Thomas Luginbill knows what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. He spearheaded the founding of a campus organization when he was an undergraduate, helped start a family-run contracting business and co-created a start-up technology venture while studying for an MBA. This self-described “serial entrepreneur” has been named as director of the College of Southern Maryland’s newly formed Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute (EII).
CSM, recognizing the need to nurture the region’s entrepreneurs and innovators, has created the EII to complement the array of business programs already offered at the college through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the network of CSM institutes designed to help the college build relationships with local businesses and organizations.
“CSM believes that by encouraging entrepreneurship in the region, we can spark real change, by helping to create and grow business and spur the economy. The college has always recognized the importance of formal education, but we also believe in reaching far beyond the classroom to a broader Southern Maryland community. The Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute will allow the college to continue to expand this mission,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried. “Thomas Luginbill is the perfect person to lead the institute as he combines a wealth of experience with an infectious enthusiasm to help others.”
“I am both excited and grateful to be joining CSM as it kicks off this new institute,” said Luginbill, who will also be a member of the college’s business faculty. “The college recognizes the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation and what they can mean for the Southern Maryland economy. We hope to create an environment to help students interested in starting and growing businesses and to provide direct support and resources to businesses and innovators in the area. The institute’s goal is to bring together talented, passionate and motivated people to promote new and innovative business ventures and promote all forms of entrepreneurship and innovation.”
EII recognizes the role and contributions that entrepreneurs play in the growth of the economy; the Small Business Administration estimates that 64 percent of new private-sector jobs are created by small businesses, and start-up companies create as many as 20 percent of all new jobs.
Luginbill believes his background in strategic planning and innovation and his experience starting businesses will be invaluable to the fledgling institute.
While completing his undergraduate degree in finance at the University of Delaware, Luginbill said he saw an opportunity to create “something that would live well beyond his time at the university.” As a result, he founded a Sigma Pi chapter at UD. Forming the fraternity was “like a boot-camp” in building and running a business, he said.
After graduating from UD in 2009, he helped launch Solair Systems, a family-run and Maryland-based contracting firm that specializes in green energy.
By then he had given up his dream of a career in finance and instead headed to the University of Maryland to study for his MBA at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business.
While at UMD, he learned about a campus pilot program called iCorps that matched business students with inventors to identify viable products that could be sold commercially. He teamed up with an inventor, a Naval Research Laboratory scientist who was developing anti-decontaminating materials made from chitosan, a biopolymer made with treated recycled crab shells. He said he gathered his energy, his resources and his community relationships and launched Grey Matter, a technology firm that specializes in smart fabrics. Luginbill applied everything he was learning in his MBA courses to develop a business plan. His business background and the lab innovation made for the perfect project, he said.
Through the pilot program, he was paired with mentors and a group that funded start-ups. With $75,000 in federal grants, he secured workspace and went on to license two patents for the personal protective equipment. It took several years of commitment, he said, to get the business started. Today, the company continues to work on the technology with the U.S. Navy.
“As a business owner, I have a deep appreciation for the hard work, perseverance and the importance of networking in the community, factors that were needed to get Grey Matter off the ground,” Luginbill said.
The EII will provide many activities and resources to CSM students and the community that will promote that entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. EII will work with its SBDC partners, state and local government, and the private sector to bring business expertise together in one place. The institute wants to offer facilities and provide a central, unifying location where all partners can come together. The EII will partner with existing entrepreneurial organizations to provide and promote a networking link for the region.
The institute also hopes to do this through individual and group mentoring programs, conferences, showcases and roundtable discussions. The college has launched a Small Business Entrepreneurship Certificate and Letter of Recognition. This new program will involve 20 credit hours of college work.
The institute plans to form advisory councils to develop opportunities for mentoring, to hold quarterly roundtable discussions at each campus to support the unique needs of each of the counties, and offer a hands-on entrepreneurship and innovation experience summer program for middle and high school students.
A speaker series will bring successful entrepreneurs from around the state and region to speak to students and the community, and a hands-on summer program, Youth Entrepreneur Academy, for middle and high school students, Luginbill said.
“The Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute will be another example of the value CSM provides to our Southern Maryland region as a community resource,” Gottfried said. “CSM supports the community in a multitude of ways, and this institute will be a valuable resource to support our regional workforce development for business, industry and our military.”
The institute was created with a donation from Michael and Liz Chiaramonte and the Chiaramonte Family Foundation. Other supporters of the institute include the local chambers of
commerce, Southern Maryland Innovation & Technology, Energetics Technology Center, SBDC, Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland and Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO).
The EII has been built for sustainability, so an endowment fund has been established. The institute is also looking for partners, mentors, advisers, donors and advocates.
Those interested are invited to join CSM for the SBDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Summit on Sept. 8. To register for the Sept. 8 summit, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2016-entrepreeurship-innovation-summit-tickets-26956022188 or call 301-934-7583.
For more information on the institute, visit http://www.csmd.edu/community/institutes/eii/.
CSM/SBDC Entrepreneurship & Innovation Summit 2016. 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sept. 8. College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus, Center for Business and Industry, 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata. Small Business Development Center will convene industry, education, government, and research and scientific community for a conversation about the region’s preparedness to support entrepreneurial innovations, start-up technology efforts and transfer of scientific research for technology available for commercial use. 301-934-7583 or www.eventbrite.com/e/2016-entrepreeurship-innovation-summit-tickets-26956022188.