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Worcester Continues Reputation As Hotspot For Biotech Innovation

Thursday, February 16, 2012


It seems like every city nowadays is trying to carve out a new niche for itself as a burgeoning startup ecosystem. While some entrepreneurs were knocked out of the game since the Internet boom went bust a decade ago, invention and reinvention seems to have remained par for the course in Worcester.

Worcester begins 2012 already considered by local observers to be a breeding ground for the life sciences industry. An area that formerly was a center for manufacturing, the city has transformed itself in recent decades with a little help from Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives CEO and Worcester native Kevin O’Sullivan.

Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI) is, according to O’Sullivan, “a private, not for profit economic development ‘engine’ for the life sciences industry.”

A former state representative from Worcester, O’Sullivan is ceaselessly bullish on the city’s future as a thriving hub of startup energy and entrepreneurial spirit.

“Economic growth in Worcester and Central Mass,” O’Sullivan said, “will center on the life sciences, healthcare and education with brains and innovation our as main product.”

Job Creation

 O’Sullivan and MBI have been busy creating jobs for over a decade in part by deploying a rather nontraditional motivational tactic: eviction.

Tenants at each of the three life science business incubators that O’Sullivan oversees must vacate the premises after one year of occupancy.

“Yes,” said Sullivan, “We make a concerted effort to search out ‘winners,’ entrepreneurs who have solid business and science plans in place, money raised, and are willing to sign a one year lease term commitment.”

By the end of the lease, ideally, companies are ready to outgrow their current addresses and expand their borders beyond MBI.

“Since 2000,” O’Sullivan pointed out, “MBI has graduated 57 companies from our facilities, 43 who are still in business—a 75% success rate.”

He added, “Approximately 1 out of 4 or 5 stay in Worcester and the overwhelming number remain in Massachusetts, 33 of which are still operating in the state with approximately 400 newly created jobs.”

Worcester’s affordability, especially when compared to the influential and established biomedical research community in Cambridge, makes MBI a sought-after springboard for up and coming life sciences entities. In fact, MBI is so desirable only 15% of companies that apply are accepted.


“There are a lot of benefits of having a business at MBI,” said Dr. Yumei Huang, president and CEO of CellMosaic,

one of six companies located at MBI’s Barber Avenue facilities.

Huang continued, “MBI has very good supporting structure that can simplify the process of establishing a new company. For example: environmental, health, safety, security, and central facility services. So a startup company can focus on its core business from the very beginning.”

Huang thinks CellMosaic’s proximity to other broadly similar businesses is an additional advantage to MBI.

“As a cluster of new and established biotech companies,” Huang said, “MBI fosters the environment of scientific collaboration and assistance within the companies.”

She added, “The facilities are uniquely positioned at the heart of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and UMASS Medical School, providing easy access to scientific literature, academic collaborators, instrumental resources and talented interns.”

“Our goal,” O’Sullivan said, “is to encourage our ‘graduate’ companies to locate in Worcester but CEOs make the decision based on where they live and where their top scientists live.”

He added, “The city is terrific in trying to accommodate companies by way of offering tax increment funding, micro loans, etc.”

Of the prospect of CellMosaic staying local, Huang said, “We are currently looking for places everywhere. So don’t know yet. But, “she concluded, “I really like the environment in Worcester.”

Huang will be hiring a new employee in February and, if investments are sufficient, hopes to hire more.

Keeping Companies In The Commonwealth

If companies are unwilling or unable to stay in Worcester, O’Sullivan said keeping them in the Commonwealth becomes of paramount importance so growing businesses can continue to support Massachusetts as a competitor on the global stage.

O’Sullivan said, “The Patrick/Murray administration and the Legislature have been outstanding in their commitment and support for the life sciences industry.”

“The state,” O’Sullivan concluded, “through MassDevelopment, is a strong support system for company funding and location assistance.”

O’Sullivan and MBI plan to continue their contribution to Worcester’s ascendant life sciences community, and to Massachusetts as a whole, in 2012 and beyond.


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