Bioscience startups need support beyond the incubator stage

Helen Stimson
Guest Columnist

Over the past five years, the bioscience industry in Delaware has undergone significant changes that were both negative and positive. Earlier this decade we lost about 12% of our jobs due to business decisions by DuPont and Astra Zeneca to transfer research and development centers to other states. Jobs in the bioscience sector paid on average $120,000 per year, so the losses had a significant impact on the local economy.

On the positive side, the 2018 BIO State TEConomy report indicates that our job numbers have jumped back up and that Delaware has 33% more bio/life science companies than we did in 2014. 

We have had some merger activity like Adesis to UDC and CD Diagnostics to Zimmer Biomet that has given these once-small businesses the influx of cash needed to grow their businesses in Delaware. We have seen our startup pharmaceutical businesses Foresee Pharmaceuticals and Prelude Therapeutics close significant funding rounds, with Prelude Therapeutics achieving one of the largest funding rounds in the Philadelphia region in the third quarter. 

Wilmington PharmaTech announced plans to hire up to 139 new employees and invest $18 million in a new state-of-the-science research and manufacturing facility in Newark. And Incyte received additional FDA approval and their Q2 numbers showed 21% growth in product revenue and royalties over Q2 of 2018. 

And there are more success stories …

A lab within [email protected] Incubator, prior to move-in.

So why do I feel the industry needs help? With a 33% increase in the number of companies, we have a lot of small and startup businesses that are growing. Our incubators at the Delaware Innovation Space and [email protected] are excellent at providing space, resources and connecting entrepreneurs to training and support. The challenge is what happens to the successful startup when it grows and needs to expand out of the incubator. We don’t have any available lab space in Delaware for them to move into.

This industry thrives on innovation from research and research is expensive. At this stage in their evolution, these companies don’t have the cash to build buildings or do major outfitting of existing facilities. Many of our small, innovative companies will have no choice but to move to a surrounding state where facilities are available. What we need is an infusion of cost-effective, lab-based accelerator space where small innovative science-based companies can take their next growth step so they can create the high-value jobs and level of investment that these types of companies can bring. We want to provide these growing companies the support they need to stay in Delaware.

This is not a problem unique to Delaware; many states and regions have grappled with this issue, and it requires creative partnerships and funding solutions to address it. Delaware’s small size should be conducive to the collaboration and creativity required for finding such solutions.

We have a small team, Mike Bowman (Delaware Technology Park, also known as [email protected]), Tim Mueller (Delaware Innovation Space), Ariel Gruswitz (Delaware Prosperity Partnership), and myself who have begun to work on this problem. We’ve been inspired lately reading about how Delawareans are coming together to solve problems and we want to open our working group up and invite others who might be working on this problem or who have ideas on how to solve the problem to join us. If you can lend your time, talents or treasures to help, please reach out to me at [email protected]. 


Helen Stimson is president & CEO of the Delaware Bioscience Association.

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