When it comes to state appeal, Ohio’s not exactly at the top of the list. It’s flat, sparsely populated, and its best-known mascot happens to be a nut. But thanks to efforts at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, Ohio does have something going for it, and that’s a unique biotech entrepreneurship program designed to lure up-and-comers of the life sciences industry. “The state is looking for a new technology,” says Chris Cullis, a biology professor working on the program, of a state traditionally reliant on manufacturing.
The program is built on two graduate programs — one, a science master’s with an entrepreneurial bent, and the other, an MBA with a bioscience specialization. David Deeds, an assistant professor who has helped found the MBA side, says by way of analogy that his school is turning out future heads of business development, while the science school is training CTOs.
Both degrees follow a two-year program. For the MBA, Deeds says, courses range “from bioinformatics to current thinking in genetics and proteomics” as well as pharma regulations and patenting and legal issues. The ideal student: someone involved in science who wants to migrate to the management side.
The science program will include cross-over MBA classes to get the students thinking like entrepreneurs. The ultimate goal is to have students starting up their own bioscience companies — potential students have already expressed particular interest in genomics and proteomics ventures — preferably remaining in the state. For its part, Ohio has organized state-funded programs to provide incubator space and services to encourage people to stay.
“Our biggest challenge,” Cullis says, “will probably be finding internships.” An internship is required for both programs, and the school plans to track down opportunities for the students. Deeds says part of the foundation has included assembling a board of advisors, many of whom work at biotech companies. “Then I’m going out and twisting arms,” Deeds jokes.
The first class will start this September, and each program aims for about 20 students. Without much recruiting, Cullis says, they’ve already gotten plenty of inquiries.
But in this economic climate, watching genomics companies wipe out left and right, it hardly seems the best time to kick off such a program. Deeds, though, begs to differ. “Every response I’ve gotten from any company” he’s talked to, he says, has been, “‘If you train them, we’ll snap them up in a heartbeat.’ There’s a dearth of individuals with this kind of training and talent.”