Archive for September, 2013

Chicago – an Emerging Biotech Hub

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Article by Charlotte Chen, Ph.D. Candidate at Northwestern University

CHICAGO – While Boston and Silicon Valley seem to be the most visible biotech hubs in the US, the nation’s best kept secret in biotech may just be in the Midwest. Indeed, in 2011, the eight-state Midwestern super cluster – Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa – employed over 120,000 more employees than either California or the East Coast (Ernst & Young, 2013), with more than 377,900 employees in over 16,800 establishments. The key player in The Midwest Super Cluster is undeniably Illinois. The state is home to more than 3,500 biotech companies that employ around 81,000 people, with a gross economic output of around $98.6 billion (Illinois Government News Network, 2013). Chicago sits at the center of all this, with some of the best medical research universities in the Midwest and a vibrant biotech industry. In the Chicago metropolitan area alone, around 45,000 employees work in about one thousand biotech companies. Some big-name biotechnology companies headquartered in the greater Chicago area include Abbott Laboratories, credited with developing the world’s first HIV blood screening test in 1985 and which now has 90,000 employees across 130 countries, and Baxter Healthcare, known for its hemophilia, renal disease, and immune disorder therapies, which brought in $10.4 billion in earnings in 2006. So why does Chicago get overshadowed by its counterpart biotech hubs on the East and West coasts? One factor could be a lack of entrepreneurial tradition in biotech. Silicon Valley and Boston have created an industry culture that embraces risk-taking, and entrepreneurs expect to fail a number of times before hitting a winning idea. While the Midwest has all the expertise to drive biotech innovation, this entrepreneurial spirit is only recently beginning to flourish. In 2012, $150 million venture dollars went into biotech startups in Chicago (City of Chicago, 2013), versus $1 billion in Silicon Valley and $860 million in Boston (MIT Technology Review, 2013). Hoping to raise Chicago’s profile in the biotech world, state and city policymakers recently established two new biotech incubators, which are set to open in Chicago within the next year. The first of these incubators is the Health, Technology, and Innovation (HTI) facility, created by Governor Pat Quinn in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the goal of boosting Illinois’ economy. HTI is located at Chicago Technology Park in the city’s Near West Side, within the Illinois Medical District and in close proximity to the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, and is set to open in the summer of 2013. The State of Illinois and UIC split the bill equitably, each contributing $1.7 million for a total of $3.4 million in initial funding. HTI will provide wet and dry lab space and office space to tenants, as well as access to a network of scientists, investors, and other leaders in the biotech industry. The incubator is intended to provide a low-risk environment for academic researchers to bring their ideas out of university labs for the first time, and to see whether they can become successful ventures. The City of Chicago is also throwing its support behind the biosciences industry. Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced plans to construct a biotech incubator in downtown Chicago, set to open in 2014. With this additional facility, the city hopes to increase Chicago’s national profile as a biotechnology innovation hub. The new incubator will provide a space for researchers from Chicago’s top universities to collaborate with investors and partners in industry to develop discoveries from academic research with commercial potential. It will also provide a downtown presence for major biotechnology companies in the area, most of which are located in the Northern Chicago suburbs. This new incubator will be well-supported through access to professionals with business expertise, such as Chicago Innovation Mentors and ChicagoNEXT. Chicago Innovation Mentors is an organization that pairs university faculty with industry mentors to accelerate the formation of new biotechnology ventures, and its members include the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and iBio Institute/PROPEL. ChicagoNEXT is an organization created by World Business Chicago to accelerate innovation in clean tech, web and mobile technology, and biosciences. The new biotech is roughly modeled on 1871, an incubator for IT and digital startups in downtown Chicago. Chicago is also breeding homegrown entrepreneurial talent. The University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship offers entrepreneurship courses, a student entrepreneurship club, business plan competitions, and entrepreneurship mentoring to its students, as does Northwestern’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The University of Illinois at Chicago offers a Bachelors in Entrepreneurship, and its Liautaud Graduate School of Business offers an entrepreneurship program. While established biotech companies are by no means a new presence in Chicago, a nascent culture of innovation is emerging in the style of Silicon Valley and Boston. Perhaps with all these efforts to spark biotech innovation in Chicago, the Midwest’s “best kept secret” in biotech will be unveiled soon. (Chicago’s Skyline Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

See original article published at the Roundtable Review