Fulton Bank Aims to be a Key Partner for the Life Science and Technology Community
Fulton’s New Financial Services Division Delivers Innovative Solutions to Fill Critical Void for Early Stage Innovation-based Companies
Late in 2019, Fulton Bank launched a brand-new division to support emerging Life Science and Technology companies. Many traditional banks have historically shied away from these types of companies, which often operate in pre-revenue business models that are more complicated to assess. However, if successful, these companies represent some of the greatest potential for growth and economic impact.
Fulton Bank looked at this market and saw an opportunity to design something valuable and unique.
“In the case of life sciences, we saw it as an opportunity to create a presence for ourselves where we didn’t see a real competitor on the East Coast,” shared Joe Durham, Regional Executive for Delaware, Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. “Nobody was really standing out and taking a stake in this market.”
In 2019 Durham and others at Fulton began to codify the strategy and hired Bret Schreiber as Vice President, Life Sciences and Technology to help drive it forward. This represented Fulton’s commitment to developing a financial solutions model that addressed the unique needs of this market. Previously, Schreiber served as the Senior Director, Office of BioHealth and Life Sciences and prior to that, started the Office of Education and Innovation, at the Maryland Department of Commerce, so he brought an intimate knowledge of what companies in this sector needed to grow, to the Fulton family.
In just over 18 months, Fulton’s commitment to an innovative banking approach is paying off and making a real impact with emerging biopharma and technology companies. Schreiber counts approximately 72 companies in the division’s portfolio and more than 28 additional companies in dialogue with Fulton.
Success with this new model didn’t happen by chance or overnight. Early on, the Fulton team met with over 250 companies to understand their operational and financial challenges. Each meeting started with one direct question: If you could partner with an innovative, disruptive bank, what would you want from them that they can’t do for you now?
After assessing the feedback and evaluating trends and innovations happening across the FinTech space, the Fulton team built the framework for a new suite of customized financial services. That framework is focused entirely on the needs of life sciences and technology businesses.
Fulton welcomed its first client under the new framework in January 2020 and has been off-and-running ever since.
One of Fulton’s first customers in the Life Science and Technology space was Early Charm Ventures, a venture studio that teams with entrepreneurial-minded faculty to turn their scientific discoveries into businesses.
“I didn’t believe that a traditional bank would ever take on loans to ‘early’ stage life science and technology companies. I’m happy that Fulton proved me wrong,” shared Early Charm’s Managing Director, Ken Malone. “Fulton’s been terrific to work with. They extended Early Charm a line of credit at a critical time enabling us to maintain maximum growth while we closed on new investment. They were also able to finance capital equipment for one of our manufacturing companies allowing us to take on new customers.”
“Fulton had the ability to understand how we were driving growth, the ability to see that our recurring business was healthy and that we were only burning cash for expansion. Their financing enabled us to keep expanding at full speed, enabling us to grow our recurring business to the point that it covered our expansion burn,” continued Malone.
Fulton is able to support the needs of early-stage companies, such as Early Charm, because they have a unique philosophy that goes beyond just evaluating the balance sheet fundamentals of traditional lending.
“We felt that if we are going to play in this space, there are other things that we need to consider when there isn’t collateral, cash flow, or low leverage. So, we looked at what the off-balance sheet and off P&L things were that we needed to bring into the thought process in order to get comfortable and provide a funding mechanism for some of these companies,” shared Durham.
The result is a laundry list of items that Durham, Bret, and some others check off when they’re looking at an opportunity. This list has become what Durham calls, “…an appendix to a book that didn’t exist before, from traditional banking perspectives.”
Schreiber continued, “Our life science and tech division has fully bought into a ‘Yes-first’ mindset. I was brought on by Fulton Bank because I was not from the banking world. Traditional bankers often have tunnel vision about who qualifies for debt financing,” stated Schreiber. “A company might be negative 300K, but we are able to say ‘Look, they have an SBIR, the backing of the Maryland Momentum Fund, and they have two patents’—we can’t pass this company up.”
“We want to understand each company’s needs and goals and determine what it’s going to take for them to get there. Do you need cash? Connections? Legal advice? The whole idea is that we want to get in with a company early on and scale-up together. We want to help life science and tech companies in any way we can,” he added.
“That’s what I like about playing in this space,” shared Durham. “We’re taking chances, taking risks, and partnering up with companies’ way in the beginning of this whole journey. I think the really cool thing about this division is that we’re helping the day one companies, not the year 20’s. That’s what is fun, and it charges me.”
What really jumps out about Fulton’s approach to the Life Science & Technology division is their commitment to community, which is at the heart of the Bank’s mission.
“It’s tough to say that you are a community bank if you are not delivering in this space in Baltimore, Greater Washington, Frederick County or Montgomery County, and if you are not able to serve these companies,” Durham shared. “We’re finding that there aren’t a lot of others who are actively engaged in this space. So, for us, it’s community. And it’s a community that has been largely ignored, and they have been left on their own to go find costly financing. We’re trying to cut through all of that and really understand the presence that this space has in our local community and provide support.”
During his time at the Maryland Department of Commerce, Schreiber saw that in the top regional life science and tech ecosystems, such as Boston, Silicon Valley, New York, and others, there is a clear public sector face, but what really made them strong was committed private sector partners to be the “tip of the spear.” Fulton sees itself as that financial partner for this region. For instance, companies are offered supportive packages and incentives from the public sector to stay, grow or locate in the region, but very often it is not enough. That’s where Fulton can step in.
“As you are trying to build out the Life Science ecosystem in Maryland and surrounding areas, think of us, and bring us in when you are trying to keep a company here, trying to grow a company, or trying to attract a company to the area,” insisted Schreiber. “We can be the missing piece to the puzzle that has never been there before, and in some cases, we’ve already been the difference-maker. We really are that private sector partner that can come in and be the tip of the spear.”
Fulton has taken a true ecosystem approach to banking that is breathing even more life into the startup life science and technology industries across the region. This approach is not only supporting the founders and early-stage companies that need their services, but it also helps the organizations like Abell Foundation, Baltimore Development Corporation, University of Maryland, Montgomery County Development Corporation, and even the State to better achieve their missions and grow the ecosystem as a whole.
“We’re here to help you achieve your goal, your dream, your mission,” concluded Durham. “And we’re going to be creative in that process because we understand that we need to be. We bring the subject matter experience and expertise with Bret Schreiber as part of the team, which is really a differentiator from everyone else. You can’t succeed in this space without having the knowledge, experience, and connections that we bring to the equation.”
Fulton also realizes the capital raising and merger and acquisition activities of businesses in the life sciences and technology ecosystems and is committed to offering solutions to these issues via its Capital Market Strategies effort. David Reed, the head of this group, brings 20+ years of investment banking experience and is focused on reinforcing Fulton’s commitment to this space.
Fulton Bank, N.A. Member FDIC. Fulton Bank is not affiliated with Early Charm Adventures, Abell Foundation, Baltimore Development Corporation, University of Maryland, Montgomery County Development Corporation or the State of Maryland.
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