We are in a new era of both economic threats and opportunities, driven by rapid technological change and globalization. Perhaps the most transformative technological advances are being made in the field of medical science. This creates a great opportunity to turn our health care system into a key driver of economic prosperity. For example, the cost and time required to sequence complete human genomes has fallen from $3-billion and four years, to about $ 250. and less than a week. Genomics, stem cells, immunotherapy and advanced imaging technologies are all fundamentally altering the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The translation of medical research into novel products and services with commercial value will drive health care innovation and a new “bio-economy” of the future. But who will lead the companies that will produce these future innovations ?
When people think of starting a new business, they think of the Dragon’s Den where there are high stakes, hard work and either stunning successes or abject failures. Generally, according to the Royal Bank, about 80% of new businesses fail in the first 2 years. Personal losses to entrepreneurs can mean that they either never try it again, or they learn from mistakes and bravely keep trying. Any entrepreneur will tell you that while they may be sorry their company wasn’t more successful, none will tell you that they are sorry they started a company in the first place. Not trying has a 100% failure rate.
But it’s really quite a different story for entrepreneurs who start a health-related technology business, arising from some of the phenomenal amount of medical research projects in this region. The risk/reward equation is different than it is for other businesses. Most science-based businesses persist for many years without debt to the founders and many reap phenomenal returns. Since these companies are science-based, they usually originate in a university laboratory or hospital setting. Those institutions offer access to research infrastructure, incubation facilities and often business development assistance so that research scientists and clinicians can often maintain their professional careers while building their start-up company. Medical science entrepreneurs still need to work hard, but they are ‘bubble-wrapped” to withstand normal business bruises. Moreover, science-based start-up companies can bulk up government research funding, bringing additional talent, equipment and money to labs to solve some difficult health related problems. Start-ups can strengthen academic and clinical imperatives while building commercial value at the same time.
We need to encourage and support research scientists and clinicians who are interested in starting companies. After all, no products get into the hands and bodies of people that can benefit from them, without the involvement of some sort of commercial entity. But too often, that commercial entity is located outside our region and so the local returns, in terms of corporate and personal taxes, are not optimized for the public. But when local entrepreneurs are successful, funds often get reinvested in other local projects and companies. That strengthens the local economy and helps to attract and retain top talent. And a strong local economy enables more investment in health and other social services.