Webinar Question #2: Does location matter? What are major biotech/industry hubs in the US?

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Webinar Question #2: Does location matter? What are major biotech/industry hubs in the US?

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat May 31, 2014 10:29 am

Question #2 from our "Working in Industry" Webinar:

"Does location matter? Where are the major biotech/industry hubs in the U.S.?"

Thanks for helping the webinar audience with your reply,

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Re: Webinar Question #2: Does location matter? What are major biotech/industry hubs in the

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat May 31, 2014 12:18 pm

Does location matter? Well, because the major hubs all have a rather significant built-in labor pool, I'd say "Yes." However, you can always get to one of those locations after your education. While it's great to come from IA State if you want a job in Ag Biotech, you can always move to Iowa or Missouri later, and do your education anywhere. The same holds true for "red" biotech, on the healthcare side. You can do your education in any location, but you'll be competing with the local labor pool in Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, and so on, so you'll need to get to one of those locations for a broader range of job prospects. To do your education in a center-USA location and expect you'll have easy access to jobs in SFO without moving there . . . that's just wrong thinking. Companies will sometimes pay for relocations for entry-level people, but you'll have to be in a demand niche and be a great networker.

I hope others can add to the list of regions above, for the list of worldwide biotech cluster regions is really significant. Let's expand the list beyond the USA limit of the question.

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Re: Webinar Question #2: Does location matter? What are major biotech/industry hubs in the

Postby MDM » Mon Jun 02, 2014 2:39 pm

Location definitely matters, though I will come at this from a different perspective.

For those trying to decide on what kind of advanced degree to pursue, an industry career in pharma or biotech will essentially confine you geographically to a small number of cities on either coast, with a sprinkling of places in between. If you should land a job in a city that is not a hub you are likely to need to move if the company ever lets you go. Not quite as geographically restrictive as some government positions (DC or nothing), but pretty restrictive.

Other advanced degree options (MD, law, PhD academic position, tech transfer to name a few) probably have their own particular set of restrictions but are not quite as restrictive geographically.

I'm not trying to discourage an industry career, but these aren't always things you think about way in advance.
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Re: Webinar Question #2: Does location matter? What are major biotech/industry hubs in the

Postby Dave Walker » Mon Jun 02, 2014 5:18 pm

Dave and MDM have the meat of the question, I think: if you work in a hub appropriate for the work you want to do, it's always preferable to any other city. Mostly because, if you lose your job or want to change, you won't have to go far (one informational interviewer said his colleagues would take interviews on their lunch break when necessary).

To put another wrinkle on it, I'd make a somewhat scarier suggestion: in the early part of a career path, try to be willing to move more often. And, above all else, think long term.

Of course this greatly depends on the job description (some biotech/industry reps travel to cover a bunch of states, an entire coastline, or multiple continents!). But if we're thinking mostly about jobs with minimal travel, I would say that as one gains seniority, they will have the option of settling in one place or moving as it suits them.

It has been my experience that most academics who decide to make the career jump to industry are starved for networking contacts and the very nature of many academic workplaces make it difficult to grow a network even over years. If one remains flexible and sees a great opportunity in a non-hub city, the networking contacts that this job would provide plus "years of industry experience" can be a pretty good career setup (in my opinion). From there, one can make a jump further toward the perfect job (probably in a hub city).

I think it's hard to wrap one's mind around the saying that "the next job won't be my last one." It's a tough idea to think that the next few years of work will only be a blip on our career radar while we hunt for that elusive perfect job right now...but this is 100% universally true for all of us! (It's even a little ironic because the idea of doing a postdoc -- pure temporary work, the definition of a blip -- is so ingrained into the academic culture.)

So I say be willing to take a good opportunity when it comes up, especially in the early part of one's career. And don't primarily worry about hubs, but know which ones are the good ones and perhaps equally importantly, why they're the good ones.
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Re: Webinar Question #2: Does location matter? What are major biotech/industry hubs in the

Postby Nate W. » Mon Jun 02, 2014 7:27 pm

Does location matter? Yes, very much so compared to many other professionals like law, engineering, sales, accounting, or real estate. These opportunities are quite ubiquitous throughout the country. A prominent biotech analyst told me trying to do biotech in Texas is like being an oil executive in Manhattan; you are just out of the loop. Plus, I have talked with numerous technology transfer offices at Texas medical schools that tell me VCs just don't want to invest in middle America, regardless of how promising the technology.

This is a significant and serious consideration because if you have made roots and buy a house in a non-biotech hub then the company fails, you will face an uphill battle of finding a new job due to a dearth of real networking opportunities. There might be significant financial implications for the employees. For example, in Dallas, there have been several spinoffs companies from UT Southwestern. They include Joyant, Cumbre, Solnan, Peloton, and Reata. Both Joyant and Cumbre failed due to a lack of funding or failed clinical trials in the last eight years. The remaining have struggled due to funding issues (i.e. few jobs). In 2011, Reata had a promising small molecule for kidney failure and raised 800 million dollars from Abbott. Many new scientists joined the company and then the phase III trial results hit; higher than expected number of deaths. Abbott pulled the money and many scientists were out of work. Couple this with Novartis buying Alcon and cuts in NIH funding from UT Southwestern. Many of the biomedical scientists in DFW have been out of work for the last 1-2 years because there are limited number of companies here and a lack of real networking opportunities. The BioDFW networking group of associated companies disbanded over contentious debates over jobs and funding; everyone wanted a job but nobody had any money. This has been a perfect storm for me (and others) and makes me regret moving from RTP. The reason they can't find work is due to mortgages, a lack of biotech companies, and an inability to network effectively with managers in hub cities.

I don't believe scientists here would have much trouble finding work if they were physically located in Boston, San Diego, or the Bay Area. Connecting with people requires that you actually meet people and share information; this leads to jobs. As Dave J said, you have to be a masterful net-worker if you are in a non-hub location trying to relocate to a hub. If it was suggested that one should just pick-up and go to a hub w/o a job, this is probably a foolish thing to do and many don't have the financial resources to do so. I'll keep trying. So what do you do?

Austin and Seattle are emerging cities where solid IT money is being funneled into biotechnology. Plus, Boston seems to be doing great these days. There doesn't appear to be a lack of drug development and entrepreneurial experience (or VC money) in these cities. Working at a non-hub biotech even with solid financial backing and/or revenues is a risky endeavor for an employee. A large % of biotechs fail in the first five years; better to be in a hub then or a large Pharma or reagent company with revenues.

PS: Heard Singapore has some biotechs.
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