In Conversation with Chris Frew, Founder of BioBuzz


Welcome to this week’s edition of In Conversation, a series of conversations in the BioHive with Maryland innovators and game-changers. Joining us is Chris Frew, Vice President of Sales at Breezio Inc. and the founder of BioBuzz. Chris is here today to talk about his vision for a connected Maryland biotech community as a constellation ecosystem.

Liora Knizhnik: What did you always want to do with your life? What’s your dream?

Chris Frew: I didn’t know! I’m still trying to figure that out. When I went to school I had four different majors in four years. I started out in Biology because I love science, but it turns out I couldn’t get past organic chemistry. After I failed it twice, I decided it was time to try something else. I graduated with a degree in business administration, with a little bit of biology, computer science, and Advertising on the side. My first job was at a recruiting company where I started their science division, so I was still able to follow a path that integrated my interest in science. 
Through recruiting I got interested in training, building teams and growing organizations. I think that’s really how I see myself – as a builder. It’s in my DNA. My dad and my uncle are both commercial builders. My dad is actually one of the most respected Superintendents at his company where he has been for 30 years. He has this incredible ability to visualize the final building, understand the scope of the whole job and anticipate how to innovate to avoid potential roadblocks just by looking at the plans. He’s the guy they’ll bring in when projects are over budget and behind schedule to get the team in sync, put the subcontractors in line and get the building back on schedule to deliver an amazing product. So that’s my dream too – being the guy that knows how to align the right pieces and help enable a vision to become a reality.

LK: How did you get the idea for BioBuzz?

CF: It all started about six or seven years ago when I was running Tech USA’s recruiting division and I was doing some work with student groups like the Hopkins biotech network; speaking on topics such as networking, career building, and transitioning from the lab to industry. Then the recession hit and these skills became even more valuable. People wanted to know how to expand their networks and how to plug into what was going on outside their own spheres.  

I was friends with the head of PR at Johns Hopkins Montgomery County and we started talking about the big questions that people ask when they move to Maryland to work in the biotech industry – How do I plug into the scene here? Where are the networks I should join? Who should I connect with? And looking around the state I didn’t see anything in place the supported that personal relationship building, that professional network that would help people to answer these questions. 

I was a big fan of the BioBeers model in Frederick, a low-key happy hour where the foundation of the professional networks was the personal connections that people formed at these events. So I started Bio on the Bay in Baltimore. Man, for our first event we only got about 6 people who didn’t work for me or Hopkins. But slowly people began to bring their friends and word spread that this was a great, consistent atmosphere for building professional networks. Then we partnered with Johns Hopkins Montgomery County as a sponsor, brought the events to Montgomery County and Andy Eckert joined as a Director of Communications – that’s when things really started to blow up and get big. 

LK: Did that lead you to Breezio?

CF: Yeah it did actually. I first met Shahab Kaviani at BHI (BHI had already been sponsoring BioBuzz for about four years at that point) when he was at the Cofounders Lab and loved the way he thought about community building and innovation. Fast forward two years, I was doing some consulting after leaving Tech USA and I ran into Shahab at a BioBuzz event. We started talking about this community engagement software he was working on, which was Breezio! I realized that Breezio embodied the core mission of BioBuzz, to build a more connected community, and bring it online to apply to any community; which was so exciting to me – so I signed on. 

LK: When you talk about the Maryland biotech world, you often use the term “constellation ecosystem.” Can you describe what that means for you?

CF: One of the things that happens when you recruit is that you get a really unique perspective on industry and workforce. You see the unmet potential in the market when there are job seekers who can’t connect with the right employers; and employers who feel like they have nobody to hire and can’t connect with the right candidates. Think about it: What if every company could better leverage the communities they are a part of to access the best employees, customers and resources to help them reach their potential? Helping organizations reach the potential that exists within the people and resources in their communities is the ultimate goal for the work we’re doing with both Breezio and BioBuzz. 

One of the things that impedes the market potential in Maryland is the geographic barriers between regions. You have all these bright economic hubs (i.e. stars) like Baltimore, Montgomery County, Frederick, etc., with a great workforce and companies.  They each have their own unique cultures and assets – but they’re separated by geography so they aren’t efficiently working together. You see, density is a critical component to any highly efficient economic hub, and we don’t have that here like in other regions. In fact, it’s been said that the drive from Montgomery County to Baltimore and vice versa seems to be the longest 45 minute drive in the country. 

The constellation concept is all about learning to turn this weakness into a strength. That’s why I believe that in Maryland it’s an amazing benefit to have all these unique economic nodes; each with amazing assets, capabilities and opportunity for even greater potential. We may never change the geography that separates them, so instead we’re just looking for a better way to connect them digitally. Once our regions are more connected, each can benefit by greater access and leverage the synergy between their connections.  Therefore, if you connect them you can start to make geography a non-factor and enhance the potential of the whole region.  

Now imagine if you connect the dots and each of the different clusters in Maryland were more efficiently connected.  What you get is a fantastic picture of Maryland biotech. Now you have an awesome constellation, not just a bunch of independent, random stars trying to shine on their own. 

LK: What’s your number one piece of advice for people who are looking to connect their organization to the larger biotech ecosystem?

CF: You have a personal brand, just as your company has a brand, that you should always be conscious of and work to improve. One way to do so is through these online platforms, like the BioHive or LinkedIn. You see, it’s no longer an option not to be online as a professional or a company; especially since millennials (who live online) are now 55% of the work force. Promoting and understanding how to showcase your digital brand, and access resources online that benefit you is an important skill set that everyone should understand. It doesn’t mean you spend your whole day online, but understanding how to use the tools available is crucial. 

Honestly, the best way people and organizations should utilize platforms like Breezio is with a balance between an online and offline strategy. Now that BioBuzz has launched the BioHive we are giving you access to regional professional networking online to compliment the offline events that we have hosted for years, or other programs you participate in for your personal and professional brand. The BioHive provides an online complement to offline networking so people can build their brands on multiple levels. Equally as important, it gives you access to people and information in our region whom you otherwise would not be able to engage with and can help your career or business grow. 

Thanks for joining us for this week’s installment of In Conversation! Questions or thoughts for Chris? Leave them in the comments! Happy holidays from the BioHive team and stay tuned for more In Conversation in the new year. 

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Over the past 8 years, Chris has grown BioBuzz into a respected brand that is recognized for its community building, networking events and news stories about the local biotech industry. In addition, he runs a Recruiting and Marketing Agency that helps companies attract top talent through a blended model that combines employer branding and marketing services together with a high powered recruiting solution.

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