April 18, 4-6 pm, 2018
The Vermont BioSciences Alliance hosted a State House reception on the evening of Wednesday, April 18, as an opportunity for state legislators and bioscience professionals to meet and mingle. When asked why the VBSA was at the State House, Thomas Scarnecchia, President of the VBSA and Digital Aurora responded with "the biosciences are an important growth sector for Vermont so we wanted to provide the members of the legislature with the opportunity to meet our academic and industry leaders."
Many VBSA Board Members were in attendance, while a rotating number of state representatives passed through, sampled hors d'oeuvres, and chatted with VBSA members. Conversation ranged from historical aspects of living in Vermont to modern opportunities presented by technology and entrepreneurship. Bill Church, Board Member, explained how antibodies work and the significance of immunotherapy to one representative, while Mercedes Rincon, a UVM Professor of Immunobiology and entrepreneur, explained the origin of the I-Trep program (see exclusive write-up in this newsletter) to another.
Margaret Laggis, Treasurer of the VBSA and contract lobbyist for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), let representatives know that the VBSA, along with partner companies like Green Mountain Antibodies, Research Proteins,
Chroma Technologies, UVM Innovations and the State of Vermont, will be hosting a pavilion at the BIO 2018 Convention for the first time this year. The BIO Convention is the largest global biotechnology event and an excellent opportunity to showcase Vermont's contributions to the biotechnology industry.
One subject that VBSA members continually impressed on state representatives was the challenge of doing bioscience in Vermont. "We have the ideas, but we don't have the infrastructure," declared Margaret Laggis. Dr. Rincon seconded, explaining that when she wanted to start her own biotechnology business, she struggled in Vermont and ultimately founded her start-up out-of-state.
"So, what you're saying," clarified one representative, ticking points off on his fingers, "is that we don't have incubators, we don't have venture capital, we have smart young talent but not the critical skills..." Without that infrastructure, including strong support of the State's flagship research university, starting a bioscience or technology business in Vermont is harder than it needs to be, and harder than it is in neighboring states. Margaret shared that when science-minded Vermont entrepreneurs come forward with innovative start-up ideas, they are often directed to go to states like Massachusetts or California, states that have solid venture capital, incubator infrastructure, and strong support of public and private research universities.
While leaving to start a business elsewhere may be a personal disappointment for innovative Vermonters, it's a bigger disappointment for the State. Successful Vermont bioscience businesses represent good jobs for educated Vermonters and recruitment opportunities for programs like the new Stay to Stay initiative.
But exactly what infrastructure would most help budding Vermont bioscience businesses? Dr. Rincon argued for an incubator, a place with the right resources and cheap rent where new bioscience start-ups could get off the ground together. The goal of an incubator facility is to bring start-ups together, encouraging collaboration and an entrepreneurship ecosystem that is more likely to attract the attention of bigger investors. Or, considering Vermont is concerned about getting resources to underserved parts of the state, it could be a network of incubators. With two or three incubators, possibly serving different themes, distributed near existing resources, more than one region could see the economic benefits.
These and other productive conversations made for a stimulating evening of discussion between the VBSA and state legislators. Events like the April 18th reception are a chance for the VBSA to convey the message that the biosciences provide sound economic opportunities for Vermont and Vermonters. We hope to see you at our next event!