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Q&A: Baiju Shah reveals the secrets of BioEnterprise's success

President and CEO of BioEnterprise, Baiju Shah. Photos | Ben French
President and CEO of BioEnterprise, Baiju Shah. Photos | Ben French
President and CEO of BioEnterprise Baiju Shah never stops moving. And neither does BioEnterprise. Shah's organization has been a part of a growing campaign that -- in the last eight years -- has developed 120 biomedical companies, attracted $925 million in funding and created more than 2,100 jobs (and counting) in northeastern Ohio.

Shah and BioEnterprise are joined in their biomedical quest by partners Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, Summa Health System and the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron. It's a giant web, Shah says, of organizations and institutions that create the end product: A linking of talent, technology and cash, giving an entrepreneur the best chance at success. Combined, those elements provide a potent recipe for a biomedical force to be reckoned with.

hiVelocity recently caught up with Shah to get the inside scoop on how BioEnterprise is helping to define an industry and a region.

What attracts entrepreneurs in the biomedical industry to northeast Ohio?

I think there are a couple of things. First you've got a pretty vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem of strong and distinct research institutions. You've got seed capital organizations, you've got venture capital systems and then you've got this network that connects the dots. There are really a number of enterprises in Northeast Ohio that can get you connected to give you a chance to be successful. It's that critical mass. There are enough of these individuals out there to make this work.

You've been a little hesitant to take credit for the successes of this biomedical movement.

I don't think we deserve that credit. It's all the entrepreneurs. They are the source. We're just lucky we get to work with them. It's been a collective push by a number of organizations that has enabled this development in northeast Ohio. The reason I'm hesitant is because you can't point to one or two organizations. It's the culture of this region.

What is the culture of this region?

I'm a lifelong Clevelander. It's changed dramatically here. There are 200 start-up companies in northeast Ohio, working on all kinds of interesting systems. That mass has created a bottom up sense of vibrancy. I used to know all of the start-up companies in Cleveland. Now, there's so much occurring you can't keep on top of it all.

How will BioEnterpise fit in with the proposed Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center downtown?

We are strong advocates of Medical Mart and Convention Center. I think it really has three benefits in the region. If you think about the small biomedical companies that are emerging, the Medical Mart will give them instant access to the medical marketplace. Secondly, it also becomes an attraction magnet for companies from overseas who are looking to set up sales and operation. And third, we'll see a lot more company attraction. It will continue to elevate this region's -- and the state's -- reputation as a medical industry leader. It will continue to cultivate interest in this region and in this state.

Ohio has been battling with other states, such as Minnesota, to be at the top of the biomedical start-up market. What gives Ohio an advantage in becoming a leader?

In 2001, we weren't even in the same league with Minnesota. We've now catapulted ahead of everyone else around us. You've got incredible strength of universities throughout the state, which is a real network of leadership; a substantial amount of large industries and major anchor companies throughout the state; the third thing -- that's uniquely different in Ohio -- is the entrepreneurial ecosystem, from the seed funds to the venture capital funds. That's what is most envied by other states. It's what Minnesota craves. Other states call on us to ask how has Ohio catapulted itself in such a short amount of time.

With that kind of success in such a short amount of time, what could happen in say another ten years?

You're going to see companies becoming leaders within their niches. These venture-funded companies will become grand-slam enterprises. You're also going to see successful health care entrepreneurs. There's going to be a whole cadre. increasing four to five fold in the next ten years. There could easily be 50 to 100 healthcare entrepreneurs starting new enterprises. People will invest and reinvest in northeast Ohio. That's the cycle you'll see again and again. People hit natural end points and see that they want to do that again.

What's the key to success?

I think that we are still in a position that we cannot find enough workers for the jobs available. Getting workers trained for these positions -- that's going to be vital. There's an idea out there that these jobs require a PhD. That's not the case. These are highly engineered products that we are shipping to places like China and India. That's the future for us. We need to be able to produce more of these types of positions.
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