By Rhea Galsim
New York’s vibrant neighborhood Tribeca is home to one of the city’s most dynamic incubators, NYU-Polytech Varick. Last week NYU-Polytech Varick hosted a Meetup event on New York’s biotech sector. A panel of speakers including Dr. Liam Ratcliffe of New Leaf Ventures, Michael Lamprecht of Cellanyx Diagnostics, Andrew Koopman of NYU’s New Venture Development Investment, and Alex Fair, the founder of Faircaremd.com and MedStartr, shared their take on what the opportunities and challenges for New York’s biotech sector are.
New York State was ranked second as Biotech center by Business Facilities Magazine in 2005. Healthcare initiatives and funding, such as the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s (NYCEDC) BioAccelerate Program; New York’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR); and the Empire State Development’s (ESD) Excelsior Program, are all improvements recently designed to eliminate the “severely anemic” economic support of the biopharmaceutical industry in New York State. But other states, such as California, Texas, Kansas, and Massachusetts, are thriving biotech hubs as well.
The underlying questions were: How has New York’s biotech sector evolved over the past years? What does it take for entrepreneurs to choose New York over other well-known tech establishments, like Silicon Valley or Boston, and bring more heat to the New York bio tech scene?
The basic foundation of New York’s relationship with biotech seems to be covered. Michael Lamprecht, co-founder of Cellanyx Diagnostics, an emerging cancer diagnostics firm for treating patients with prostate cancer, highlighted the access to research universities, capital and networking opportunities as a key advantage. However, it is not always a smooth ride. Research intensive biotech companies are often faced with the challenge of high office rent and finding adequate lab space.
According to Lamprecht, it is easier to fund healthcare IT investments compared to biotech. Investing in biotech requires a large R&D budget which may be too risky for investors, making it difficult to raise capital. “You’re too early, “is a common phrase used by investors who need more research before making an investment. This is a term biotech and healthcare IT entrepreneurs don’t like to hear.
Other challenges seemed to be cultural, or dare I say, a matter of building a trusting relationship. One participant noted that the strength of Silicon Valley and Boston derives from genuine support within the tech community. There’s just so much support and camaraderie that exchanging ideas and insight is welcomed—even in the gym. He felt that in New York exchanging ideas feels uncomfortable or as if “my idea could get robbed”.
Using social media and building a stronger community with other biotech enthusiasts will improve the biotech scene in New York, according to Alex Fair, the founder of the health network Faircaremd.com, and the newly launched health venture –MedStartr. Social media has helped him mix both fun and work, such as a recent “mob” event which brought networking and insight into laying the foundations of MedStartr over a Friday night game of ping-pong.
New York has its own line up of successful healthcare and biotech companies, notably ZocDoc, pingMD, Retrophin, and imagen Biotech. What does it take for the biotech scene to be ‘swanky’?
My take away from the panel was that the city needs to find better ways to bring entrepreneurs, researchers, and scientists together more often, like with this Meetup. Moreover, as New York is also a social media industry hub, social media channels could be used more extensively to raise public awareness of recent biotech and healthcare advancements and connect investors and entrepreneurs virtually and socially.
Please also read The Technoverse blog post “Biotech in NYC? Yes, it exists” by @agreenjay.
Published by The Next Silicon Valley, August 1, 2012