PROVIDENCE — In the nearly four decades Neil Steinberg has been working in downtown Providence, he’s heard hype of a “spillover” effect from Boston to Providence when it comes to the life sciences industry.
He watched as Cambridge, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; and even Worcester started to build out the infrastructure to create life sciences hubs, in part through workforce development programs, collaborations between competing academic institutions, and buy-in from local hospital groups.
But in all that time, he never saw the industry fully make its way to Providence, including in the Jewelry District that was supposed to become its own biotech and startup hub.
A life sciences industry in Rhode Island “is an opportunity for all Rhode islanders,” said Steinberg, the outgoing CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation. “This is not just a Jewelry District exercise or a Brown University opportunity.”
On Thursday morning, the Rhode Island Foundation announced the public release of a market assessment conducted earlier this year that examined the state’s biotech life sciences. The report was presented to Governor Dan McKee, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi. Shekarchi had approached the Foundation seeking a study, also released on Thursday, looking into what it would take to jumpstart the industry in Rhode Island. The report is a proposed business plan, but it’s not yet clear if the state will implement any of its recommendations.
The report, which was prepared by Damon Cox, the head of next practice and inclusive growth for Boston-based startup accelerator Mass Challenge, was completed in June 2022. It discussed how Rhode Island could grow the biotech and and life sciences industry here — projected to have a valuation exceeding $1 trillion worldwide by 2030 — by creating a a quasi-public agency funded by the state by governed by a board of directors.
Cox, who worked under former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, said Massachusetts had created such a quasi-public agency using an initial $1.5 billion investment in 2007, and recommended Rhode Island do something similar.
The report outlined that a Rhode Island Biotech and Life Science hub — called RIBLSH for short ― would focus on creating innovation capacity and would be charged with “investing in both sound science and good business.” The entity would be designed to strengthen the state’s life sciences, accelerate commercialization, create jobs and drive economic development across the state. Cox wrote that this agency, with a partner like trade group RIBio, would need an initial $50 million commitment over two years.
Approximately $30 million could support early-stage companies, and scale and attract talent, according to Cox. The leader of the agency, who would assume a CEO or president role, would earn about $220,000 to $300,000 annually, according to the proposal.
“Today is a start. [It’s] critical to look at this model,” said Shekarchi, who said the state House of Representatives would look into the possibilities of the report when lawmakers return for the 2023 legislative session in January. However, Shekarchi said he could not make any commitments prior to studying the report’s findings and working with fellow lawmakers.
Cox wrote in the report that workforce development programs would be critical, and could include collaborations with K-12 schools throughout the state. Each of the academic institutions with programs related to life sciences would have to be part of the industry, Cox wrote.
“While Brown University and University of Rhode Island have advanced fields of study and tech transfer programs for commercialization, Rhode Island College, and Community College of Rhode Island offer an array of credentialing and certification programs in various fields,” read the report.
The report was presented to a Globe reporter Wednesday afternoon by Travis A. McCready, who is the national practice leader for Jones Lang Lasalle’s (JLL) real estate markets practice, and Bob Coughlin, the managing director of JLL and is New England’s Life Science Practice Group lead. It was also the first time that Shekarchi took a look at the report, and he said his policy advisors would examine it in depth.
A market assessment presented to Shekarchi in January 2022, prepared by JLL, found that Rhode Island scored below average when it came to talent compared to similar, small markets for life sciences. Yet, there have been improvements in the industry across the state. Funding from the National Institutes of Health to Rhode Island increased by 7 percent from 2020 to 2021. But the state lacks the venture capital funding that fuels core markets like Boston and New York City.
“If I can’t get my partners in government to get involved or every [necessary part of the] private sector, this won’t happen,” said Shekarchi. “But we owe it to the people of Rhode Island to do a deep dive into this.”
Explore the reports below.