TEDCO and JLABS Discuss Innovation and Workforce Diversity in Maryland

TEDCO recently launched ‘TEDCO Talks’, a series featuring thought leaders in economic development across the State of Maryland. On May 28th, TEDCO CEO & Executive Director, Troy LeMaile-Stovall interviewed Sally Allain, Head of JLABS @ Washington DC, about the future of the innovation ecosystem and the crucial role that JLABS will play in advancing the BioHealth Capital Region. It was extremely uplifting to hear the leaders of the two powerhouses discuss solutions on issues ranging from pandemic preparedness and healthcare inequality to diversity in the workforce.

TEDCO, the Maryland-based organization focused on researchers, entrepreneurs, startups, and early-stage companies is a household name in the BioHealth Capital Region. In 2018, its programs generated a total of $1.6 billion in Maryland economic revenue and supported a total of 7,746 jobs. Over the years, TEDCO’s programs have promoted the development of a large and diverse portfolio of companies that have supported the growth and diversification of the BioHealth Capital Region.

The recent launch of JLABS @ Washington DC heralds a new era of innovation and entrepreneurship in the region. Part of Johnson and Johnson Innovation, the life science and healthcare incubator will focus on advancements in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and consumer health. Anchored in the Children’s National’s Research Innovation campus in northwest D.C, JLABS will offer a strategic location for international companies, startups and established companies to establish a footprint in the nation’s capital. Its’ portfolio of companies receive capital and support from the Johnson & Johnson global network of experts, mentors, and programming.

Troy and Sally discussed how JLABS has created intentional programs and opportunities to address important healthcare concerns. JLABS launched a program- Blue Knight in collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  This program will focus on developing an ecosystem of innovation to address 21st century health security threats.

“With the Blue Knights program headquartered at JLABS @ Washington DC, we will have a dedicated footprint for companies that are developing technologies and solutions in preparation for our next pandemic.  These could include commercial preparedness applications, alternative delivery methods for vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostic tools”- Sally Allain.

COVID-19 has stressed the importance of pandemic preparedness. As Troy and Sally agreed, the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to be the last pandemic in our lifetime. This makes it crucial for incubators like TEDCO and JLABS to support innovation that could mitigate the next pandemic. In 2020 through the Blue Knight program, JLABS @ Washington DC  selected seven companies from the JLABS global portfolio whose work filled gaps in COVID-19 diagnostic, therapeutics, vaccine development and other solutions.

Through public-private partnerships, JLABS will support these companies with resources, infrastructure and commercialization strategies. Another crucial pinch point that will need to be addressed is expanding the nation’s manufacturing capabilities in order to mitigate the next major public health crisis.

The launch of numerous COVID-19 vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson (Jannsen) COVID-19 vaccine, in record time demonstrates the exponential potential at which medical sciences can advance. However, many factions of American society are still slow to adopt these newer medical technologies. As Troy and Sally candidly discussed, significant work will need to be done to rebuild trust with communities that have been historically underserved or denied medical access.

Health equity is at the core of JLABS’ recent partnership with Acclinate Inc. The company develops predictive analytics & machine learning to identify diverse members who are most likely to participate in genomic research and clinical trials. They have also developed a platform solely focused on rebuilding trust with communities where healthcare and medical trust have been severely lacking.  

JLABS is also building several programs targeting at encouraging more minority and underserved entrepreneurs. Its current global portfolio of companies is pretty diverse- 31% of them are women-led companies and 30% of them are minority-led companies.

“Women, particularly women of color have really challenging times getting access to capital. This is even harder for black first-time entrepreneurs. Here Washington DC, JLABS is committed to developing minority-led companies and supporting them in their success” – Sally Allain

Diversity within the workforce is another crucial element of life science advancement. As Sally reflected on her own personal journey, she noted that the key mentors in her career were predominantly male. However, they proved to be strong allies and sponsors, who ensured that she had access to deserving professional opportunities and celebrated her success. As women and persons of color have been underrepresented in STEM fields, strong advocacy and support will be important to ensure their success.

TEDCO - Leading Innovation to Market

TEDCO and JLABS have previously partnered on programming initiatives to support regional startups. As they continue to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship, the BioHealth Capital Region can look forward to more collaborations between the two as well as other professional organizations in the region.