bioenterprise, austen bioinnovation work as one to propel healthcare tech in region

Let's imagine that the Northeast Ohio healthcare innovation community is a football team. That would make business recruiter BioEnterprise the quarterback, "handing off" startup companies to Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron, with an aim of scoring funding and resources a company needs to succeed. 
Strained metaphors aside, BioEnterprise and Austen are two local groups working as a team to push a regional economic transition from staid manufacturing to the more vibrant realm of healthcare and innovation technology. What exactly do these groups do and how do they do it? How do they work together to achieve their goals? Key members from each organization share their connected strategies.
Providing a guiding hand
BioEnterprise is a Cleveland nonprofit tasked with growing healthcare companies and commercializing bioscience technologies. The early-stage firms BioEnterprise assists are seeking to produce medical devices and biotechnology, or developing drugs for commercial use.
The economic development group was founded in 2002 by the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University as a way to harness area strengths in medical devices and healthcare technology. The nonprofit's foray into a potentially lucrative "innovation economy" is built by guiding new companies, not funding them, says interim president Aram Nerpouni.
The 10-year-old business accelerator carries a $5.5 million annual budget. BioEnterprise connects entrepreneurs with venture capitalists and grant opportunities, offers them technical support, and guides managers in the beginning stages of their companies.
In its mission to transform the region into a bioscience hub, the organization has helped cultivate the creation of over 100 healthcare-related companies locally. Northeast Ohio has about 700 such companies on the ground, providing the region with 20,000 jobs.
BioEnterprise is currently undergoing a transition at the top. Longtime president Baiju Shah announced last summer that he was leaving to lead a local biotech startup. Vice president of strategic development Nerpouni took over the role in August on at least a temporary basis. BioEnterprise has not determined how long Nerpouni's job would be considered interim, nor is the group conducting a search for a new leader at this time. The Stanford-graduated scientist was chief administrative officer and co-founder of Austen before returning to BioEnterprise in 2011. Nerpouni had previously served as BioEnterprise's vice president of business development.
Due to the collaboration and commitment of BioEnterprise, Austen and many local organizations, the region is now a nationally recognized center for biomedical innovation, Nerpouni says.
"The heroes here are the entrepreneurs themselves," he says. "We connect talent to our partners so they're able to attract the investments they need."
Thriving in collaboration
Austen has flourished as one of those partner institutions, its leaders note. The group was formed in 2008 as a collaboration between several Akron institutions: Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Summa Health System, University of Akron and the Knight Foundation.
Austen's focus is the commercialization of biomaterial solutions for patients with orthopedic or wound healing problems, says president and CEO Dr. Frank Douglas. The organization consists of five interrelated centers designed to leverage Akron's high-tech research strengths, namely polymers and musculoskeletal studies. In April, Austen opened a 30,000-square-foot facility to foster an educational series of team-based, patient-centered simulation programs.
The research aspect is only one facet of a collaborative effort that aims to spin out 40 to 50 companies and create nearly 2,400 jobs in Akron over a 10-year period, Douglas says. Austen has also formed a "symbiotic relationship" with BioEnterprise, notes the organization CEO.
For example, BioEnterprise holds workshops for startups looking to start clinical trials for their products. "We'll present [at the workshop] so these companies are able to see our capabilities," says Douglas, who also serves on BioEnterprise's board.
The partnership has helped Austen garner over 220 invention disclosures and 25 projects ready to move into the prototype phase. In January, the institute spun out its first company. APTO Orthopaedics is a medical device firm developing a noninvasive spinal fixation system for children with scoliosis.
With hard work and a little luck, Austen will create at least $50 million worth of investments annually in area healthcare companies. Having teams of smart, driven people working together across Northeast Ohio will only accelerate this process, Douglas believes.
"Our relationship with BioEnterprise is very synergistic," he says. "We have to continue developing our expertise and delivering on our reputation for quality."
Building for the future
Austen is a "nationally distinctive institution" in a region that can always use some positive recognition, says BioEnterprise's Nerpouni. His organization will continue to steer healthcare and bioscience entrepreneurs and researchers toward Austen with the hopes of increasing the momentum reflected in two recent reports: 
The BioOhio Bioscience Growth Report, for example, states that as of 2009, Northeast Ohio accounted for 34.3 percent of bioscience employment (21,427), 33.8 percent of the bioscience payroll ($1.4 billion) and 39.7 percent of the total number of bioscience locations (714) in the state.
Meanwhile, the 2007-2011 Greater Cleveland Venture Capital Overview, published by the Northeast Ohio Venture Capital Advisory Task Force, reports 61 percent of venture capital dollars went to healthcare companies, primarily medical devices ($243 million) and healthcare services and IT ($265 million).
BioEnterprise's own research has shown Cleveland's bioscience companies attracting an average $150 million a year in capital investment, compared to $30 million in 2002.
Continued cooperation among BioEnterprise, Austen and other forward-looking regional organizations will continue to build on a strong foundation that is steadily pushing Northeast Ohio's economy in a more dynamic direction, Nerpouni says.
BioEnterprise and Austen "are a complementary fit," he says. "We'll continue to find more opportunities for a seamless regional approach to attracting investment into the area."

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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