CSM institute aims to grow an economic ecosystem
Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute could help spur growth in region
While Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was busy last year proclaiming Maryland “open for business,” and restructuring the old department of business and economic development into the Mary- land Department of Commerce, Col- lege of Southern Maryland President Brad Gottfried was piecing together a regional effort to help spur economic growth and create a culture of entrepreneurship in Southern Maryland.
This past July, after a couple of years of work, CSM formally launched the Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute — the latest of several institutes designed to weave the growing college into the community tapestry of the three counties it serves.
“I was seeing that entrepreneurship was so important to Southern Maryland,” Gottfried said in a recent interview at his office on the La Plata campus, sitting beside the new institute’s director, Tommy Luginbill. “I saw that we were never going to have Marriott headquarters coming to Southern Maryland. What would cause us to prosper would be to encourage entrepreneurial activity — whether it’s associated with the bases, whether it’s associated with the power plants, whether it’s associated with simply citizens who have great ideas and want to start a new business, or grow their businesses.”
Darrell Brown couldn’t agree more. The Charles County economic development director essentially echoed that sentiment in a brief interview before the department’s fall meeting earlier this month.
“We think this is the type of
partnership, institute that ties into our targeted in- dustries that will have a meaningful effect on job creation,” Brown said of the effort. “Without entrepreneurs, we can’t grow our economy and our base. You grow from within. You take what you have and you nurture that, you support that — and that’s our entrepreneurs.”
Brown and his staff recently completed a five-year strategic plan to make a strong push toward expanding the economic base, and are now entering the implementation phase. In light of that, the CSM institute couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I see it as becoming the central driving force to bring together all the pieces and identifying the gaps in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, and helping us fill those gaps — and help us function more collaboratively,” said Marcia Keeth, the deputy director under Brown and a member of the institute’s Charles advisory board. There are advisory boards in each county.
Chris Kaselemis, di- rector of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development, echoed much the same thing. His department is working on a strategic plan that may be unveiled in December.
“We realize that we’re probably going to get most of our jobs in the future from creating our own companies, helping new startups and helping business we have here expand, versus get- ting companies to move down here,” Kaselemis, who is on the St. Mary’s advisory board, said. “We still try to do that, and there will be some, hopefully, but that’s not what we bank on.”
And that’s music to Gottfried’s ears.
“It’s shocking how much is going on here, but it’s so diffuse,” Gottfried said, talking of the various efforts in the three counties. “There’s no unifying force that’s bringing everything together, and that’s what this idea is. We all believe that if we can harness entrepreneurship and innovation, this community, this Southern Maryland, will really thrive.”
Institutes for outreach
The new institute comes on the heels of two suc- cesses and two failures, Gottfried said. The first, a financial literacy insti- tute called Money Smart, was started to offer residents and students free workshops on managing money. “The problem was, in some cases, there were more professionals at some of these sessions than there were attendees,” he said.
After closing that one, he started a STEM (sci- ence, technology, engi- neering and math) insti- tute to help coordinate such activities around the region and host competi- tions. “That’s sort of still limping along,” he said.
The first success was the Nonprofit Institute, which acts as a sort of clearing- house for the region’s nonprofits. Through the institute, the college provides regular executive and volunteer education sessions and get-togethers, and helps Southern Maryland nonprofit agen- cies attract volunteers and donations through online portals. “That’s been very successful,” Gottfried said. “I’m very proud of that one, the Nonprofit In- stitute. It’s been going for at least four years.”
The next success was the creation of the Diversity Institute, which is a collaboration with Charles County to provide diversity training and leadership development in a county that has tran- sitioned into a majority minority jurisdiction.
While the last two have proven successful, Gottfried has high hopes for the EII.
“It’s looking to be the strongest of all of them,” he said. “The three more recent ones are going very, very strong. And what they all have in common is they all have staff associated with them, paid staff. That makes the big difference.”
Endowing the future
Michael J. Chiaramon- te, a longtime Southern Maryland businessman who now keeps an of- fice in Alexandria, Va., stepped up to the plate and donated $250,000 to start the institute’s en- dowment. His father, who died three years ago, had given the college $1 mil- lion for a scholarship en- dowment in 2008 — there is now the Francis P. Chi- aramonte, MD Center for Science and Technology on the La Plata campus.
Michael Chiaramonte grew up in Clinton where his family owned Southern Maryland Hospital, which he would run for 27 years before its sale to MedStar. “We’re really Southern Marylanders, first and foremost,” Chi- aramonte said in a phone interview. “We’ve been big fans of the college for years.”
It was in this region that he started more than 15 mostly health care-relat- ed businesses stretching back to the 1980s. And it’s those experiences he hopes to share with fellow Southern Marylanders, both through the donation and as one of the institute’s business mentors.
“Why do this? It was to offer the opportunity to young entrepreneurs to gain the insight and knowledge necessary to start a new business,” he said. “Young people, if you query them, they really want to be entrepreneurs.”
Gottfried said it only took a couple of lunches to get Chiaramonte on board.
“He really did get it started,” Gottfried said. “It was between that and the faculty position that really got this off the ground.”
Gottfried used an open faculty position to hire the first director, a 29-year-old Marylander with experi- ence in entrepreneurship. Tommy Luginbill started in July and has spent the last four months meeting people and listening at advisory board meetings. He’s also teaching an economics class and will take over the “social entrepreneurship” class in the spring.
“Something very tangi- ble, that I think marries the entrepreneurship institute to the Nonprofit Institute, is the social en- trepreneurship class I’m teaching in the spring,” Luginbill said. “In my mind, entrepreneurship and nonprofits kind of go hand in hand. A well-run nonprofit is run exactly the same way as a wellrun for-profit.”
“I think it’s another step in the right direc- tion for the college,” said Bill Chambers, president and CEO of the Calvert County Chamber of Com- merce. “They’ve been challenged to get more involved in workforce development.”
Chambers said Calvert’s needs are more dire than those of the other two counties. With “stagnant growth in this county, we have an aging population, declining school enroll- ment. We are not headed in a really pretty direc- tion right now,” he said. “There needs to be every component, including the college, involved in try- ing to create a successful, sustainable county.”
He’s hoping the ex- istence of the institute might itself become a business magnet.
“It’s necessary and needed,” he said. “Work- force development is a real issue, especially in a county like ours that isn’t producing a whole lot of new jobs. Maybe this will be the egg before the chicken. Maybe we’ll get employers to take a look at locating in Calvert if they feel as though we’re addressing some of these issues — entrepreneur- ship, innovation, work- force issues.”
Gottfried said his vi- sion for the institute is to let the county advisory boards — which include entrepreneurs — and economic development leaders set the agenda to keep it from becoming a top-down organization. The careful selection of its first director was meant to encourage collaboration and avoid territoriality.
“We’re bringing everyone under the tent rather than saying we have a separate tent,” Gottfried said. “What I like so much about Tommy is that he is non-threatening, he is very collaborative. You sit across from him and you can tell he wants to help. Not everyone has that kind of personality.”
Luginbill’s answer to the question of what the institute will accomplish in its first year underscored Gottfried’s summation of him.
“What I see in one year, is that we have been successful in bringing everybody together — an online presence where everyone can come together and a physical presence where we can all come together — but mostly a mentality that everybody’s working together,” Luginbill said. “That means we are truly successful in a year. Once everyone agrees we’re all collaborating, then we’ve done a good job.”
Others are hoping for the same. Nearly everyone interviewed mentioned the desire for collaboration and stressed the importance of creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem when asked about what role the institute should play in the three counties.
“We support each other, but I don’t think we’re as collaborative as we can be and should be,” Keeth said. “I think that CSM, and both Dr. Gottfried and Tommy, have the vision to pull it all together.”
“I think it’s going to have to be a group effort. We can’t be in silos on this, we’ve got to work together,” Chambers said. “I think this is an important piece.”
“I think that’s good that we’re all starting to say the same things,” Kaselemis said. “When people are speaking with one voice, that shows that there’s something there. If we’re all pulling in the same direction, that’s going to help.”
Gottfried, who is less than a year away from retirement, hopes the EII will have a life of its own and grow into whatever Southern Maryland’s economy and business community need.
“Ultimately, what will happen as this grows is, there’s no question in my mind, this will be more than Tommy — this will be a variety of instructors, of staff members, who will be out in the community,” he said. “I could see this really resonating in a way even beyond my expectations.”
“I do really believe that this [area] could be a national model of how a region can really work together to promote economic health and well-being,” he added. “I think that’s the bottom line.”
Tommy Luginbill is the director of CSM’s new Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute.
Darrell Brown, director of Charles County’s economic development department, delivers opening remarks Nov. 1 at the department’s fall meeting in Waldorf.
Tommy Luginbill, left, director of CSM’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute, and CSM President Brad Gottfried pose for a picture.