Money does matter, which is why biotech meccas are forming in suburbs
As a biotech entrepreneur based in Newton, I wanted to offer a contrasting perspective to Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy column “Sorry, Watertown” (Business, Jan. 27), which argues that while the suburbs are cheaper, they don’t have the cachet of Kendall Square.
We moved Siamab Therapeutics from Cambridge to Newton in 2015 and, through the course of Siamab’s successful exit, subsequently launched LabShares along the Charles River in the same location. To date, we’ve hosted more than 20 companies in our incubator and are expanding.
Money matters — at least to some. If a company is born with an A round of funding of $50 million or more, then perhaps it can justify paying Kendall Square prices. For many biomedical startups with more meager means — grant funding or modest angel funding — cash matters. The money saved on space can be invested in scientific progress.
In addition to the cost, there are time and environmental impacts that are part of the equation. We moved Siamab out of Cambridge not only due to skyrocketing rents, but because our team struggled with two-hour commutes, no parking, and unreliable mass transit. Our move reduced auto emissions, and we gained productive work hours. The Globe has done an excellent job reporting on the challenges caused by traffic and congestion, but Kirsner’s piece largely ignores these key environmental issues.
While young tech employees might appreciate living in the city and commuting on the Red Line, most biotech employees are older, after long-term advanced degrees, and many are moving to the suburbs. None of our 20 member companies has had any issues recruiting or retaining staff.
“Serendipitous interactions” matter, but much less so for most of the staff working in the lab. Some of our members rent a small office in Cambridge for networking and find that the drive to Kendall is much more tolerable for a lunch meeting or afternoon coffee.
It’s time to appreciate that Greater Boston is the biotech hub, not just Cambridge. Top research institutions and companies exist throughout the region. The Route 128 tech corridor birthed many successful growth companies a generation ago, and it is doing so once again.
Watertown is doing just fine, thanks, at drawing business development
Please, don’t anyone feel sorry for Watertown. We are as hot as a pistol in terms of new companies moving here.
Jason Pontin and Triology Sciences may feel that Kendall Square is the be all and end all, but Watertown is inundated with all kinds of development activity. Some investors may not want to schlep here, but it is not a very long schlep. Take the Watertown Arsenal that Alexandria Real Estate Equities just acquired for $525.5 million.
For so long, people have been preoccupied with a Cambridge address. I have always wondered why.
We are next door, and now we have been discovered. Why? Because Watertown is a great place to live, work, and do business. It is also convenient.
John S. Airasian