The Philadelphia region lost roughly 6,000 life sciences jobs between 2006 and 2012 due to frequent mergers and changes in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, according to data from Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners.
The industry was hit hard, with all kinds of employees losing their jobs, from high-ranking officials “all the way to down to the people who sweep the animal cages,” said Anthony Green, Vice President of BFTP’s Technology Commercialization Group.
BFTP, the state-backed economic development agency, and the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation hope to tackle that problem with a new program called “Life Sciences Connect.” The Corbett administration recently awarded the two organizations a total of $750,000 to test the program, which aims to connect those laid-off employees with budding technologies being developed at universities and other research institutions.
Call it a unique spin on tech transfer: the hope is that these experienced, skilled employees will launch startups that will take the new technologies to market, Green said.
It plans to issue an open call for technologies that are ready to be commercialized, as well as one for teams of life sciences employees. Many of the employees that were laid off were laid off in groups, Green said, so BFTP hopes to find these groups, since they already know how to work with each other. BFTP and an advisory board will then help match teams with the technologies.
BFTP has earmarked a little more than $600,000 to invest in the startups that it creates through the programs, Green said. It’ll make investments of up to $50,000, which Green noted is not a huge amount of money in the life sciences industry, but is enough to get a company moving.
It will also provide financial support to life sciences-focused incubators in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, which will host the new startups.
Life Sciences Connect must invest its $750,000 in two years, as per the state grant, Green said.
Life sciences represents 15 percent of the Philadelphia’s region economy — second only to Boston, Green said. That’s why it’s crucial that the region holds on to high-paid life sciences talent, rather than losing them to other life science hubs like Boston and the Research Triangle, he said. He hopes Life Sciences Connect can give them a reason to stay.