Hope all is going well. For our US readers, I hope that you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday with your family and friends. It is that one time of the year where you can reflect and really give thanks for all that we have, from our health and happiness to our family and friends. It also means that we have started the express run to the Christmas season. The next 4 weeks will fly by and getting things accomplished becomes a real challenge as many companies seem to check out early. I know you’re saying I should be used to it since we’ve been in business for so long. Still, it’s hard to wrap my head around it since it creates a massive crunch to start the new year. This could easily be avoided by spacing things out over the next few weeks and making the workload a little less frantic after the holiday. Such is life.
The topic for this week’s blog came to me a few weeks back. Many years ago, Massachusetts, the state where I live and where BioSurfaces is located, used to have this slogan “Making It in Massachusetts!” This was to indicate that life is good in the state and that the state is there to help its residents lead a happy and productive life as compared to other states in the country. It was a marketing tool to encourage people to stay in the state since life is pretty good if you are “making it.” For those of you who are not familiar with Massachusetts, it is rated top 3 in life sciences in the country based on its workforce, companies that set up shop here and educational options for its residents. Over the past years, though, other states are starting to make inroads into the life science space and are attracting away companies and talent from the state. For example, Texas has many financial incentives and grants to lure companies to its state. This has forced Massachusetts to also set up different programs to try to keep its current companies here and to encourage new ones to form here. Based on this, you would think that a company like BioSurfaces, who has a 20-year track record of being in business, should easily be able to find a program that could help the company. How hard could it be?
As many of you have been reading over the past several months, BioSurfaces has been looking to expand our IVRT business. As you may recall, our IVRT products use our Bio-Spun™ scaffold which is then applied onto different plastic housing for benchtop studies. Since our Bio-Spun™ scaffold resembles the body’s framework that cells grown into, it allows benchtop testing to better mimic what would happen in the body. We are currently selling these products directly to customers, ranging from cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies to government researchers. This product has been gathering interest from several larger companies that are interested in purchasing these products from us to then sell them in their catalog. Gathering this type of interest has forced us to plan for scaling up our manufacturing facilities to meet potential demand. There has been a push to manufacture products in the US again after many years of sending things overseas to be produced. We figured that there must be a state program that would be willing to help us out.
On the federal level, we have had good success with grants and contracts, bringing in millions of dollars to advance the technology while employing people. In full transparency, BioSurfaces did not have any success trying to access any state program in years past with the exception of the Mass Life Sciences Internship Challenge (MLSC), where we are training the next generation of biotech workers in exchange for reimbursement. We have participated in the MLSC program since inception. Tina and I graduated from UMass Dartmouth (it was called Southeastern Massachusetts University in 1989) and are advocates for hiring MA state school graduates. We currently employ 13 people at BioSurfaces, and half of these people are state school graduates. From the state, we heard a wide range of reasons back then, including how early the company was. We were now at a different stage, demonstrating staying power through 2 economic meltdowns and a pandemic. Considering the average biotech company lasts only 5 years, we had at least made it past a major hurdle. Heck, we were even nominated by our local state representative for Manufacturer of the Year two months ago. Not sure if this meant anything as Terumo, a Japanese company with a manufacturing presence in Ashland, won the same award a few years ago from the state and recently moved this operation (and the jobs associated with it) to Costa Rica. I could understand why based on my previous history. But maybe things had changed.
With these reasons along with the drive to expand manufacturing as well as jobs within Massachusetts, we began reaching out to several groups within the state biotech ecosystem that should be designed to help companies that want to grow in Massachusetts, especially with regards to manufacturing. Due to the urgency of these companies’ interest, we started to approach various groups ranging from MassVentures and MassDevelopment through Mass Office of Business Development and Mass Life Sciences. Similar to years ago, we received a whole host of reasons as to why they couldn’t help us, from we are too established, we are not a majority woman-owned (Tina and I are 50:50 partners), we need to bring in more investment money before they would loan us money (which we would not need if we were able to do this), they are holding aside money for some young companies (that likely will not make it to the 5 year mark based on statistics) or we fall just outside of the qualifications. Most of them went on to tell me that they are rooting for us and mentioned I should let them know if I need anything from them. What the %#$3##! It took me all I had not to lose it. Them telling me that they are rooting for me (like I need a cheerleader) and asking me to let them know if I need anything (which I just did) is worth exactly how much they provided us – a BIG FAT zero!
After collecting myself, I realized that this old saying doesn’t really apply to the Massachusetts marketing slogan, for my business at least. We would have to go out and do it ourselves as we’ve done for the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the state will be complaining about how we continue to lose manufacturing and biotech jobs to other states. With these useless programs in place, is it any wonder? You can see why companies will leave the state for greener pastures like Texas or begin to move manufacturing operations overseas. Making it in Massachusetts does not seem to be a desire of the state on many fronts. If we are successful (and it is a big IF), we should not see any of these folks looking to stand up and take a bow. They’ll have made it that much harder for us to succeed. But it will be all the