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Four growing companies to watch

Peter Kojesta, Exis founder
Peter Kojesta, Exis founder - Steve Ruark
One Towson company makes games. Another, in Columbia, manufactures a “smart” sports glove. The other two, in Baltimore and Catonsville, sell alternative energy and weather information. As diverse as they sound, they share a common trait – they’re all young, innovative companies that are growing.
 
Exis Interactive, Blue Infusion TechnologiesClean Currents and StormCenter Communications Inc. all demonstrate what’s new and exciting in Maryland's tech industry, says Clay Hickson, executive director of TowsonGlobal Business Incubation.

Hickson is most familiar with Exis, which recently graduated from the incubator on the campus of Towson University. He has no connection with the other three companies. 

“They are unique ideas that are building off something already out there,” says Hickson of the four companies. “They bring something to their sectors and it’s notable.”
 
Last year, the US Chamber of Commerce named Maryland a top state for innovation and entrepreneurship. The same year, the Kauffman Foundation cited Maryland as a leader in transforming into an entrepreneurial and innovation-based economy.
 
Here’s a look at the four companies. All are in different stages of development: from startup to mature; from a staff of one to 30; and from under $10,000 in bootstrap, private financing to $6 million in public-private funding.
 
Name: Blue Infusion Technologies
Leadership: Willie Blount, Founder and CEO; Tarik Rodgers, Partner and COO
Funding to date: Maryland Industrial Partnerships, $90,000; private financing, $80,000
Location: Columbia, affiliated with the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, part of the Howard County Economic Development Authority
           
When Blue Infusion Technologies introduced its smart glove last year, a number of technology and sports websites reviewed and even applauded. PRWeb called the product "revolutionary," while Ultimate MotorCycling found it "groundbreaking." BEARTek Gloves are outfitted with Bluetooth technology, allowing wearers to operate devices like iPhones and Android products by touching designated fingers while they are playing a sport.
 
Founder and CEO Willie Blount, a devoted motorcyclist, and partner and COO Tarik Rodgers, an avid skier, saw the problem first hand and moved to fix it. “You can’t operate your phone, or you may not have it with you, when you’re doing those sports,”  Blount says.
 
BEARTek Gloves originally came in two models, for skiing and motorcycling, at $150 per pair, and were sold only on Kickstarter.com. Starting this January, the company is selling them on its website. By mid-2013, it will introduces BEARTek Gloves for bicycling and motorcross as well.
 
“The technology can work in a variety of gloves,” says Blount, who is pursuing military contracts for what he calls “tactical gloves.”
 
Blount plans a financing round this year, with the goal of raising $125,000 from angel investors. He runs the company himself and will hire consultants to help develop the gloves as needed.

 
Name: StormCenter Communications Inc.
Founder/CEO/President: Dave Jones
Funding to date: $6 million from National Aeronautic and Space Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants, private investors, client contracts
Location: bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park
 
Dave Jones, founder, CEO and president, never envisioned starting his own company. But in 2001, after a career as the on-air meteorologist for a national TV network, he did, founding StormCenter Communications, an environmental information website for television stations.
 
In 2008, Jones changed the company’s direction. Money for the original concept wasn’t there and, says Jones, “I asked myself. ‘Where is the future?’” The answer lay in combining the company’s technology with satellite imagery for emergency management and decision support.
 
StormCenter delivers data about heat waves, snow storms, hurricanes and wild fires to government agencies in real-time and to all participants’ computers via a cloud-sharing service. “We create a common operating picture,” says Jones.
 
Last year, StormCenter was awarded a two-year, $745,000 federal Small Business Innovation Research contract to create a common system that all federal agencies could use. It is also working with the Alaska region of the US weather service on volcanic ash advisories.
 
Depending on contracts, Jones may add geographic information systems programmers and meteorologists this year to the current staff of eight.
 
 
Name: Clean Currents
Co-founders: Gary Skulnik and Charles Segerman
Funding to date: Not disclosed
Location: Silver Spring headquarters; offices in Baltimore and Philadelphia
 
As more companies and individuals turn to wind and solar energy, Clean Currents is poised to take advantage of this trend. The alternative energy company offers what advocates call “clean” energy, through wind or solar power, versus traditional sources of oil and coal. 

Clean Currents provides “clean” energy in the form of renewable energy certificates that are applied to customers’ electricity bills. Electricity savings vary by utility area, the company says.
 
In Baltimore, clients include Spike Gjerde's lauded restaurant Woodbery Kitchen, the Inn at the Black Olive, Charm City Run and environmental agency Blue Water Baltimore. Mom’s Organic Market, with locations throughout Maryland, is also a client.
 
Founded in 2005, Clean Currents is based in Silver Spring but opened an office in Baltimore last year. This year, it’s opening one in Philadelphia. Originally it only offered wind power, but is adding solar power this year to clients in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Clean Currents’ current staff numbers 30. It is hiring up to four employees, in sales and customer services, at its Baltimore and Philadelphia offices each.
 
 
Name: Exis LLC
Founder/CEO: Peter Kojesta
Funding to date: Private and less than $10,000 in state grants
Location: Towson, Baltimore County
 
At the end of last year, Exis Interactive hit a milestone. After five years in the TowsonGlobal Business Incubation, the company “graduated’ to an office building.
 
Exis develops the programming and creates the art for video games like Magestic-12, which lets players take control of an elite commando unit and battle their way into secret installations.

Originally, all of its work was outsourced to clients that included well known names like Warner Bros. and LucasArts in entertainment and General Dynamics in defense. Last year, the company released the first game under its own brand, and more branded games are in the works, says CEO Peter Kojesta.

Kojesta founded Exis in 2003, fulfilling a long-time dream.
 
“After college, I got a job at a large game company with over 100 employees. Two years later, I was laid off. I figured I could make it on my own,” he says.
 
This year, Exis is offering a new service: full-scale application development, including mobile apps, for businesses and companies.  “We have enough programmers and we’ve proven we can create a product,” Kojesta says. 
 
He expects to add up to six programmers this year to the current staff of 10.

Photographs of Kojesta and Skulnik by STEVE RUARK

Others courtesy of Exis, StormCenter Communications and Blue Infusion Technologies


Click on each photo to see the captions. 
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