More than seven years ago, economic development and industry leaders launched an initiative to stimulate medical education, research and bioindustry growth in Spokane.
The Vision 2030 initiative, led by Greater Spokane Incorporated, the region’s chamber of commerce and economic development agency, calls for expanded medical education, medical science research, bioscience business development and care community health.
GSI predicted that the growth of the healthcare and biosciences industry would be a significant economic driver for Spokane, generating $1.7 billion annually and creating more than 9,000 jobs by 2030.
The organization is now well on its way to achieving its goal of building what it describes as a “world-class health and life sciences contract services industry in the region.”
GSI has partnered with Spin Out Space life sciences incubator in Spokane, known as sp3nw, to launch Evergreen Bioscience Innovation, an organization whose leadership includes entrepreneurs, investors, academics and members government and private sectors.
Evergreen Bioscience aims to make the region a leader in local supply chain sourcing for pharmaceutical and medical device companies by prioritizing projects that meet the needs of the life science industry and by acquiring, developing and retaining top talent.
“We are targeting the growth of organizations that supply pharmaceutical and medical devices. We want to grow these organizations (in Spokane) and regionally,” said Stacia Rasmussen, business development manager for health and life sciences at GSI.
By developing a local supply chain for pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, it keeps their money in the local economy rather than sourcing from elsewhere, Rasmussen said.
The Washington State Department of Commerce recently awarded a $500,000 grant to Evergreen Bioscience to build a “cluster” in the Spokane area. The Biosciences Cluster is an industry-led consortium that works together to drive innovation, seek market opportunities, and identify and resolve challenges that limit growth.
“The modern definition of a cluster is to create a center of excellence in different fields and industries where national and international companies can rely on the fact that the clusters are experts in these fields and can therefore use the companies involved in the clusters and know they are top notch in the country,” Rasmussen said.
Washington’s Innovation Cluster Accelerator is a multi-year program aimed at strengthening industrial ecosystems. The state’s acceleration program, which currently has nine clusters, is supported by a $15 million investment from the US Economic Development Administration’s CARES Act.
Part of the funding will go towards establishing the cluster, including technical assistance training for its board members, Rasmussen said.
“That, in my mind, is key to establishing a structure for an innovation cluster, so that we can be as successful as Maritime Blue for a different industry in Washington State,” Rasmussen said.
Seattle-based Maritime Blue is a partnership of public entities, businesses, ports, labor groups, community organizations, academic and research organizations that aim to accelerate maritime innovation and growth employment.
Washington Maritime Blue was chosen from more than 500 applicants nationwide for $500,000 seed funding and as a finalist to compete for up to $100 million in the Build Back Better regional challenge. US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.
The development of Evergreen Bioscience is an initial planning stage, but should be established by next year with an initial membership of 25 to 100 participants, Rasmussen said.
“We reached out to potential members and we have 85 to 90 companies that have submitted letters of support for this effort,” Rasmussen said. “They are waiting for us to identify membership levels. Our next step is to reach out to them and say, “This is what joining the cluster will require.” ”
Sp3nw, Katrina Rogers Consulting, Spokane County Health Sciences and Services Authority, Clear Solutions Biomedical, VectorPoint Ventures, Johnston Engineering and Alturas Analytics Inc. all helped secure the Evergreen Bioscience cluster grant, according to GSI.
GSI will serve as the “host” organization for the cluster. He hopes to recruit and grow businesses in the University District, though they don’t have to be exclusive to that area, Rasmussen said.
Evergreen Bioscience plans to conduct a study in the future that will identify the cluster’s economic impact, Rasmussen said.
GSI is working with sp3nw to learn how to meet the needs of startups and create more incubators and “graduation spaces” – a larger office for growing startups – for businesses.
“It’s a goal that we think will be important for economic development,” Rasmussen said. “Additionally, we have other companies further along in their growth that still have supply chain issues in our region, so we are working with those organizations to understand their needs.”
Develop the life sciences sector
Expanding the life sciences sector in Spokane requires a strong entrepreneurial community backed by financial opportunity, said Michaele Armstrong, associate director of sp3nw, an early-stage life sciences incubator in the University District of Spokane. .
Washington State University launched sp3nw in 2020 to connect startups with mentors, consultants, and investors. It also provides startups with offices and labs, as well as assistance in bringing their products to market.
“We were co-authors of the Evergreen Bioscience app and what drew us to this opportunity was how much of a broader look it is at what we do for small businesses, entrepreneurs and life science startups in Spokane and eastern Washington,” said Armstrong, who is also a board member of Evergreen Bioscience.
Spokane hospitals along with Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokane have created a need for additional innovation, leading to the formation of sp3nw, Armstrong said.
“Washington State University has more than quadrupled its funding for life science research,” Armstrong said. “When you have an increase in research, commercialization will happen…As companies start to scale and grow, they will need a space to support that and the Evergreen Bioscience cluster is helping to provide that.”
The formation of Sp3nw has attracted interest from life science companies nationwide, Armstrong said. It currently has 22 startups in its portfolio, according to the incubator’s website.
“We received phone calls and emails from companies across the country wanting to know more about what Spokane was doing in the life sciences (industry), and we were actually able to recruiting companies to Spokane from California, Tennessee and Virginia,” Armstrong said. “This Evergreen Bioscience cluster will only amplify the appeal for life science companies in the region.”
After the cluster forms next year, it will begin determining what kind of projects to build in the college district, Armstrong said.
A potential project could consist of 120,000 square feet of contract research organization and manufacturing space. An anchor tenant would occupy 60,000 square feet, while the rest of the building would be divided into 2,000 to 4,00 square foot modules for startups, Armstrong said, adding that plans are speculative at this point.
Evergreen Bio recently selected Mary-Pierre Waiss as Chairman of the Board. Waiss is an entrepreneur with extensive experience in biomedical, life science and healthcare innovation and technology.
She is also the founder, CEO, and board member of Seattle-based Precision Image Analysis, which created a cloud-based product to help radiologists and cardiologists analyze MRI and CT images.
Waiss said she was impressed with Spokane’s efforts to grow its biomedical, life sciences and healthcare industries.
“It’s very exciting. I’m so impressed with universities and what’s going on there. Universities are expanding curricula in engineering and science, and that will only drive innovation (in life),” she said, “The timeline of the grant and what is happening in the world creates an ideal environment for this cluster to thrive.”