What would you say if asked how the state could better support your industry? Five CEOs of locally-headquartered life sciences and biotechnology startups spent an hour with Washington state Governor Jay Inslee at the Cambia Grove discussing topics such as R&D tax credits, resources available to new Washington-based companies, and potential funding for life sciences entrepreneurship.
More than 150 guests were on hand at the Cambia Grove on May 1st to watch, and share their own perspectives on what would make Seattle – and Washington state – a better home to a life sciences sector that has many pockets of excellence, but has yet to realize its potential. The panel discussion was moderated by Gov. Inslee and Cambia Grove Executive Director Nicole Bell, and featured:
- Sailesh Chutani, CEO, Mobisante
- Leen Kawas, CEO, M3Bio
- Brandon Masterson, CEO, 2Morrow
- Ron Myers, CEO, Nexgenia
- Ingrid Swanson Pultz, CEO, PvP Biologics
Gov. Inslee spent much of the event as listener and facilitator, kicking off the panel by lauding the courage and vision of the participants and asking them why they were in Washington. Myers spoke to the vitality of the biotech sector, while acknowledging the challenges of recruiting to Seattle.
“Seattle offers a great collaborative community on the business side and the scientific side,” said Kawas. “But what sealed the deal for me was capital,” referring to the support M3Bio received from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund. “Our approach is based on over $10 million in R&D, done here, in the state of Washington, and five different studies done here,” added Masterson. “World class research is available to us, as well the software and business talent to build great companies.”
Swanson Pultz explained “there is no other place in the world” her company’s work could be developed, while Chutani highlighted the challenges of non-compete agreements and their impacts on liquidity of talent.
Gov. Inslee asked the panelists to discuss what was next for their companies. “For biotech we need specialized spaces to grow,” said Kawas. “Seattle will become a hub for biotech if we work on creating the environment, keep talent and invite capital into the state.”
“There are an estimated 65,000 potential angels that could be investing in the [biotech] space, of which 1-2 percent are organized and accessible to companies such as us,” said Masterson. “[Cambia is] building connectors here, we need to try to build connectors with the state as well, to link the problems that are out there to us, so that we can go and solve the right problems,” he said. “That means pilots, and pilot partners.”
Swanson Pultz spoke about how “regulatory affairs, marketing, and manufacturing” are types of centralized resources critical to the success of early stage companies with sound, interesting and novel science, adding that collaboration through mechanisms like institutional review boards hold promise.
“The approach that will work best for [Washington] is centers of excellence,” said Chutani, mentioning big data and primary care as areas that do or could give young companies a competitive advantage through amplification.
Panelists opened up when asked about their wish lists. Chutani mentioned the opportunity to for companies to engage with state funded and supported organizations on merit, while Myers pointed to the need to help larger companies thrive as a source for partnership. Masterson voiced his desire for local lead investors to attract capital. “You can use this space and others to bring in groups that will invest.”
While Kawas lamented the lack of infrastructure to deploy a lean R&D model, she also talked about the long-term benefits of supporting policies like the R&D tax exemption. “We need to convince legislators that the R&D tax credit is meaningful in job creation and will help us long term,” said Inslee.
“When we thought about what the Cambia Grove needed to be, we wanted to help provide space,” said Bell. “We are investors and we are trying to up the game for investment in this community.”
In her closing, Bell shared excitement about the conversations happening in the room. “We at the Cambia Grove are working to make those vital connections between [entrepreneurs], the customers you want, those who may partner with you and someday be your exit strategy.”
To see three short videos recapping the event, please see the links below from the Cambia Grove YouTube channel:
To find out more about events at the Cambia Grove, please visit our event calendar. You can also reserve the Cambia Grove space for our own health care related event.