5 Reasons Your Biotech HQ Should Be In NC
|Giles Shih, Ph.D., MBA|
As CEO of Research Triangle Park-based biotechnology company BioResource International, Inc. (BRI), I travel overseas for business fairly often. When I tell folks in other countries that my company is based in North Carolina, I invariably get two responses. It’s either, “Where is that?” or “Isn’t that where Michael Jordan played basketball?” It’s then that I put on my North Carolina sales hat and tell them why this state is not only a great place for college basketball, but also for biotechnology companies like ours.
Like all biotechs, our startup required tremendous amounts of time and capital to achieve each milestone—from discovery, to product development, to manufacturing, to marketing and sales. For us to enjoy a level of growth that qualified us for a spot on the Inc. 500 List of America’s Fastest Growing Companies last year, barely 12 years after we started, speaks volumes about the quality of support that our home state provides to biotech companies.
Based on my experience with BRI, here are five reasons why North Carolina is the place to be for biotechnology:
1. It has a highly educated workforce.
Bordered by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, Research Triangle Park (RTP), NC has one of the highest concentrations of Ph.D.s in the country. The park itself is home to more than 150 research and development companies and research institutes, amid which a culture of scientific advancement has emerged. And North Carolina’s commitment to great education and workforce training extends statewide. Each year, more than 10,000 students earn science and engineering degrees from its 51 colleges and universities. It also has globally recognized biotech and biomanufacturing programs at some of our 58 community colleges. It’s no wonder that last year, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News ranked North Carolina second in its list of 10 Best U.S. Regions to Secure a Biotech job. It based its rankings on the number of biotech jobs available within a region, as indicated by 2009-2010 data.
2. It boasts an excellent quality of life
Growing a company is challenging enough. Like it or not, there will be personal and family costs associated with it. So the last thing you need is more stress outside of work. Fortunately, it’s easy to recharge your batteries in North Carolina. It has a temperate climate, lush natural settings, world-class beaches and beautiful mountains. Its public schools enjoy a good reputation, yet compared to other biotech clusters in San Francisco, Boston, and San Diego, real estate prices and taxes remain at reasonable levels. Kiplinger’s ranked Raleigh tenth in its list of Great Cities for Raising Families in 2010, while Businessweek named it America’s Best City in 2011.
3. It has an active biotech community
A biotech startup needs funds, expertise, and partnerships, among other things. In North Carolina, it’s easy to find opportunities to network and develop relationships with other biotech entrepreneurs, venture capital and angel investor groups, and experienced researchers and technicians looking for jobs. Not only because so many of them are located in a central area (RTP), but because the State of North Carolina actively fosters such connections through its longtime support of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the first biotech center of its kind in the nation.
4. It has an active and diverse knowledge-based economy
I think one reason North Carolina was able to weather past recessions is because it’s not centered on just one industry. Information technology and life science research and innovation co-exist in RTP, so it’s often the case that when one industry is down, the other can pick up the slack. There’s also a lot of cross-pollination that takes place between life sciences and IT (think “big data,” “genomics,” and “informatics”). This interface, combined with relatively light regulation and red tape, as well as ready access to several incubators, business accelerators, and entrepreneurial communities, helps create even more companies and job opportunities.
5. It has a thriving life-science ecosystem
Some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations are headquartered in North Carolina. There’s GSK in RTP, Quintiles in Durham, and PPD in Morrisville. The largest players in agricultural biotechnology are also here: Syngenta, BASF Plant Sciences, Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and Bayer Crop Science all have a presence in the state. When scientists or engineers employed at these companies retire, or when they leave after a reorganization, they often form the seed of a new venture or take up residence in an organization similar to the one they left. The richness of this ecosystem fosters a process that continually expands the biotech industry.
I grew up in Cary, NC and after graduating from high school here, ended up traveling up and down the East Coast for college (Ithaca, NY) and graduate school (Atlanta, GA). But when it was time start my own biotechnology company in 1999, there was literally “no place like home” to grow it. While no state is perfect, and North Carolina still suffers from a bit of an identity lag, there is just so much it has to offer biotech entrepreneurs and workers—not only in terms of growing a business, but in ensuring that you’ll actually have a life outside of it.