Ask someone their impression of Northeast Ohio and, chances are, they will portray the region as "a dying, Rust Belt City" that is an "economic mess" with "no jobs."
Baiju Shah is working hard to change that impression.
Shah is president, CEO and founder of BioEnterprise, a partnership of Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, Summa Health System, University Hospitals and the BioInnovation Institute of Akron, that works to form, recruit and accelerate the growth of bioscience companies in the region.
Since starting in 2002, the group has helped 90 bioscience companies bring more than $975 million in new funding to the region. The company provides management advice, business development and access to capital to medical device, biopharmaceutical and health care service ventures in the Cleveland area. The group also works to develop the region's entrepreneurial system.
"We were formed to transform this region into a center that is known for not only clinical care, but also a region that is known for health care innovation," Shah said. "Innovation is inventions, things that are new to the world, plus relevance. We can all invent new things, but when it is relevant, in the sense that it will serve someone's needs, that is what makes it innovation."
Shah visited the WRA campus on Jan. 31 as this year's Burton D. Morgan Foundation lecturer.
"BioEnterprise has helped to transform Northeast Ohio into a leading center for the bioscience industry," said Deborah Hoover, president of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation. "Based on his own personal and professional experiences, Baiju Shah delivered an inspiring message to WRA students about the opportunities that abound in the region and make it a fertile place to build a career and a balanced life. The foundation is pleased to support lectures of this caliber that bring stimulating stories of great leadership to WRA students."
"I knew very little about the city of Cleveland before I left for college," Shah, a native of Mayfield who holds a bachelor's degree from Yale and a law degree from Harvard, told students during his talk in the Chapel. "My goal is to tell you a little bit about what is going on in Cleveland and to tell you more about some of the young innovators that helping to transform our region through their insights into health care technologies.
"Whether you are in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Texas or anywhere in the world, the single best place for medical care is the region where you are going to school."
Shah shared several examples of how outsiders perceive Northeast Ohio as it relates to health care and health care innovations:
- Business Week reported in 2006 that "Health care has been the major source of job growth over the past five years. Nowhere is that truer than Cleveland."
- Start-Up, a magazine that focuses on medical ventures, reported in 2007 that "Cleveland Rocks! & Few are aware that since 2002, it has been quietly transforming into a haven for early-stage biomedical start-ups."
- The Washington Post reported in 2008 that "Cleveland has emerged as a prime location for medical care and research. Longtime manufacturers & have been replaced by the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals & and more than 500 companies providing medical goods and services."
- The Wall Street Journal reported in 2009 that "High-tech start-ups are increasingly setting up shop in places previously not known for attracting high-tech firms." The article highlighted two companies, one from California and one from Ireland, that moved to Cleveland because they found it a better place to grow their ventures.
The growth of the region is being built on the bedrock of world-class institutions, such as the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University, Shah said, with one out of every six people in Northeast Ohio being employed in health care or a related industry.
In addition, jobs are being created as a byproduct of the expansion of health care providers, for example the addition of two hotels near Cleveland's University Circle, bringing the number to five, to support the patient population that is coming from across the world to Cleveland.
"The reason people are coming to Cleveland is because our clinicians and researchers have a strong desire to be at the leading edge of their practices," Shah said, "and are investing significant dollars in developing new therapies for the types of conditions that afflict all of us."
Shah talked with students about several innovators outside the clinical care institutions who are starting to transform the region, including:
- Quality Electrodynamics in Mayfield, which designs and manufactures MRI radio frequency coil technology for human body imaging. The company was named by Forbes magazine as one of the 20 most promising companies in the country.
- AxioMed in Garfield Heights, which develops products with a goal of restoring spinal function to patients with degenerative spine disease; thus advancing the standard of care beyond fusion and first generation artificial discs.
- Neuros Medical in Willoughby, which focuses on elimination of chronic pain in a variety of applications including neuroma/residual limb pain, chronic post surgical pain and chronic migraine.
- CardioInsight in Solon, which has developed a device to help diagnose heart rhythm problems by using hundreds of electrodes to detect oddities in the electrical activity of the heart.
- MDG in Aurora, a developer of automated pharmacy technology equipment and software.
- Imalux in Cleveland, which is developing a medical imaging device for early cancer testing to eliminate the need for biopsies. The technology was developed at the Institute of Applied Physics in Russia.
- Proxy Biomedical, which is developing implantable meshes and engineered biomaterials for surgical applications, tissue regeneration and tissue repair.
"These innovators are transforming Cleveland and they are the reason Cleveland is gaining a reputation as not just a great center for clinical care, but also a great center for clinical businesses," Shah said. "They are not only bringing money to the region; they are the draw for this money. And that money is coming from all over the country, only about 15 percent is coming from Northeast Ohio, the rest is coming from the East Coast and the West Coast.
"We now have as much activity (and funding) here as the Research Triangle in North Carolina. We now have more funding sources in Ohio than anywhere else between Boston and San Francisco. Our industry, locally, has grown to more than 600 companies that are developing these types of products and services in the marketplace.
Shah used the planned Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center, a meeting and trade show facility targeted specifically to the medical and health care industries, as an example of the growing influence of Northeast Ohio in the field.
"What's interesting to us is, (the developer is) based out of Chicago with money from New York and family ties to the Kennedy clan in Boston," Shah said. "They could have chosen anywhere in the country to put this facility and they chose Cleveland because, in many ways, it is the medical capital of North America."
Shah closed his talk by reminding students about the opportunities available in the region to young people.
"One of the reasons I came back to Cleveland was I met someone that gave me the assurance that, if I was a young person with ideas, if I came back to Cleveland I would find a willing community that was ready to back a person with ideas and energy," Shah said. "I have lived in a number of different places and I have never found a community that is so willing to back young talent as Cleveland. This is a pretty unique environment for young people."
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