Going fast and thinking big’ was key in taking Glen Burnie firm from president’s garage

Capital Gazette | Theresa Downs

Annapolis, MD (October 10, 2015) — At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Brian Jamieson developed instruments that could go into space.

But he believed there was a market for a company that could research and develop those products. So in 2006, he formed Scientific & Biomedical Microsystems (SBM) in his garage. It is now located in Glen Burnie, where it employs 18 people.

Jamieson talked to Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. about his firm and how the Internet of Things has driven attention to his field.

Tell me a little bit about your business and the history of its establishment.

My training in engineering is very specific, in that I develop new sensors and instruments to make measurements. I was creating really small instruments that could go in implantable medical devices, and the work at NASA focused on scientific devices such as unmanned space probes. There was a huge emphasis on miniaturization because every pound you send into space is hugely expensive and complex.

Talk about some of your experiences as you set up your business.

The company was originally formed in my garage. We then rented a small one room space off of Ritchie Highway and were there for about a year. We eventually sublet a space in Howard County, where I hired my first three employees (in 2009).

When we needed to build out more space, we worked with St. John’s Properties and found space in Anne Arundel County. We bootstrapped everything at the beginning, and later developed very important banking relationships that have allowed us to grow the company by purchasing equipment and managing our accounts receivable. We did qualify for an (U.S. Small Business Administration) loan, which has worked out well for us.

Business mentors from successful businesses located right here in Anne Arundel County have been hugely important to my learning and growth as a businessman. Some of these people were my friends and neighbors — one mentor in particular has been instrumental in getting me to “lean out over my skis more,” and if nothing else has been good for picking up the tab at Severna Park’s Breakfast Shoppe when I need some advice.

When I started the business, I put together what I thought was a very aspirational five-year business plan, and after five years was very surprised to discover that we had accomplished those goals.

How do you find the best employees?

If you are trying to be competitive and move quickly, you need the very best technical employees. Right from the beginning, I’ve valued recruitment and have worked hard to recruit and keep the most qualified employees. We cast a very wide net, and spend a lot of time networking.

How do you differentiate your company from others?

There are giant companies doing design and manufacturing of sensors such as Bosch, Intel, Freescale, and Honeywell, although they can’t innovate as quickly as a smaller company. They rely on acquisitions and partnerships to bring in new technologies.

We are very lean and fast. Sensor development is a very hot field and the whole IoT has driven a lot of interest in sensors. Without sensors there isn’t any IoT. There is no data on which to crunch. You need to have both sensors and data aggregators.

What is uniquely special about doing business in Anne Arundel County?

We love being near BWI Airport and there are a surprising number of tech firms in this area. We also enjoy Annapolis and being near Annapolis. It’s very easy to recruit people because of Anne Arundel County’s vicinity to Baltimore and Washington D.C. It’s a great central location. We also enjoy having the bike trails (the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail and the BWI Trail) near our office. We can bike at lunchtime or even into work.

If you could go back and do one thing over, what would it be?

The thing I always struggle with and the thing that other people have advised me to do is to think big. Going fast and thinking big. Some people think that what I did seems so risk tolerant and crazy — to walk out of a secure job and start a company without even a first client.

But in the overall scheme of things, who looks back on their life and says “I went for it and I wish I hadn’t…”? Most regrets are “I wish I had tried XYZ”. I think we all tend to hold onto a narrow and scared world view. What would you do if you weren’t scared? You have to think that way. Think bigger. Don’t be afraid to talk up the unique skills you have and your great team. Be your best advocate.

How has AAEDC helped you with your business?

AAEDC has been very helpful in a variety of ways, including helping us find new rental space, informing us about loan and grant opportunities and providing insight on managing exports.

Our sister company co-founded by Rob Collins, Diagnostic Biochips, received funding from (Maryland Technology Development Corporation) and also recently got a VOLT loan from AAEDC. This is going to help us commercialize one particular product.