One wall in Ellen Hemmerly’s office in bwtech@UMBC North is home to a large aerial photo of UMBC’s campus before bwtech was built in 1989; next to it is an image taken from a similar angle that shows the completed research park just outside the campus loop.
On a conference call, Hemmerly efficiently works through a document with her team, making notes on a folded sheet of paper and delegating tasks to the group. As the executive director of bwtech, Hemmerly is responsible for every facet of the research park’s success and requires the ability to switch between tasks at a moment’s notice. She does so exuding patience, a sense of calm, and intentionality.
For more than two decades, Hemmerly has led UMBC’s technology park—the first-university-affiliated research park in Maryland—as it has grown and expanded to encompass start-up companies in industries including cybersecurity, the life sciences, information technology, and clean energy. Over the years, she has accumulated dozens of awards for her leadership and business acumen. At the end of June, Hemmerly will retire as executive director, leaving a healthy outlook for the park and a lasting legacy on Maryland’s economy.
“Ellen has set the standard for what it means to be an economic development professional,” says Greg Simmons, M.P.P. ’04, vice president for institutional advancement at UMBC. “She has that rare balance of vision and pragmatism that has allowed her to see the big picture vision for bwtech and UMBC, while using her considerable expertise to focus on the myriad of details required to build a park, engage partners, negotiate leases, host industry leaders, and build an innovation community.”
History of bwtech@UMBC
bwtech@UMBC is unique because it is both a department within the university and a 501c3 organization, which speaks to the impact that entrepreneurship and innovation has had on the university. “It has been a wonderful and rewarding experience leading bwtech and witnessing its growth and success,” says Hemmerly of her time at UMBC. “The interactions with colleagues from UMBC and the local entrepreneurial community have been especially fulfilling.”
Among those partnerships are the businesses Hemmerly helped build from the ground up. A few years after Delali Dzirasa ’04, computer engineering, graduated from UMBC, he was accepted into one of bwtech’s incubators to grow his software company Fearless Solutions. With support and mentorship from Hemmerly, the company took off.
“Ellen has shown us the importance of being friendly and, most importantly, being fearless. She’s taught us that kindness and business should go hand in hand; that businesses are most successful when you build strong relationships and partnerships along the way,” shares Dzirasa. “Ellen is unassuming and deeply generous, and she’s been there to give us help every single time we’ve needed it. And we’ll always be grateful to her for that.”
Today, Fearless Solutions employs nearly 75 people. Dzirasa says that Hemmerly has influenced how he leads his company. “Ellen has been instrumental to Fearless’ success since we first got started in our cube as a company of one. She’s been there for us in every stage of our growth, and she has always been resourceful and gracious in getting us the help we need,” Dzirasa explains. “Beyond general business guidance, she also supported our growth through networking and connections. Ellen regularly introduced us to potential customers, partners, and mentors, and we could always count on her to be our cheerleader.”
Currently, bwtech@UMBC is home to about 130 companies in its north and south research parks. These incubator companies and incubator-affiliated companies have nearly 1,800 employees, significantly contributing to economic development in the state of Maryland. Through programming, networking, and resources, businesses at bwtech are able connect with other companies, researchers, academic institutions, and potential investors to foster collaborations. They are also able to take advantage of the university’s resources, and bwtech’s affiliation with UMBC has helped boost its reputation as UMBC’s name is shared, explains Hemmerly.
Growing Maryland businesses
Under Hemmerly’s leadership, bwtech has helped drive economic growth in the Baltimore region and across the state of Maryland. bwtech@UMBC has supported hundreds of companies in growing their businesses by providing access to professional opportunities and mentors.
In 2018, bwtech@UMBC supported more than 3,200 jobs and contributed $700 million in labor income and business sales. Additionally, bwtech@UMBC contributed $5.5 million in taxes to Greater Baltimore and $12.4 million in taxes to Maryland in 2018. Like Fearless, many of the companies that have graduated from bwtech’s incubators have remained in the state, says Hemmerly, and she’s proud that more than half of the companies in bwtech are owned and operated by either women or underrepresented minorities, contributing to increased diversity within tech companies in the region.
Hemmerly has played a crucial role in helping the leaders of companies make connections across the state, and in promoting initiatives and programs at bwtech@UMBC. “I am most proud of the success of the many companies which have been part of bwtech and the increased visibility over time of bwtech’s brand,” Hemmerly says. “bwtech is considered an important asset to UMBC, the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, and our regional economic development partners.”
The research park at bwtech is currently at capacity, and the demand for space continues to increase. UMBC and bwtech leaders are working with local and state officials to identify and explore possible expansion opportunities, Hemmerly explains.
Over the years, bwtech has launched several initiatives to expand its impact across the region, country, and abroad, including the iCyberCenter@bwtech which supports companies from around the world, including the United Kingdom, as they establish themselves in Maryland. bwtech has received Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise (RISE) Zone designation from the Maryland Department of Commerce, a designation that supports existing companies, new companies, and UMBC faculty interested in commercializing their work.
A legacy of loyal leadership
Detail person that she is, Hemmerly is quick to share how she is approaching the transition out of the role that she has long held. To ensure that nothing falls through the cracks, Hemmerly is working with her team to turn over projects that will need to continue after she retires, and to tie up loose ends, renew leases and contracts, and set next year’s budget. Her calendar may not be as packed as it has been in the past, but Hemmerly says that it is a positive change.
“It’s nice to be able to think proactively about what needs to be done,” she explains, smiling.
Hemmerly is proud of what she has helped build, and how bwtech@UMBC has significantly impacted the Maryland economy, as well as helped put Maryland on the map as a cybersecurity hub. Simmons notes that these accomplishments wouldn’t have happened without such a strong leader at the helm.
“She has led with grace and integrity, and UMBC couldn’t be more appreciative of all she has accomplished,” he says.
All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for the UMBC Magazine.