Blog: Stephen Rapundalo

Stephen T. Rapundalo, PhD. is the Executive Director of MichBio, the main trade organization for Michigan's life sciences and biotechnology industry. He will be writing about what Michigan can and should do to foster and improve its life sciences industry.

Post No. 1: Leadership

What must Michigan do to enhance and sustain a leadership role in the biosciences? 

Many in the state – policymakers, academic research and industry leaders, and others – claim often that Michigan has all the right ingredients for success in this technology sector.  So why is it that we don’t appear year after year in the top tier of states recognized for having a robust life science industry? 

The answer is simple – lack of vision and leadership in moving the industry sector forward and insure that there is 1) broad commitment for support, 2) active promotion to insure the region’s visibility as a life sciences hub, and 3) consistency in the resources available to the industry for its commercialization activities and growth. 

Commitment begins with having a long-term strategic plan – in essence, a roadmap that would guide and expand the industry. States that have achieved prominence typically have followed a thoughtful path and developed appropriate resources, initiatives and incentives of which many are designed to be sector-specific. 

Above all, successful states have learned to be patient given the lengthy maturation period for bioscience companies, and not abandon efforts when outcomes are perceived to be either lacking or moving too slowly.Thus, MichBio, the statewide trade association for the biosciences industry, has goals to develop a viable roadmap with the input of stakeholders from around the state, conduct an asset map analysis to ascertain infrastructure and capabilities, and develop a more robust business database to help companies in identifying resources and enhancing Michigan-based business to business development opportunities.

Michigan must do more to better promote its capabilities, infrastructure and resources in the biosciences. The fact is that the state suffers from an image problem despite such initiatives like the "Michigan Upper Hand" campaign starring Jeff Daniels that has created quite a buzz in other states and countries. The state needs to educate the public about successful entrepreneurial ventures.  However, that campaign must be complemented with other ongoing, on-the-ground efforts – collateral materials, web resources, databases, referral centers, etc. – here in the state so that our own companies can easily access information, advice, and facilitation that will enhance operations, R&D efforts, and business development opportunities.

Lastly, the state needs to be consistent in the resources that are provided to both start-up and established companies alike. Changes in eligibility requirements for funding sources, diminution in funding levels in favor of other technology sectors, and raiding of dedicated funding streams as short-term budgetary stopgaps, are only a few examples of how messages of inconsistency and confusion are developed. These, together with commonly-held negative perceptions of the state in terms of business environment, economic fortunes, and livable communities give rise the impression that Michigan is not serious about evolving itself into a knowledge-based economy that is competitive on the global stage.    

It will take bold, proactive strategies, coupled with a collective effort on the part of our leaders in government, economic development, the life sciences industry, academic research organizations, technology transfer groups, as well as the investment and broader business communities, to move Michigan forward in the life sciences sector.  

The real question is whether we have the will and fortitude to make the tough decisions and place the state’s biosciences industry on a path to success.