Steinberg picked to lead Rhode Island Life Sciences Hub board

Updated at 3:25 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Life Sciences Hub is one step closer to becoming a reality after Gov. Daniel J. McKee announced Friday he has nominated Neil D. Steinberg to lead the board of the new quasi-public corporation.

Steinberg, who retired as CEO and president of the Rhode Island Foundation in May 2022, has served as vice president of development at Brown University and previously worked at what would become the bank FleetBoston Financial for approximately 30 years, finishing his time as chairman and CEO of Fleet Bank Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Life Sciences Hub will be responsible for coordinating investments and development of the state’s biotech and life science industries, according to a news release.

The hub would also boost development of medical advances and scientific breakthroughs with companies that specialize in various medical fields including, medical devices, biogenetics, genomics and life sciences. Also, with investments of grants, tax credits and incentives the hub would fund and support Rhode Island-based life science companies that promote economic and workforce development.

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“In my State of the State address, I said that Rhode Island was ready to become a leader in the life science industry. Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to reaching our full potential in this growing field,” said McKee. “In our last budget, we made a $45 million life science investment to help attract biotechnology companies from around the world. I am proud to nominate Neil Steinberg to a crucial new position that will help guide the state’s strategy as we become a hub for good-paying jobs, innovative technologies, and steady economic development in the life science industry.”

Steinberg in an interview Friday afternoon with Providence Business News said there will be funding for loans and grants to attract life science businesses to the state, possibly funding for incentives to bring in wet labs, which handle various types of chemicals and potential “wet” hazards. Steinberg also said the life sciences hub board will want to put in three years’ worth of “operating capital” to run the organization financially.

Steinberg said he would like to “separate out” some of the $45 million for operating the organization, but the board will need to work and determine that specific amount and come up with a “business plan.” Then, depending how the hub is proceeding, the hub’s board would go back to the state to seek additional funding, Steinberg said.

“If we’re going to attract somebody to run this [hub], it’s hard to attract somebody if you have one year of funding,” Steinberg said. “We will work within the very generous [state] allocation of $45 million.”

As chairman, Steinberg would lead a board of 15 people with backgrounds health care, higher education, business and economic development, among other industries. The board is also expected to hire a senior level executive to lead the daily operations.

“There is a great deal of potential here. Utilizing my experience, network, and leadership we will work collaboratively and inclusively to grow and build this sector in Rhode Island,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg told PBN the board will “cast a net far and wide” in seeking a CEO to lead the hub. Regarding that person’s qualities, all options are on the table, including someone directly working for a life sciences company, in finding the hub’s top executive, Steinberg said.

“It could be somebody nearby or somebody halfway across the country,” he said. “It could be somebody who knows the life sciences and biotechnology industry. It could also be someone who is a good ambassador and committed to the state of Rhode Island. I think it will be an attractive opportunity for the right person.”

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, who joined McKee for Friday’s announcement, has advocated for creating the hub through introducing the enabling legislation, Rhode Island Life Science Hub Act. The efforts are also supported by $45 million McKee allotted for life sciences in his fiscal 2024 budget.

“We are fortunate to have someone as dynamic as Neil, who possesses all the skills we need as board chair. This is a pivotal position in guiding the state’s growth and development in the bioscience arena. Neil has an extensive professional network and he is committed to building a strong economic future for the bioscience sector in our state,” Shekarchi said.

Steinberg’s appointment as chairman is welcome news for health care leaders who are eager to get the hub in action as they seek to launch Rhode Island into New England’s biotech market.

“I think this is the most important thing I’m working on that’s not inside of Lifespan,” Lifespan CEO John Fernandez told Providence Business News Oct. 2. “We’re in competition with the rest of the nation, so the most important thing is to have the chair of that appointed, get the board going, get the organization going so we can compete in the marketplace for new companies to come here and retain the companies that are here.”

Along with Fernandez, leaders from Care New England Health System, Brown University and University of Rhode Island have all expressed support for the hub as it could strengthen partnerships among institutions and the state’s innovations through providing additional resources. One of the collaborations the hub builds upon is the research agreement between Care New England, Lifespan and Brown that signed in November 2022.

Fernandez added that the hub has the potential boost job development within Rhode Island through attracting businesses to the state.

“If we had more jobs being created by private the private sector in this state, that means more people with insurance,” Fernandez said. “It’s better for the economy, for the mayor and governor because there’s more tax revenue…that’s where we ought to be focusing our time as leaders in this community is how do we get more jobs in the state?”

McKee was also joined by local government and life science leaders, including R.I. Commerce Secretary Elizabeth Tanner during Friday’s announcement.

“I applaud Governor McKee’s nomination of Neil Steinberg as Chairperson of the new Life Sciences Hub. Neil has long been an advocate for life science industry growth in Rhode Island,” said Tanner. “His background in banking and fundraising make him an ideal leader to help secure future investments that will stimulate the industry, bringing us closer to achieving long term economic success.”

According to the legislation, Steinberg must be confirmed by the state Senate. The General Assembly reconvenes in January.

(Update: Comments from Steinberg added in 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th paragraphs. PBN Special Projects Editor James Bessette contributed to this report.)