Bio Innovation Conference | Postdoctoral Researcher Session – The Mid-Atlantic Ecosystem
Maryland Life Sciences Bio Innovation Conference Postdoctoral Researcher Session – The Mid-Atlantic Ecosystem. Missed the live conference? Watch and read more about the panel.
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The Mid-Atlantic Ecosystem

The Mid-Atlantic Ecosystem

Postdoctoral Researcher Session – The Mid-Atlantic Ecosystem


  • Moderator
    • Christy Blake, Special Projects Manager, Montgomery County [MD] Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC)
  • Speakers
    • Ernesto Chanona, Senior Manager, Office of BioHealth and Life Sciences, Maryland Department of Commerce
    • Jennifer Leinbach, Executive Director, Pa. DCED Office of Technology & Innovation
    • Thomas Weithman, Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), Managing Director and Vice President


QUESTION: What’s happening up in Pennsylvania?

We have an alphabet soup for programs to support commercialization, but the most well-known is Ben Franklin Technology Partners that has been around for about 39 years now. They receive an annual allocation of state funds, so we have four regional network partners. They are all independent organizations, they have their own boards, they make their own investment decisions, but there, they all have four commonalities and that is that they provide seed capital, they provide business assistance, technical assistance to startups. And they also help our established manufacturers adopt emerging technology.


QUESTION: How about Maryland?

We have a robust network of investors. I meet with investors and it’s almost like we’re developing a pitch book on steroids and it’s in collaboration with the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and so that we understand what the investment appetite is of our local investors really so that we can send pitch books and executive summaries to investors that really makes sense, based on the asset the round and the ask of the company and leave it up to the investor to reach out to the company.

We have a very robust and in-depth understanding of our industry, not only the companies that are developing intellectual property but also the service companies that are helping every step of the commercialization process. So, it’s in my vested interest to help companies source locally and build local supply chains. I am the connector between those companies and CDMO consultants, Whatever the case may have been to help those companies that are needed those services, find those services within the state before you branch outside of the state. When a company is ready to get an investor lined up, we try to make it so that they’re eligible through the biotechnology investment incentive tax credit. It helps attract investors because the state will refund an investor 50% of that investment into a qualified Maryland biotechnology company. The investor can be based in Maryland, it can be a foreign investor, it doesn’t matter where the investment is as that’s a reimbursable program and so that has helped attract a lot of capital into our companies here.

And then lastly, innovators that are interested in perhaps licensing technology from the NIH doing business with the NIH, The Maryland Innovation and Technology Series is a program for Maryland-based companies that we organize from our office around a specific therapeutic area. It brings together not only the companies in that space but also the NIH researchers and the clinicians in that space who are interested in collaborating with industry, so that our entrepreneurs have access to contract research and development agreements licensing of technologies with the added value that it’s likely that the NIH inventor is a Maryland resident.


QUESTION: Do you feel those industries are represented in the Mid-Atlantic region or in your area in our area? And if you have just any conversational industry insights for postdocs early career professionals and others that you think might be of interest.

In Pennsylvania, we’re looking for software solutions, digital health, biopharmaceutical medical devices, diagnostics, biomaterials, physical sciences. A lot of SaaS as well. We’re blessed to have three Pennsylvania life science greenhouses that are funded through a tobacco settlement fund that helps critical early stage funding and sector-specific expertise to anything life science related, any technology that helps improve the health. We have a manufacturing innovation program that pairs university students with a manufacturer for a full academic year to help solve a technical challenge related to new product or process improvement. In addition to that, we created a one-year program to help COVID-19.


QUESTION: What is Virginia looking for?

Cybersecurity is an area that had some pretty good success, and had a lot of experienced exposure. There are other areas as well and you can imagine where we’re seeing it geographically. We are more B2B, or B2C people, increasingly we see data intensity to the enterprise applications that we become involved with. I would say, broadly speaking again into the tech stuff and inclusive of aerospace and UAS. We have other initiatives elsewhere in CIT that are addressing an industry.

Personal verification technologies are going to be more and more important. I think that the current circumstance give rise to education which is ripe for disruption. There is a company that has a platform that enables training of teachers. A lot of teachers need to be retrained around how to deliver distance learning. They’ve got some really interesting AI associated with that, to render observations about students engagement in response to an online lecture. So, a lot of great things going on in Virginia.


QUESTION: What’s going on in Maryland?

It’s not going to be that different from what Virginia and Pennsylvania are doing, it’s going to be aerospace and defense, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness. The life science industry of course, cybersecurity, terrorism, financial services, and energy. Maryland’s strength, which I see growing quite rapidly is in the blood, vaccine, and biologics piece of the pie. Currently comprises about 20% of our industry and medtech is about another 20% of our industry and that includes all medical devices.

Maryland is traditionally a very research-heavy state. Some of our biotech incubators are actually quite young, they’re three, four years old. It seems to be that, as we extend the amount of commercial laboratory space, it’s affordable for startups.


QUESTION: What are good resources for early-stage career professionals or aspiring entrepreneurs to engage in the ecosystem?  


You’ve got to go where the organizations and the companies hang out and see what networking opportunities they have. If you’re in Philadelphia, you want to look at the University City Science Center, they are free and open to the public. They have networking events on Thursday nights called Venture Cafe. If you are interested in medicine, go to the Center for Medical Innovation at the Penn State College of Medicine that has an innovations health tech virtual conference. They also have ongoing networking events called the Innovation Cafe. If you’re interested in the Lehigh Valley, go to the Lehigh University campus at our Ben Franklin Technology Partners there and they have a large tech venture that houses a lot of the startup companies.


Richmond has Lighthouse Labs and there is an accelerator in the Hampton Roads area. There is the Valley Innovation Council and the Ramp Accelerator in Blacksburg. Northern Virginia might be a little bit more fragmented because there are a higher density of resources but no shortage of networking opportunities.


I would start with Startup Grind which is a wonderful organization that helps entrepreneurs connect and that’s beyond biotech. And there’s a Startup Grind in Richmond and chapters in Baltimore, Frederick, Columbia, and Philadelphia. In terms of networking for digital health aficionados, there is the Howard County Technology Council, as a health tech connectors. Anchor Ventures is a collaboration between Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, and they host a series of networking events.