A conversation with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development

A Conversation with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development

Katelin Roberts joined April Young Bennett, industry director of life sciences and healthcare innovation at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to discuss what makes BioHive unique and why this initiative will benefit the entire state of Utah in the latest Business Elevated podcast.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Full Podcast Transcript

April Young Bennett: (0:22) Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. I’m April Young Bennett, industry director of life sciences and healthcare innovation at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. My guest today is Katelin Roberts, interim CEO of BioHive. Welcome to the show, Katelin. How are you?

Katelin Roberts: (0:46) I’m doing well, April. Thank you so much for having me on. I’m excited to be here.

April Young Bennett: (0:51) We’re excited to have you let’s start with the first and obvious question. What is BioHive?

Katelin Roberts: (0:56) BioHive is a branding initiative powered by BioUtah. Our advocacy group for life sciences in Utah. BioHive represents the life science and healthcare innovation companies that support Utah, and the companies that support those companies. So it’s an ecosystem that we’re talking about.

Utah boasts the nation’s fastest-growing life science community year-over-year since 2012. We’re talking about biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics, genomics biotechnology, laboratory health care, IT, digital IT, supply chain businesses, and really everything that touches life sciences or healthcare.

April Young Bennett: (1:45) And how did this initiative begin?

Katelin Roberts: (1:48) BioHive started in the private industry mostly through Jared Bauer efforts, who’s the CEO of, Cibus Biotechnologies and IONIQ Sciences, and Chris Gibson at Recursion. I think the two of them really thought we needed to have a branding initiative for life sciences. And the two of them got some early support from public partners. Also, from BioUtah, they had been a very early supporter and GOED, Salt Lake City, World Trade Center Utah, University of Utah and EDCUtah. I’m happy to go into that in more detail later if you want, but it’s been very special how we’ve turned it into a true public-private partnership.

April Young Bennett: (2:34) What is unique about BioHive? How is it different from other industries in Utah?

Katelin Roberts: (2:38) I think for us we are a branding campaign. BioHive is about telling the stories of the people and the businesses in Utah. And for us, that’s very mission-driven, and it’s about impacting lives and changing the future of healthcare in life sciences and healthcare innovation.

Those stories are worth telling. This initiative is really about shining the light on what’s going on in life sciences and healthcare innovation in trying to raise the profile of what’s going on in Utah to garner a more attractive investment. So we can bring in more talent, and bring more attention to what is unique and special about what’s going on here in Utah.

April Young Bennett: (3:26) And can you tell us a little bit more about what’s unique and special about Utah? How is it different, than say, the life science industry and other states?

Katelin Roberts: (3:32) Sure. So I can give you some statistics: the life science industry contributes 8% annually of Utah’s GDP, to put that into, some dollars it’s $13 billion, directly and indirectly. When you consider the strong manufacturing sector of life sciences, we’re a top-three industry in Utah.

There are 1,100 companies as part of that ecosystem, which represents 130,000 people, employed in life sciences, which is among the nation’s highest per capita. We have 12 major colleges and universities and the youngest median age in the country, which means you get a young and very talented workforce here in Utah.

We have an industry that pays 50% higher than Utah’s average wage, and you can still get to the mountains or the desert, depending on where you are, in about 30 minutes. So I think Utah’s very well positioned for not only the growth that we’ve seen in the last decade, but we’re positioned for a lot of future growth.

Utah has been in the national and even worldwide life sciences conversation for decades, primarily around medical devices. But we’re broadening our scope in what’s possible as our university system develops and fosters new technologies fields like diagnostics and therapeutics.

April Young Bennett: (4:51) What are some of the goals of the BioHive initiative?

Katelin Roberts: (4:54) Sure. We have primarily five goals with BioHive specifically. So the first is really, like I said, from the industry accomplishments. We want to share the stories of the people behind these companies and technologies that are coming out of Utah. As I said, this is an incredible place to live and do business, and that is reflected in the thriving industry that we have here in life sciences. We want to change lives in the process and the way that those stories need to be told. We want to be able to share how people’s lives are impacted.

Fostering diversity is another one of our core initiatives. It’s proven with research that diverse companies perform better. And our leadership team feels strongly that having diversity as a coordinator is also just the right thing to do. We want to showcase the rich fabric of our community that exists within Utah. Companies and communities that contribute to our success time and time again. But we also need to acknowledge the opportunities that are to be gained around diversity inclusion and equity. We want to be a champion of those efforts and provide resources for companies to ensure that we’re providing a pathway for future generations to make their way into life science jobs.

Which brings me to our third goal which is workforce development. In Utah, the life science industry has been the fastest-growing since 2012 in the nation. And we are outpacing the efforts of our universities to train future employees. So we want to make sure that we are focusing on adding additional resources for workforce retraining. So this industry is unique in that there’s such an incredible range and scope of employment opportunity. We need to take advantage of that, especially coming out of a pandemic for economic recovery and moving into the future. While some industries have been hit hard, healthcare and life science have been quite resilient. I just talked to a guy today who said he’s hiring and can’t find enough office space.

So we’re quite fortunate in that regard. We want to make sure that those opportunities are open and accessible and that we’re providing resources for people who want to retrain or come into the life sciences workforce. We expect a lot of growth in this industry over the next 10 years and want to make sure that there are opportunities for young people also to map their way into these jobs.

That includes promoting STEM programs in K-12 and partnering with our universities around the state. This is a statewide initiative and not a particular county or city. And some of that will be specific to where you’re located and the available resources.

We want to educate students on what opportunities are available and what degrees translate into what field. For those out of the workforce, if they want to come back into the workforce and into this industry, we want to develop a resource for workforce development and retraining recruitment where we can connect workers with specific resources to life sciences, in both public and private sectors. We want to work closely to maximize the efficiency of programs in place through the Utah Division of Workforce Services and Talent Ready Utah.

So I know this is long-winded, but there are only two more to go.

April Young Bennett: (8:25) Well, let’s hear all of them.

Katelin Roberts: (8:28) There’s also recruitment. You can’t have a strong industry unless you’re recruiting really good talent. We’re very fortunate that we have very good universities here that are loaded with talent. We want to give students a reason to stay in Utah. Life sciences are great. As I said, we pay high wages. Once companies set up here, they’re not likely to move. And we have many world-class scientists and researchers that have relocated here.

BioHive wants to showcase why people love Utah so much. Why do they come here and stay here? So I’m sorry to say, the secret might be out of the bag on this one. And we want to also maintain the level of crucial investment that is coming into this industry from both in and out of state.

As we raise the profile of what’s going on in the industry, and share these stories about what these companies are doing and the challenges that they’re tackling, we will be heightening the awareness around the ecosystem. We will be adding to the pipeline of talent and development here in Utah that are specific to life sciences.

We have world-class companies headquartered here. We have a huge community, and the halo effect around life sciences exhilarates companies that support their efforts as well. As I said, once the life science company sets up, they’re not likely to leave mostly due to the regulatory burden.

But also just because Utah’s a fantastic place to live, and we all love it. We have a supportive government. So I think that’s my long-winded effort to explain what BioHive is about.

April Young Bennett: (10:28) I mentioned earlier, you have several partners involved in this and we’re proud that we’re one of them. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development is a key supporter. And we’re very proud of that. Do you want to tell us more about some of these partners, and what they’re doing to be involved in this important initiative?

Katelin Roberts: (10:44) I appreciate that question. We would not have gotten this off the ground if it wasn’t for our incredible partners. We’re built on a true public-private partnership. As I said, the private industry brought this forward, but our public partners have driven it hand-in-hand with us and have been supportive the whole way.

We can’t thank Gov.elect Cox enough for his support. There has been a huge spotlight on healthcare right now during the COVID-19 crisis and his recognition of the industry and how important life sciences are to Utah. And how important it will be during the recovery is paramount to our success. We’ve had fantastic support from Mayor Mendenhall. The life science industry in Utah creates opportunities for jobs and saves patients’ lives. We’ve had help from both sides of the aisle with this. World Trade Center Utah has been an incredible ally to us during this launch phase, as has the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.

I’m not partisan, but the University of Utah is a very early supporter of BioHive and their office of innovation venture. Outreach and technology have worked closely with us this entire process, but we look forward to working with all of Utah’s universities. And then, of course, as I said, Chris and Jared were the early industry leaders on the board and our early industry leaders. Chris is our board chair.

It was a mix of all of these interactions that made this a collaborative and special effort. And we really can’t thank everyone enough for helping get this going. I think the timing has been perfect.

April Young Bennett: (12:29) And speaking of the timing, I love how you mentioned that we are in the midst of this pandemic crisis. And when we look at the BioHive, our Utah life sciences industry, it’s important to both of our key goals during this difficult time to save lives and help people get through this pandemic and to survive it. And then to build our economy, since it is such a key portion of our economy. And we have so many people within the BioHive building our economy that way.

Katelin Roberts: (12:59) Yeah. And I can give you a kind of comparison to other ecosystems across the nation. The ultimate goal of the BioHive is to elevate the profile of Utah with the explicit goal of expanding our industry and the high-paying jobs that are here. This is a recession-proof industry and it has significant longevity. We have a long-term payoff and raise the awareness of life sciences. And we’ll get increased investment by raising the profile of life sciences or business opportunities. We get talent acquisition, and this has been modeled in other cities like San Diego, Seattle and the research triangle in North Carolina.

And to give you a good comparison, last year, Utah life science companies raised $715 million in venture funding, the majority of which was spent in the state. That ranks us 13th in the life science communities in the nation. By comparison, Cambridge in Boston, which is the top hub in the nation in the same amount of time, raised $5 billion in venture funding. I think that gives you a roadmap for where we can go as we raise the profile of this industry.

The investment will come as we can share the stories of what these companies are doing and what the people are doing, including scientists, engineers and manufacturing line workers. We have a huge manufacturing sector that backs the life sciences here. We make things that go all around the world that save patients’ lives. I think it’s important to tell the stories of the people working on the technologies and the patients that are being served.

And I think as we share that, we will start seeing the upside of it. And it’s a huge upside like I just shared, you know, the difference between $750 million and $5 billion is a chasm. And, you know, and we can start chipping into that. I believe that. So I think, you know, we have all the pieces that are needed to become a life science hub.

You know, we have the talent. We have the companies, you know, we already have our world-class companies here. We have industry leaders that bought into this future vision. We have public partners and leaders at the state city level that are bought into this vision.

And BioHive is solidifying that vision and will help us be prepared for future health crises.

April Young Bennett: (15:39) How can all of us work together to promote our BioHive?

Katelin Roberts: (15:57) We have some resources on our website, biohive.com, and I think that’s a great place to start for people. You can go online and download our toolkit that gives you the bare bones of who we, what we do and ways to get involved.

We have a physical banner you can display in your lobby to show that you are part of the BioHive. There is no membership fee to join the BioHive if you are in the life sciences or healthcare innovation ecosystem.

This is about sharing your accomplishments and we will not thrive without people engaging with us. I really encourage people to reach out to us to share their accomplishments. And so it’s a great start to go on our website. We have an interactive map on the website where you can give us your company information to show the depth of the ecosystem in Utah.

We have social media channels where we can update on what’s going on in the ecosystem. I’m also going to be hopefully coming out with some new media campaigns soon. You can email us at info@biohive.com.  Send us a smoke signal, whatever you need to do. We are here to support you and to share your accomplishments and your stories. We are here to serve you in the community, and we want to do whatever we can to promote life sciences and healthcare innovation.

April Young Bennett: (17:51) Katelin, thank you so much for being on the show.

Katelin Roberts: (17:54) April, I appreciate your time and having us on. I look forward to working with you more in the future.