Because a growing, vibrant life-science industry is key to Minnesota’s economic vitality, it’s critical that Minnesota businesses, organizations, government agencies and educational systems work together to foster the next generation of life science companies.
While once epitomized by medical device firms like Medtronic, St. Jude Medical and Guidant, Minnesota’s life-science industry now boasts scores of new players focused on food and agriculture, health data, diagnostics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and a new wave of medical devices. Minnesota life-science companies are also making significant contributions to bio-agriculture, biomaterials, biofuels, and animal sciences.
Minnesota is rich in entities that support life-science entrepreneurs, including private-sector companies, the University of Minnesota, the Hormel Institute, Incubology, Mayo Clinic Ventures and Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, Medical Alley Association of Minnesota, Minnesota High Tech Association, members of the Minnesota Venture Capital Association, MinnWest Technology Campus, University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL), and numerous venture and angel financing entities.
Also key to Minnesota’s ecosystem for entrepreneurial success is a strong educational system — from our land-grant research institution to the numerous state and private colleges and universities — that attracts talent and produces well-educated and motivated innovators.
Minnesota has done a good job of nurturing new life-science companies, but with other states competing to lure life-science companies away, we must make sure these young companies can find what they need right here, when they need it. These needs include specialized facilities, expert advice and financing.
Specialized facilities include state-of-the-art laboratories and offices. Historically, Minnesota lacked high-end “wet lab” space — with expensive features such as fume hoods with ventilation systems to remove and filter chemical vapors before releasing air outdoors, flammable-material storage cabinets and lab-grade work surfaces. Now, there is a network of locations in Minnesota that meets this need. Companies can select from a range of options, including smaller spaces and shared facilities. Several organizations, including UEL, have announced plans to expand facilities friendly to life science innovation.
The Minnesota entrepreneurial community is buoyed by an extensive and experienced community of law, accounting, and consulting firms devoting considerable time and resources to providing expert advice to life science companies. Early-stage companies and entrepreneurs need assistance in corporate structure and governance, contracts and employment agreements, financial controls and reporting, tax compliance and regulatory. Also important is protecting the intellectual property of new companies through appropriate patent, trademark and trade-secret protection.
Access to funding is a make-or-break need. It’s tempting to observe venture-capital activity in places like California, Massachusetts and New York and worry that Minnesota companies will not receive adequate financing.
Yet, the Medical Alley Association reports that its members raised a record $735 million in 2017 for medical device, digital health, pharma, biotech and diagnostics. And the Kaufmann Foundation reports that the Minneapolis-St. Paul region ranked in the top 10 metropolitan areas in 2017 on Kaufmann’s growth-entrepreneurship index — a composite measure of entrepreneurial business growth that includes all industries. The Legislature can encourage investment in promising new companies by restoring the Angel Investment Tax Credit, which, according to the Minnesota High Tech Association, resulted in $377 million in investments before its elimination, and exercise restraint in the imposition of new taxes on business.
Also needed is robust, accessible, transparent and sustainable statewide coordination of resources for entrepreneurs and early-stage life science enterprises through private companies, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities and government agencies. There should be a central database of resources for entrepreneurs, better public promotion of available resources, and avenues whereby resource providers understand each other’s capabilities. Our goal is not to require state-agency or legislative directives, but rather facilitate ongoing and active coordination by all parties with resources to support economic growth.
Minnesota has a well-deserved reputation as a life-science hotbed. Let’s work together on multiple levels to keep growing more of these important contributors to our state economy.
Tom Dickson is managing partner of Patterson Thuente IP, a Minneapolis intellectual property law firm. Lynne Osterman is executive director of University Enterprise Laboratories, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul providing a host of supports for life science companies.