“It’s all about collisions and density of collisions,” Wallace says, referring to the serendipitous results of bumping into brilliance again and again in the work environment and in social settings. That’s why clusters flourish.
“Incubators need close proximity to academic hubs and to key hubs for the city,”Anthony Johnson, CEO of Empire Genomics and partner at Buffalo Biosciences, says. A study of successful incubators, made while Buffalo Biosciences was in the planning stages, indicated a need to be within five miles of one of those hubs, he adds. In contrast, incubators that are physically isolated find development more difficult.
The nature of biomedical research today increasingly requires multidisciplinary teams that include genetics, bioinformatics, biochemical, and chemical expertise. Therefore, when institutes build new lab spaces, they are constructed in a way that causes researchers from multiple disciplines to interact. The University of Michigan did this in its 230,000-sq-ft Life Sciences Institute.
North Carolina, in a different approach, established a program that brings leading academic scientists into a company for one or two years, Johnson says. The scientists learn to work on commercial products, and the corporation gets the benefit of fresh insights.
Many of the regions hoping to build a biotech cluster, however, lack universities with strong programs that relate to biotech. “You have some level of innovation at each university,” Klasen admits, but “the highly ranked schools have more entrepreneurs, which increases the likelihood of spin-offs.”
So although a researcher may generate the ideas for the next blockbuster, to bring them to fruition there must be a pool of people with the skills not only to start a company but to help it grow. That means more than just the senior executives and scientists, but also the chemists, biologists, research scientists, and marketing and communications experts, cautions Steven Hochhauser, senior healthcare consultant for Frost & Sullivan.