George Mason University’s Mason Enterprise is establishing a new network of life science business mentors to help startups across Virginia launch and scale their ventures. The new team of mentors will support a broad range of life science companies in bringing their innovations, including therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics and software, to market.
This network will be formed under the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), a program of the Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network. It will be funded through a partnership with Virginia Bio, a statewide trade association representing the Commonwealth’s life sciences industry.
Virginia Bio received a $3.2 million GO Virginia grant to create VA Bio-Connect, a hub for the life science community to access commercialization and entrepreneurship programs, funding sources, accelerators, job and internship programs, and research facilities. This multi-regional collaborative effort seeks to advance the growth and competitiveness of Virginia’s biohealth economy.
“Building a thriving life science economy in Virginia absolutely depends on having the right infrastructure for advancing innovations,” said John Newby, chief executive officer at Virginia Bio. “By partnering with Mason, we are building on a wealth of partnerships across the state as well as unique expertise in supporting entrepreneurs. These mentors are an integral piece of the puzzle as we work to achieve deeper synergies and connections across Virginia’s life science sector.”
The mentors will have broad expertise in launching new tech ventures and will support client startups in strategic planning, investor outreach, product development, navigating regulatory pathways, and fostering customer and research partnerships. They will also bring specialized industry knowledge in areas such as medical device technology, pharmaceutical products, and vaccine development.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Virginia Bio on this important work,” said Paula Sorrell, associate vice president of innovation and economic development at Mason. “Mason has a track record of supporting thousands of successful entrepreneurs across Virginia because of its ability to convene diverse resources and experts. We look forward to building on these wins and contributing to a vibrant life science industry.”
Virginia Bio-Connect addresses a statewide demand for life science-focused mentorship and fills existing commercialization gaps by making it easier for inventors to manufacture and sell products and services such as state-of-the-art medical devices, advanced telehealth options, life-saving cancer treatments, and innovative healthcare data solutions. The network of hired mentors will serve as a single point of entry for any life science startup in the Commonwealth that wants to launch or scale their business.
“This work is really perfectly timed,” said Jody Keenan, state director for the Virginia SBDC Network. “We are seeing more innovations centered on human health and well-being, such as vaccines and rapid diagnostic tests that were developed in response to the global health crisis we are experiencing. At the same time, we have been building our capacity to deliver very targeted mentorship to Virginia’s entrepreneurs.”
In the last three years, 15 percent of the companies that have accessed ICAP programs were in the life science sector. In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, that number became closer to 25 percent.
Mason recently received a GO Virginia grant to expand its network of tech mentors in the SBDC-ICAP program. The life science mentors are expected to work closely with these new tech mentors, and will also leverage partnerships established across the state with accelerators, technology councils, economic development organizations, and investors.
“Almost all of today’s startups operate across sectors, and almost all life science ventures have a tech dimension,” said Keenan. “Our goal is to ensure that innovators benefit from a wide range of expertise and go on to build successful and thriving businesses.”