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Boston’s biomedical bonanza

Lilly Marks //October 13, 2011//

Boston’s biomedical bonanza

Lilly Marks //October 13, 2011//

In today’s world of Twitter and Facebook, the rage is all about, “I, I, I” and “me, me, me.” As business leaders, we know success comes from “we” and “us.” However, when I consider the message learned on the Leadership Exchange trip to Boston recently, it strikes me that there is an important twist to the paradigm of “I.”

One of the core segments of this year’s LEX trip was Boston’s amazing bioscience and technology transfer success, and that story is most certainly about the I’s – Innovation, Inspiration and Impact – that emerge with the right blend of infrastructure and intellect. Together, the “I”s have It, and that “It” is Impact.

LEX attendees learned about the major elements that set Boston’s stage for the success. For example, we had an important discussion on health care reform and how the state of Massachusetts has expanded health care to all of its citizens. Contrary to the rhetoric we hear, we learned that the state has not lost jobs as a result of creating universal coverage and that 96 percent to 98 percent of its residents have health-care insurance.

We also learned a great deal about Boston’s emergence as a major center of bioscience discovery and biotech transfer and the relationship between the biotechnology industry and research universities. Boston is the mecca of higher education in the United States, and we visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its Bioscience Park, Harvard University, and the Cambridge Innovation Center. From these visits, and the individuals with whom we met, we learned how Colorado might capitalize on its own innovative technology and intellectual capital.

As a state, Massachusetts strategically decided that its comparative advantage, its most important natural resource, is its intellectual capital. Business and governmental leaders described how Massachusetts has embraced biotechnology development, and how since 2001, that job sector has experienced a 53 percent increase in job growth. In fact, we were told that Massachusetts employs 49,000 in the biotechnology sector, with a payroll of $4.6 billion.

Clearly, Boston has the strongest collection of universities in one urban location. There are four academic medical centers in its urban corridor, and in funding terms Boston has the top 5 National Institutes of Health-funded hospitals in the country. The state has the highest per capita venture capital investment in the country, and is a growing hub for worldwide biopharma companies.

Boston’s ingredients for success are unparalleled. However, writing the recipe and cooking the mixture into a gourmet’s delight is not impossible for a city like ours. Boston is the home to some of the world’s best venture virtuosos who know how to bring these elements together.

Our Colorado team had the good fortune to meet and listen to the insight of Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, a Ph.D engineer and entrepreneur who has founded and sold several companies. He’s the founder of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at MIT, and he’s currently the co-chairman of National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a group set up to support President Obama’s innovation strategy.

Desh’s message was clear: In today’s world it’s not enough to be inspirational, have great ideas, and be innovative. Innovation must be linked to relevance to have an impact. The Deshpande Center helps MIT pick ideas that can have commercial and real world appeal. We learned that MIT breeds success by going beyond the transfer of technology.

MIT has focused on teaching people how to transfer technology, how to start and build companies and how to create a culture of entrepreneurialism. The National Science Foundation recently has embraced this public-private concept to create an “Innovation Corps” that connects thinkers with doers.

How can Colorado compete in this context? First, we already recognize the importance of connecting researchers and innovators with individuals in the corporate world. We need to create a culture of entrepreneurialism in our research universities, attract funding for venture capital and angel investors. The University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus and the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority have created the infrastructure to incubate great biomedical ideas into commercial applications, and the University of Colorado is a state leader in invention disclosures and patent filings.

Yes, Massachusetts ranks second in number of adults per capita with college degrees, but Colorado ranks third! Not only do we have the wondrous mountains as a natural resource, we have the intellectual capital, too. While we cannot match the scale of Massachusetts, we can match it in scope.
We have the intellect, innovators and infrastructure. It is now our challenge to translate our innovation into impact. By bringing entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators together, we, too, can create the right blend for relevance and impact.
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