Who Cares What People Think of the New Brand – the “BioHealth Capital Region”

So, MedImmune just unveiled a new brand for the biotech industry. People can’t stop talking about it and many are asking if it will stick.  Personally, who cares what people think of the new brand, “the BioHealth Capital Region”? It was named, a group of regional experts thought hard about it, voted and now we have it.  Just like naming your kid, not everyone is going to like it but eventually, the kid owns it, grows into it, or maybe eventually get’s a nickname from the kids at school.  So let’s all go with it and see where it takes us.  At least they didn’t go with some hip NY neighborhood sounding brand like “BioHeCap”, or worse yet “SoPhiNoRal” – you know, “South of Philly – North of Raleigh”.

A brand is only as good as the product it represents, so that is what we should all be talking about. What I was paying more attention to at the BioHealth Capital Region Forum was the goals for improving our product and the ideas on how to do so.  After all, this being the 2nd annual forum we now have continuity of purpose and can actually start to think about things like goals and solutions with some momentum now behind us.  Thank you to MedImmune, BHI, VABio, Maryland and all the others regional leaders who came together to continue to drive this important mission forward. You have my respect and gratitude for stepping up and leading the charge. I thought it was a great event, attended by passionate people who care about the region, and who contributed strong dialogue and ideas to address the issues.  Most importantly, we all came together – and that’s what was most important.

Rich Bendis, President/CEO of BioHealth Innovation gave a great opening presentation that set the stage and the tone for the rest of the gathering.  He shared the results of the newly released Central Maryland BioHealth Innovation Index and unveiled comparative rankings on where we stand against the other top 8 regions. The good news is that we are #1 in Talent!!  The not so good news is that we were #6 in R&D and Capital, and #7 for Entrepreneurship.  Overall we came in at #6 beating out Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  As a Ravens fan I always like to beat Pittsburgh so at least there was a silver lining for me.

The Cultural Divide

One piece that was left out of the regional economic index report was something that I think Congressman Delaney addressed best. “Cultural orientation needs to be part of the solution”, as he accurately shared, and further explained how Californians celebrate the garage entrepreneur while our region celebrates public policy over capitalism and risk taking.  The other component I think is lacking in our greater region is a true sense of community.  That means fully embracing a hub mentality that builds a culture of giving back, investing in others and staying local.  The nature of DC and the business of the politics creates a very transient community with roots that only go as deep as 2 or 4-year administrations at times.  You just don’t see that sense of local roots and social investment around here, well at least most places.

Where does that culture exist? Baltimore!  If I were betting on the long game that’s where I’d go all in.  Baltimore has all of the makings of a Boston, or San Francisco.  Baltimore has all of the components the rest of our region has, and it has a few more that the others don’t.  Density and Culture.  I’ll discuss the density factor shortly but the culture in Baltimore is the foundation of what a hub can be built on.  The regional pride there is strong and the entrepreneurs in the City truly care and invest back into people, education, and projects.  Sure, we still need more capital investment, and the Universities are historically horrendous with commercialization but I know for a fact that those tides are turning.

In fact, JHU’s President Daniels quoted that since 2012 the percentage of JHU graduates who stay in the region 1 year after graduating has risen from 25% to 55%, even in spite of last year’s riots. Baltimore is one of the top cities in America for Millennials to move to and it has an amazing influx of innovation. Daniels said it was because of Baltimore’s “edginess” and entrepreneurial opportunities in social and public health innovation.  Millennials and Baby Boomers want to do something that makes an impact, and Baltimore is the place to be if that’s important to you.  There is something about the underdog or that motivates people, just look at Kevin Plank and Under Armor who was an underdog success story and is now remodeling the city’s future on his vision of what Baltimore can be one day.

A great example of how this conference, and others like it, can motivate others through the opportunity of impact is The 2015 Leaders of Tomorrow.  This is a group of 50 or so graduate students or postdocs who were hand selected last year as future leaders for our region and now have been present at our past two forums.  This group now sees an opportunity for impact and has a path forward to do so. They now plan to research and propose solutions to the top action items from the 2016 forum.  How we promote the BioHealth Captial Region brand moving forward,  how we keep our innovative students in the region after graduation, and how we attract more large anchor companies to the region are just a few of the topics the Leaders of Tomorrow will be addressing in the coming months.  They have started a BioHive group to create and compile content around these topics, and seek engagement from the BioHealth Capital Region community to support their involvement. As established leaders, we should embrace their creativity, enthusiasm, and desire to take an active role in our brand & community and work collaboratively with them to deliver results and lasting impact. Let’s help them create a few success stories that we can take into Forum 2017 & Gap Summit 2017!

Are we really that Dense? No, and that’s the problem…

Now let me get back to the BioHealth Capital Region – because I’m bullish on the whole region despite my short soapbox on Baltimore.  However, we need to solve a critical issue that came up time and time again at the forum – density & geography.  President Daniels had what I feel was the right call to action here, stating; “ We have a clear lack of geographic continuity in this region, so we must think about what creative ways can we knit these assets together in the region.” The JHU-MedImmune partnership that was recently announced is a good example of a creative solution that I think is a terrific step forward.  I challenge that more is needed.

Those who know me won’t be surprised that I see that the creative solution that can have the most impact will come in the form of technical innovation that makes our region smaller and is blind to borders. This is what I hope the Regional BioHive project will become. Our multi-hub region will never have a dense nucleus like Boston, so then let’s create a virtual one.  My call to action is to create a virtual nucleus that connects all of our assets and address the areas we are weakest in; Capital, Entrepreneurship, Commercialization, and R&D.  We’ll never fully replace the value of a geographic density, but if we could just even partially replicate the benefits of one through an online solution, imagine what we could accomplish.  A good example of this in action is what USAID is doing with the Global Innovation Exchange.  After all, if they can build a solution on a global scale, I’m sure we can on a regional one.

The results of the survey at the end of the day showed that 39% of attendees think that another Anchor company in the region will take us to the #3 by 2023 goals.  I think it’s creative solutions that are the key.  In fact, I admired President Daniels comments a lot in the plenary session as he used the term “creative” close to a dozen times – which is a word that doesn’t always come out of a University administrator.  Creativity happens best when people feel like they have the opportunity to fail and the support system around them.  So we need to continue to build our culture and community to enable the creativity and entrepreneurship that will one day give everyone that other anchor company like MedImmune that we all so desperately want.  That is if GSK isn’t stealthily becoming that company right under our noses and redefine the BioHealth Capital Region as “Vaccine Valley” or maybe “Vaccine Corridor”.

In closing, I’d like to quote our favorite local executive and ambassador of the culture we want to instill, Rachel King from GlycoMimetics. ‘If I could choose to rank 1st in one category to then build a region around – it’s talent.”  With talent and conviction, anything is possible so I have no doubt that we’re on a good path here in the BioHealth Capital Region.

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