PBN summit: Life sciences, blue economy growth face challenges in R.I.

Updated at 3:47 p.m.

JIM OWENS, second from left, Nautilus Defense LLC principal, speaks during one of two panel discussions at Providence Business News' Emerging Industries Summit at the Providence Marriott on Wednesday. Also on the panel is, from left, Anthony Baro, E2SOL LLC managing principal; Jeanine Boyle, Inspire Environmental Inc. CEO; Nishita Roy-Pope, Tribe Academy LLC founder and CEO; Marc Parlange, University of Rhode Island president; Stephen Piper, lead client partner, state of Rhode Island, IBM Consulting. URI Research Foundation Executive Director Christian Cowan, standing at right, was the moderator. / PBN PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI
JIM OWENS, second from left, Nautilus Defense LLC principal, speaks during one of two panel discussions at Providence Business News' Emerging Industries Summit at the Providence Marriott on Wednesday. Also on the panel is, from left, Anthony Baro, E2SOL LLC managing principal; Jeanine Boyle, Inspire Environmental Inc. CEO; Nishita Roy-Pope, Tribe Academy LLC founder and CEO; Marc Parlange, University of Rhode Island president; Stephen Piper, lead client partner, state of Rhode Island, IBM Consulting. URI Research Foundation Executive Director Christian Cowan, standing at right, was the moderator. / PBN PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI

PROVIDENCE – Justin Fallon, a professor of neuroscience, psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, co-founded his company, Bolden Therapeutics Inc., in Rhode Island. But when he needed to secure lab space for the startup, Fallon turned to the Boston area. 

It was not his preference. But with limited lab spaces available in the Ocean State, Fallon said, he had little choice. 

“It’s awkward, being here in Providence and having a laboratory in Cambridge,” Fallon said Wednesday at Providence Business News’ 2024 Emerging Industries Summit. “I’d much rather be here.” 

While Rhode Island’s lack of available lab space currently stifles the state’s potential to foster biotech and life sciences innovation, the good news, Fallon said, is that Ocean State leaders now have an opportunity to change that landscape for the better. 

- Advertisement -

The local life sciences sector was the focus of one summit panel’s discussions Wednesday; the blue economy was the focus of a second panel.

Over the course of the two discussions, leaders from these sectors spoke on the opportunities and challenges Rhode Island faces as it looks to scale up in these areas, as well as potential solutions to some of the most glaring issues. 

On the biotech/life sciences side, observers such as Fallon see reason for optimism that Rhode Island can step up. Last year, legislators announced a $45 million effort to establish a life sciences hub in Rhode Island. 

Some of that money is set aside to remedy the issue of available lab space in the Ocean State, said Neil Steinberg, chairman of the newly minted Rhode Island Life Sciences Hub. Steinberg doesn’t have an exact timeline yet, but he said the hub has plans to establish new lab space that can accommodate 30-50 companies. 

But even with the recent financial infusion set aside for biotech, Steinberg recognizes Rhode Island has a lofty goal ahead of it. 

“Cambridge-Boston won the Olympics,” Steinberg said. “We’re trying to qualify.” 

Alongside Fallon and Steinberg, the biotech/life sciences panel included Dr. Gaurav Choudhary, medical director of the Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute Clinical Trials Office; and Carol Malysz, executive director of RI BIO. 

In the summit’s other panel discussion, focused on the blue economy/Ocean Tech Hub, industry leaders said that, unlike biotech, Rhode Island already has a wealth of resources needed to succeed as a leader in the blue economy, including research infrastructure, major players and the ocean itself. 

The blue economy/Ocean Tech Hub panel featured Anthony Baro, managing principal of E2SOL LLC; Jeanine Boyle, CEO of Inspire Environmental Inc.; Jim Owens, principal at Nautilus Defense LLC; Marc Parlange, president of the University of Rhode Island; Stephen Piper, lead client partner at the state of Rhode Island and IBM Consulting; and Nishita Roy-Pope, CEO and founder of Tribe Academy LLC. 

Among the industry giants the Ocean State has already attracted is the Danish offshore wind company Orsted, said Jeanine Boyle, CEO of Inspire Environmental.  

The presence of companies such as Orsted A/S has also highlighted the need for environmental innovation, Boyle said, which goes hand-in-hand with the blue economy. 

“We don’t just behave in a sustainable way because it’s the right thing to do,” Boyle said. “It’s also increasingly becoming a part of the metrics we’re measured by, and how we’re going to maintain our place in this blue economy by developing that.” 

Piper said that the state already has “all the jackpots lined up” for success in the blue economy, including strong partnerships between businesses and universities, and a base of small and large companies.  

“We have the right level of support and the right skillsets,” he noted. Now, it’s up to state leaders to “stay persistent in the investment in this industry and keep the messaging … on us,” he said. 

State and industry leaders must also push to connect the sector with additional resources and communities, Roy-Pope said, and prioritize early education and diversifying the industry to maximize opportunities. 

Roy-Pope called on audience members to use their capital and influence to support entrepreneurs not only through mentorship but through sponsoring innovation efforts. 

“There are 36,000 [blue economy] jobs that need to be filled,” Roy-Pope said. “It’s going to take a whole community to be invested.” 

(UPDATE: Corrects spelling of Jeanine Boyle in 14th paragraph)

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

No posts to display