before. So, it’s fun to see the needle moving, and not having to charge companies 800 dollars an hour.

ABERMAN: It’s been great having you in the studio, and I hope that everybody who is following innovation here in the region, particularly in Maryland, reaches out and gets involved in the Maryland Tech Council. Tami, thanks for joining us.

HOWIE: Thank you.

ABERMAN: The CEO of Maryland Tech Council.