New Chesapeake Regional Tech Council director looking to make connections
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Posted by: Megan Mann
Tami Howie went to law school with plans to become a prosecutor, but she had fallen in love with the tech community once she earned her degree.
In the 1990s, she was a student at the University of Maryland when she got an internship at the law firm, DLA Piper and Cooley. While there, she handled public offerings for tech companies and worked with Ray Ozzie — the creator of Lotus Notes — when he launched Grove Networks. Howie got a job there after graduation and it marked the beginning of her career as a technology lawyer.
"I don't think I realized how cool that was at the time. I was too busy stressing," said Howie, who this past fall became the executive director of the Annapolis-based Chesapeake Regional Tech Council. "I was panicking and reading (financial dictionaries) all night … But that's what you do as an entrepreneur. You get a problem and you have to figure out how to solve it."
Howie has spent the last two months taking charge of the CRTC, which is made up 320 member companies in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Her predecessor, Kris Shock, left over the summer to take a job as senior account director at Exit 10 in Baltimore. John Elstner took on the interim role until Howie was hired in November. Most recently, Howie served as general counsel and later president for Tessada & Associates, a Springfield, VA technology contractor.
In the coming months, she plans to rebrand the organization with more educational forums, an internship program, mentorship, consulting and other activities. The changes will be announced at its annual tech awards in April.
Once known as the Anne Arundel Tech Council, the CRTC's goal is not to promote any specific region of the state or one particular technology, Howie said.
"Maryland has all of the pieces to be the next big tech community," Howie said, adding the presence of cyber and health tech. "If you put all of those little partnerships together, we can really make Maryland the next Silicon Valley. I view CRTC's role as the group that puts all those pieces together and makes this area great, both through a marketing standpoint and by building companies."
One of those partnerships included Launch Annapolis, a not-for-profit Meetup community that aims to support entrepreneurship. It formed an alliance before Howie's appointment, and so far that has consisted of promoting each other's events.
"She's definitely a game changer for the organization and hopefully for the region," Launch Annapolis' Jim Gibbons said, adding that his organization's membership extends also beyond this area.. "I don't want to be stuck in Annapolis, Anne Arundel County. Other organizations seem to be comfortable with that. I like this regional concept, this statewide concept. With our state, I feel like the tech community has been a little fragmented (with cities) competing with each other. The more people we have like Tami who will focus on the big picture.."
Still, some would like to see programming focused on their area of technology.
Annapolis-based Optimium Health offers technology geared toward cutting down on hospital inefficiencies. CEO Vicki Harrison joined the CRTC a few years ago because it offered a health technology forum that connected them to other businesses in the area. It hasn't been as active as it was in the past and she'd like to see more CRTC programming geared toward that in the future.
"Cyber is a very hot ticket but it's all based on the fact that the government is down the street," Harrison said. "There's so much going on in health care right now on a national level .. I think it's really shaken the market up. I think it's a good time to pay attention to young companies that are innovating."
Located in offices on Bestgate Road, the CRTC has a full-time staff of three, including Howie. It is not unusual for her to attend a dozen meetings a day, either companies seeking help or forums. Then there are the tasks of managing the office daily and the tasks that go with it.
"You really get to be everything, which is really fun," Howie said. "We're training on how to be a startup, but we are a small company ourselves so we can get out there and show you how to do it."
To fill the executive director position, the CRTC board conducted a national search that was boiled down to two rounds of interviews with finalists. All of the candidates were impressive, but Howie stood out because of her understanding of issues that companies face from startup to exit strategy, said Jason Silva, president of the CRTC board.
"We had an excellent director in Kris Shock who was with us for seven years and to be able to pick up Tami to carry the torch has been great," said Silva, who is also the chief technology officer of ByteGrid. "We don't look at one particular silo like cyber or med tech. What we try to do is foster convergences between tech and companies that provide jobs in those areas."
This article was originally published in the Capital Gazette by Shantee' Woodards