SCBIO: Growing, Innovating and Diversifying
By Amanda Capps
SCBIO is a dynamic statewide, not-for-profit economic development organization consisting of public and private entities dedicated to building, expanding, supporting and promoting South Carolina’s life sciences, an industry that has an economic impact of more than $12 billion. Its staff actively makes connections among all relevant parties touching the industry to foster opportunities and bottom-line growth for all.
Recently, the SCBIO team hosted a virtual meet-up for women in life sciences. SCBIO Interim CEO Erin Ford and board member Caroline Brown, who serves as SCBIO’s annual conference officer and chief external affairs officer for the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), shared information on their career development and led a discussion about South Carolina’s life sciences industry and the potential for women to grow and advance within it.
In her role at MUSC, Brown works with diverse stakeholders in pursuit of leading health innovation. In 2020, during a time when both health care and education were upended by Covid, she witnessed some heartening collaborations. Much of her focus involves identifying potential partners and forging a path to synergy. When asked specifically about her decision to pursue an MBA, she affirmed the value of her education in relation to negotiating contracts and developing business plans that demonstrate value to the organization.
“It’s important to be confident in your ability to speak the language and understand the basis of the complex field of health care and life sciences,” she said.
Brown got her start in politics, a field she said allows exponential growth on the basis of performance. Ford has a background in economic development and started her career in sports broadcasting. As a sports reporter right out of college, one of the teams she covered was the Kansas City Royals. She was a “one-man band,” carrying the camera equipment for her reports and always a minority in the locker room.
Ford and Brown have a wide range of experience, and both pointed to communication and relationship building as essential in any profession. “Being able to ask good questions and make other people feel comfortable with what they’re sharing is part of our responsibility as good communicators and leaders,” Brown said.
According to SCBIO’s staff, life sciences encompasses more than 700 firms and employs more than 43,000 people in all aspects of researching and implementing innovations in health care. It also has companies in 42 of our state’s 46 counties – a far greater penetration than most major industries. Given this, Gov. Henry McMaster recently issued an executive order to emphasize the industry in domestic and international recruiting efforts, and the South Carolina Department of Commerce and economic development teams from around the state have prioritized it.
With input from the organization’s board and numerous representatives of industry, higher education, economic development, government and other supporters, the SCBIO team has produced a 2021-2022 strategic plan that will further successful strategies from the previous four years. Even with the obvious trajectory of the multifaceted industry, which includes medical devices and biotechnology products, Ford said the current South Carolina Life Sciences Strategic Plan can take the industry to new heights in terms of both growth and innovation.
She became interim CEO when Sam Konduros departed in the spring and has since emphasized investor relations and existing industry support strategies, along with integrated marketing and other initiatives.
Among the organization’s endeavors is the cultivation of a pro-business environment for start-up and existing life science companies. SCBIO advocates for policies and programs that foster innovation and support the industry’s growth. It is a state affiliate of BIO, the U.S. Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which champions biotechnology in the realms of healthcare, agriculture and the environment. SCBIO’s website features job postings; anyone interested in positions in the life sciences can upload a résumé to the site’s career portal, find information on internships and connect with recruiters. Visitors can also browse upcoming networking events and conferences at scbio.org.
Life Sciences Industry Curriculum Plan
According to SCBIO, the Palmetto State’s life sciences sector creates twice as many jobs as the average of all other sectors in the state economy; to ensure those positions can be filled in a timely manner, SCBIO is preparing to launch a life sciences industry curriculum plan, a novel initiative for South Carolina. A few years ago, Ford established the Workforce Development Task Force, now with more than 100 active members focusing on the availability of talent and specialized training for a rapidly expanding industry.
Ford said a curriculum pilot for two-year students in South Carolina’s technical college system could be a go by 2022. Tri-County, Trident, Midlands and Greenville Technical College have already signed on, and industry leaders have helped shape the plan to meet their needs. The aim is to prepare students for apprenticeship or employment with companies such as these: Alcami, Charles River Labs and Vikor Scientific in the Lowcountry; Arthrex, Abbott Labs and Poly-Med in the Upstate; and Nephron Pharmaceuticals in the Midlands.
Diversity and Inclusion
SCBIO will soon be launching a diversity, equity and inclusion council to delve deeper into issues that limit females and minorities in the professional realm. Brown mentioned systemic problems like a lack of parental leave in the United States. During the meetup, Ford cited a 2021 McKinsey &
Company report that stated one out of every four women was considering leaving the workforce or downshifting since the pandemic versus one of every five men. The rate at which women with children under age 10 were considering leaving the workforce was 10 percentage points higher than that of men.
During the spring meetup, Brown also underscored health care disparities, especially in the LGBTQ, Latinx and African American communities. She noted strides MUSC has taken: the school has the fifth largest number of African American medical students in the country, outside of historically Black colleges and universities; the incoming medical school class is majority female and MUSC recently named the first-ever MUSC director of LGBTQ+ Health Services and Enterprise Resources.
Brown said on many fronts, we’re “doing very well with the diversity piece,” and the challenge going forward will be to support institutions of higher learning and the workplace, focusing on inclusion and eliminating disparities.