Refusing to be paralyzed by triskaidekaphobia, in July I started work on my thirteenth book, “Startup Cities: Why Only a Few Cities Dominate the Global Startup Scene and What the Rest Should Do About It.”
Worcester is firmly a member of “the rest” and UMass Medical School and Clark University are doing some significant things about it. For example, UMMS has licensed its intellectual property (IP) to many companies, some of its professors have started companies, and it offers entrepreneurship programs. Clark offers many entrepreneurship programs, connects students to the business community, and has educated many alumni who have achieved considerable business success.
Sadly for Worcester, all this success has not yielded local pillar companies — publicly traded firms based in the city that provide talent and capital to startups, co-develop their products, and often acquire the startups after they’ve grown. To be fair, these schools were not set up to create local pillar companies — but neither was Stanford nor MIT, which have produced them.
UMMS’ most significant contributions to entrepreneurship are the talent it has attracted to Worcester and the valuable IP that talent has developed. As Brendan O’Leary, UMMS executive vice chancellor for Innovation and Business Development, explained in a Sept. 1 email, “UMMS has actively marketed its IP to companies for decades, and this is a key component of our partnering activities with the private sector. The licensing fees we collect from companies — (which have totaled $570 million between 1994 and 2017 from 197 companies] — help support our core mission of improving human health. In order to further advance all of our partnering activities, we created the new Office of Innovation and Business Development in 2014, which coordinates all of these activities and is charged with dramatically increasing the number, type, and potential value of our partnering efforts.”
UMMS professors have also co-founded companies, including three companies based in Cambridge. Guangping Gao is a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, director at UMMS’ Gene Therapy Center & Vector Core, and scientific director of UMass Medical School China Program Office. Phil Zamore is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, Gretchen Stone Cook chair of Biomedical Sciences, professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, and chair of the RNA Therapeutics Institute. The two are co-founders of Cambridge-based Voyager Therapeutics, a gene therapy company developing treatments for fatal and debilitating diseases of the central nervous system that went public in November 2015 and had a stock market capitalization of about $268 million on Sept.1.
Michael Green, chair of UMMS’ Department of Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, co-founded Fulcrum Therapeutics, a Kendall Square-based company focused on discovering and developing small molecules that modulate the on/off control mechanisms that regulate genes.
Christian Mueller, an associate professor in UMMS’ Department of Pediatrics, co-founded Cambridge-based Apic Bio. The pre-clinical stage gene therapy company leverages its proprietary platform to advance therapies to treat rare diseases with complex mechanisms.
UMMS also operates a program intended to help its researchers commercialize their IP. The Mass (Translation, Entrepreneurship and Realization) TERi program was founded by three UMMS faculty members: Anastasia Khvorova, Melissa Moore, and Celia Schiffer. MassTERi’s goals are to “Foster a culture of entrepreneurship at UMMS and facilitate dynamic partnerships with industry; bridge the gap between UMMS discoveries and their development into drugs, products, technologies and companies; educate and nurture the next generation of translational scientists and entrepreneurs; and benefit the public good through development and commercialization of new therapies and creation of high-value life science jobs.”
Clark offers many courses in entrepreneurship, runs a program to connect students with businesses, and counts many successful entrepreneurs among its alumni. According to Director of Media Relations Jane Salerno, Clark’s courses include Entrepreneurship: Art of the New, Entrepreneurial Design Thinking, Funding Ventures, Innovation and Societal Transformations Toward Sustainability, and Creating a Culture of Innovation.
“Approximately 300 students each year take entrepreneurship courses to learn, build and strengthen their entrepreneurial mindset and thinking. Two student run ventures, the Community Thrift Store and The Local Root, have successfully been operating with ongoing student leadership transitions for the past six years on campus. Sixteen teams entered the 2016 Ureka Big Idea Challenge and worked with alumni, faculty and community mentors to shape a business model around their project. Three ideas split a $5,000 award,” Ms. Salerno said.
Its ClarkCONNECT “already has shown practical success in helping students discover direction and career opportunities. This initiative gives alumni and other Clark partners a forum in which to provide students with job-market advice, industry expertise and valuable post-Clark connections,” Ms. Salerno said.
Clark has educated some very successful entrepreneurs. For example, Avenue Capital Group, a $10 billion Manhattan-based hedge fund was founded by Marc Lasry ’81, whose net worth Forbes estimated at $1.6 billion on Sept. 4; he’s also co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. Ron Shaich ’76, founder, chairman of the board and CEO of St. Louis, Missouri-based Panera Bread Co., which his Au Bon Pain acquired, earned an estimated $400 million in July when he sold Panera for $7.5 billion to private equity firm, JAB Holding.
One Clark alumnus founded a successful company in Worcester County. Arthur J. Remillard Jr. ’56 founded Webster-based The Commerce Group, which was sold to Spain’s Mapfre in October 2007 for $2.2 billion soon after Mr. Remillard retired. And Jeffrey Lurie ’73, owner of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, was a Boston University professor before taking a job at his grandfather’s General Cinema. In 1994 he took out a loan to buy the Eagles for $185 million, which accounts for most of what Forbes estimates was his $1.85 billion net worth as of Sept. 4.
I wonder what would happen to Worcester if the companies founded by UMMS professors were located here instead of Cambridge. Could UMMS require that locating in Worcester be a condition of licensing its IP to a startup?
Peter Cohan of Marlboro heads a management consulting and venture capital firm, and teaches business strategy and entrepreneurship at Babson College. His email address is email@example.com.