08 Mar Bio Column – Growing Our Ecosystem

bioNOLABA’s Amritha Appaswami, Director of Business Development, Bio and Health Services Innovation, wrote in the January/February edition of Healthcare Journal of New Orleans how she cultivates the city’s bio industry.

Healthcare Journal of New Orleans

Amritha Appaswami

As I write this article I reflect on the success of the recently concluded Innovation Louisiana conference and university showcase conducted by the New Orleans BioInnovation Center. Events like these play an important role in bringing various members of a Bio and Health Services Innovation ecosystem together, and help drive growth of the local Bio economy.

This begs a few questions—how does a vibrant ecosystem for innovation and commercialization of Bio and Health Services technologies foster economic prosperity? And how is the development of such an ecosystem integral to economic development in this industry cluster? In the coming months, I will illustrate the contribution of each player in such an ecosystem towards a vibrant Bio economy.

In this issue, I would like to lay the foundation by describing the efforts involved in cultivating the ecosystem as a whole. Ultimately, the sign of a thriving industry cluster is growth in commercialization, company formation and quality job creation. In the Bio and Health Services cluster, economic output arises in large part from biological and clinical research and the generation of novel intellectual property that is both commercially viable and can be safely administered or adopted by patients and consumers.

The close interaction among academic institutions, industry, government, and investors is therefore a necessary component for building a strong pipeline of innovative technologies and services—one that is well funded and has a pathway to clinical adoption. The job of economic development in this cluster is, in equal measure, a job of ecosystem development and business attraction. My time is equally divided into activities that are outward facing and inward facing. A large part of my outward-facing role at the New Orleans Business Alliance includes identifying companies in other markets that may benefit from the assets and incentives for businesses in New Orleans, and marketing those benefits to them through multiple channels.

My time is equally divided on the crucial inward-facing activities of cultivating our ecosystem. This work not only helps homegrown innovation find a path for commercialization and job creation locally, it also forms the asset base that I can promote to stakeholders in other markets. The work of developing a vibrant ecosystem, however, is neither fast nor simple. It takes time and thoughtful dialogue with public and private partners, academic and industry partners, as well as non-profit institutions. On any given day, my job consists of any or all of the following.

I engage in dialog with members of the Bio and Health Services ecosystem to assess strengths and gaps in the ecosystem. I also identify and implement platforms through which various actors of this ecosystem can partner. In addition, my role involves outreach and advocacy to fund mechanisms that can attract sponsorships for research, customers and investments that leverage our strengths and can fill any gaps.

As you can tell, the job is by its very nature a collaborative one. It’s also iterative and incremental. One large endowment to an academic institution, one major corporate relocation, one massive grant can doubtless alter the pace of progress. But more often than not, it’s a series of small steps, numerous meetings, successes that start out modest and build upon each other, best practices that are borrowed and fine-tuned for local relevance. It’s a combination of startups and mid-sized companies that relocate, almost experimentally, and become ambassadors for the city.

Over time all of these achievements lead to an ecosystem that is as diverse as it appears natural and effortless. Events like Innovation Louisiana are crucial building blocks to such a robust ecosystem. The announcement of a company relocation to New Orleans, or expansion of an incumbent, is really a victory for every actor in this ecosystem, and is a testament to the painstaking work of keeping the ecosystem well-oiled and functioning as a powerful and efficient machine in fueling innovation and commercial activity.

Read the published column here on pages 48-49.