Kelly Schulz, CEO, Maryland Tech Council · BioBuzz

The Maryland Tech Council (MTC) is the largest support organization for technology and life sciences companies in the state. MTC creates and supports initiatives, from events to workforce development, that bring the entire Maryland tech and life sciences ecosystem together to advance innovation and foster growth.

Recently, Marty Rosendale chose to step down after four years as CEO, ending a successful run as the head of MTC. The organization found a worthy and notable successor to Rosendale to lead MTC into the future: the organization recently appointed former gubernatorial candidate, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor and Commerce, state legislator and small business owner Kelly Schulz to this critical post. 

With more than 600 member organizations and three regional chapters (Baltimore, Chesapeake and Prince George’s County) and $5M in state and federal grants to launch BioHub Maryland, a first-of-its-kind workforce development program, it’s a truly exciting time for MTC.

The BioBuzz team recently caught up with Schulz to discuss her career and delve into her plans to lead the MTC during this unprecedented period of growth for the association.    

What attracted you to this MTC opportunity and what convinced you to come on board?

Well, I heard that Marty was thinking about a transition and wanted to perhaps retire. He had brought MTC to a great place where it was well-received throughout the state and on very solid ground. 

Marty called me up and told me that the board won’t let him leave until he found someone to transition into the CEO role. Let’s talk. And so we did.

I had done work with MTC before while I was at the Departments of Labor and Commerce and it was the perfect match. It just made so much sense. 

How are your experiences as a private business owner and a public servant advantageous as you look to lead the MTC into the future?

In my professional life I was a managing partner in a cybersecurity firm that had government contracts, including the Department of Defense. I understand that process; I get the difficulties of being a tech business owner and what it takes to be successful.

When I got to the administration I spent four years working vigorously on workforce development opportunities, especially for industries like tech and the life sciences. Because I understand the assets, the talent needs and what these businesses require for success, I can  identify and channel the right resources to our MTC members and partners.

While I was with the Department of Commerce, it was clear that you don’t have economic development without the other pieces and partnerships. It was all about partnerships. 

We still need to attract business to Maryland and MTC can be a vital part of the ecosystem to make sure we have the economic and workforce tools to attract new business and keep the companies we have. MTC will continue to be a major part of the Maryland tech and life sciences ecosystem. 

What have been your top priorities since becoming CEO?

Well, I just started a little while ago on November 1st. I’ve read quite a bit and talked to a lot of people. The priority has been listening. 

We just did a ‘Coffee with the CEO’ and we had a lot of companies and members there and I learned more about what they’re doing so I can understand the resources they need. 

We also just kicked off a new chapter—the Chesapeake Regional Chapter—and there were a few hundred people at this event. It was so exciting to see all different parts of the existing ecosystem there. The event was attended by business leaders, tech and life sciences companies, academia and service providers.

The biggest thing I’ve been doing so far is listening a lot and planning for the future.   

What do you see as Maryland’s greatest assets in the life sciences space and what are the biggest challenges to sustainable growth?

Any industry’s greatest asset is its people. It’s the same for biohealth. Life sciences companies can’t do what they need to do in R&D, manufacturing or whatever they’re doing without the right people. They need good, quality staff.

We have entrepreneurs here who are building great life science companies. We have remarkable assets—the talent, the ideas and the technologies —that come out of our university system and enhance our innovation ecosystem.

Our proximity is also an asset. Maryland is geographically centered around 74 federal labs that are in the state. This is huge for our small and large businesses and entrepreneurs. We have twice as many federal labs as any other state. This is both an asset and a challenge. The challenge is building the network, communication and connections to these federal lab assets; this is a really big opportunity to pull the entire ecosystem together.

What we also need to do on a state level is to ensure that policy makers know how big of an opportunity we have in Maryland. We need to plant our flag by working together to protect and expand our innovation network. We need support from policy makers on the local, state and federal level because we can’t reach our full potential without that support and the MTC can help in that area as well. 

Talk to me a bit about MTC’s BioHub Maryland workforce development initiative and why this program is critical to the Maryland tech and life sciences industries.

For years we’ve been talking about the need for additional workforce. We’ve had some major R&D and pharma companies come to Maryland and we’ve provided them some tax credits as an incentive. We’ve also created a lot of new jobs in the state. But more companies won’t come here or stay here unless we develop the specific talent that they need. Workforce training is the most difficult part of starting or expanding a business.

That’s why we started BioHub Maryland’s workforce program. Our BioHub is directly connected with our industry partners so we know exactly the kind of workforce they require and we can develop the skills people need to go directly into their workforce setting. 

This is absolutely critical because industry can now choose the skills being taught. This puts us so far ahead of the majority of other states in the nation.

We’re doing this at rapid speed. We’re starting with an online curriculum and tutorials that will launch in 2023, but then we will move into a brick and mortar setting with lab space. This will be an overall workforce experience with hands-on, “learn by doing” training that you can’t get just anywhere. This program will significantly reduce the time for businesses to get their new hires up and running and immediately adding value.

Also, when we’re looking at the overall ecosystem from a diversity standpoint, or at people that aren’t able or interested in pursuing two or four year degrees, MTC BioHub will be able to reach into these populations to find and develop new tech and life sciences employees. We will stress that you don’t need a PhD to have a rewarding career in life sciences. Anyone can join. The BioHub provides an opportunity to build a pathway to a great career in the life sciences.

What is the best way for smaller tech/life sciences organizations to get involved with the MTC and utilize its resources?

We think every company that has to do with tech and life sciences should get involved with the MTC, regardless of size. 

The big companies need smaller feeder companies and a strong ecosystem around them to grow. An environment that produces talent, supply chain infrastructure, R&D, academia and service providers will help big companies thrive. And the small companies need the big players because they need to be around established businesses.

The MTC offers mentoring programs for smaller companies. We have volunteer mentors from all different sized companies that have worked with hundreds of executives from younger, smaller companies. Our MTC mentors love to help emerging companies succeed.

We also offer special rates for entrepreneurial companies coming out of places like FITCI. Small companies that are MTC members get opportunities to build their networks at events all year long. 

The MTC has a unique cost savings program for members as well. This enables members to go to suppliers and distributors to purchase supplies and services at a reduced rate, which can be a huge benefit for smaller companies that might just be setting up their first lab space, as an example.  

Where do you see the Maryland tech/life sciences ecosystem in the next five to seven years? 

I think that we are on track in Maryland to do a few things. Maryland is on track to be a global leader in the fight against cancer and to excel in the cell and gene therapy sector. Maryland can also become a global leader in advanced biomanufacturing.

These things can all happen if we keep building on our assets. To get there we need to build our workforce. We need to create the most talented workforce pool in the country. 

I think the entire system is ready to grow and I believe that Maryland will evolve into the top-notch state that we have the ability to be. 

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