Governor Northam and the Virginia Biotechnology Association announced today that GO Virginia has approved a competitive grant request to help fund Virginia Bio-Connect, a $3.2 million Statewide industry cluster scale up initiative. The project, directed by the Virginia Biotechnology Association, is a multi-regional collaboration designed to increase connectivity and awareness of the existing programs, resources, and communities in the Commonwealth that support the life sciences industry.
Virginia Bio-Connect will be a central hub for the life science community to find relevant resources across the state, including commercialization and entrepreneurship programs, funding mechanisms, accelerators, job boards, internship programs, and core research equipment facilities. The program will provide the pathway for businesses to find the support, expertise, and workforce needed to grow and prosper in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
This effort leverages CvilleBioHub’s regional ecosystem building experience, funded in part by GO Virginia, to inform the further development of four additional BioHubs in Richmond, Northern Virginia, Coastal Virginia, and the Roanoke/Blacksburg/Lynchburg regions. Co-directors who have expertise in economic development, commercialization, life sciences, and workforce development will lead the BioHubs. Each brings deep life science networks to foster new connections.
John Newby, Virginia Bio’s Chief Executive Officer and the designated lead of the new consortium, explained that the biotechnology industry, beyond its work to stimulate innovation and improve health, has an $8 billion economic impact in Virginia. “We have assembled an extraordinary team who are all passionate about working collaboratively, and Virginia’s life science economy stands to grow greatly under this grant.”
CvilleBioHub Executive Director Nikki Hastings said, “CvilleBioHub, a private industry-led non-profit in Charlottesville, has established and demonstrated success for regional biotech industry cluster development. We are excited to expand this concept across Virginia, strengthening the overall network and impact for the state’s bioeconomy.”
The five regional BioHubs and co-leading entities are:
● Charlottesville/Albemarle: CvilleBioHub and University of Virginia Licensing and Ventures Group
● Coastal Virginia: City of Virginia Beach Economic Development and Eastern Virginia Medical School
● Northern Virginia: Prince William County Department of Economic Development and George Mason University
● Richmond: Activation Capital and VCU Innovation Gateway
● Roanoke/Blacksburg/Lynchburg: Virginia Tech Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Carilion Clinic
“This a big win for Virginia’s Life Science community and the larger Biohealth Capital Region, consisting of life science leaders in Virginia and neighboring Maryland and the District of Columbia,” said Alan Connor, CEO of Cadence, Inc. and Chairman of the Virginia Bio Board of Directors. “The $3.2 million two-year program is the Commonwealth’s largest single investment to strengthen Virginia’s statewide biotechnology industry cluster. The need for this support is evidenced by the broad coalition represented above, and the direct financial support of participating localities and industry leaders Pfizer, BIO and PhRMA.”
Wilson Flohr, CEO of GROW Capital Jobs Foundation Region Four, the local GO Virginia region noted, “The Virginia Bio-Connect project supports the priorities and goals of the GO Virginia program by providing significant economic impact and high paying job opportunities vital to the growth and diversification of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s economic development strategies. This is a significant statewide effort, and we applaud the leadership of the GO Virginia Region Four Council, as well as the four other councils collaborating in support of this project.”
During the two year grant period, Virginia Bio-Connect will create a workforce development program to connect graduate and undergraduate students in the Commonwealth with Virginia-based life science and biotechnology companies. This will include the coordination of an industry-specific internship program that will enroll 100 students from our community colleges and universities across the state.
Amy Adams, Executive Director of the Institute for Biohealth Innovation at George Mason University shared, “Students located across the Commonwealth will have the unique opportunity to be part of a statewide cohort and develop meaningful connections with Virginia’s life science industry professionals. It’s a win-win for both our students who will gain practical skills, making them more competitive in the job market and for companies who seek a talented, diverse workforce pipeline.”
The program will also launch a Virtual Entrepreneur-in-Residence Network (VERN). Four new entrepreneurs in residence will be hired embodying industry-specific expertise and relevant professional networks necessary to support the advancement of established early-to seed-stage companies.
Deborah Roder, Business Development Manager, Science, Prince William County added, “Virginia Bio-Connect provides the resources life science startups need to navigate the industry specific complex regulatory systems, find their highly skilled workforce, and locate the existing entrepreneur support systems already in place throughout the Commonwealth.”
Virginia Bio-Connect is projected to foster the creation of 15 new life science companies, 254 new jobs, and provide a greater than $25 million boost to the economy.
Major corporate activities are positioning Virginia to be a biotechnology leader, such as Phlow Corporation with its recent $354 million BARDA grant. ATCC, Vibrent Health, kaléo, Embody, ReAlta Life Sciences, Landos, MicroGEM, HemoShear Therapeutics, GPB Scientific are just a few of the life science companies across the Commonwealth also experiencing recent big wins.