Startups  April 26, 2022

Biotech leaders seek to make Boulder into a top city for industry

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of a misidentified attendee. BizWest regrets the error.

BOULDER — Boulder has emerged as a hotbed for biotechnology and life-sciences companies, but leaders in the space aren’t satisfied. 

With support from partners in the public and private sphere, some of these life-science luminaries think Boulder and the state can become one of the country’s top hubs for industry, biotechnology executives said Tuesday during BizWest’s CEO Roundtable on Life Sciences held at the University of Colorado Boulder campus. 

“I envision us climbing to a top five leading life sciences hub,” Colorado Bioscience Association CEO Elyse Blazevich said. 

In order to catch, and ultimately exceed, the cities that have traditionally led the industry — Boston and San Francisco, for example — Boulder must find a way to attract and maintain a talent pool deep enough to allow companies to grow. 

“There’s a problem recruiting Gen Z and Millennial talent,” Somalogic Inc. CEO Roy Smythe said. “They can’t afford to live here.” 

Problems such as housing affordability require collaborative solutions, Arpeggio Bioscience CEO Joey Azofeifa said. 

“To what extent can startups and larger companies work together to bring talent from San Francisco and Boston,” he asked.

The rise of remote work could prove beneficial for places like Boulder, with abundant opportunities for recreation and cost of living lower than the Bay Area or East Coast metropolises. 

“COVID ended it — nobody thinks that they have to be in Boston anymore,” Boulder Ventures Ltd. founder Kyle Lefkoff said.

The retention piece is perhaps a bit easier, given Boulder’s high quality of life.

“Once they get here they’re very excited to be here,” BioFrontiers Institute director of science Kristen Bjorkman said. BioFrontiers serves as an incubator for nascent biotech companies.

Thankfully, Boulder has CU and its affiliated organizations, are strong generators of local talent and can provide resources for would-be entrepreneurs.

“I’m thankful to BioFontiers,” said Genapsys Inc. CEO Jason Myers, crediting the institute with helping nurture his former business ArcherDX Inc., which sold in 2020 for more than $1 billion.

Mentors who have been successful in the industry “are more than willing to volunteer their time” to companies spun out of CU, Brynmor Rees, Venture Partners at CU Boulder managing director, said.

“It’s fantastic to be associated with CU,” Edgewise Therapeutics Inc. CEO Kevin Koch said, but there can be limited options for companies when they begin to grow beyond the startup stage.

One of the challenges local biotech companies face is Boulder’s relatively small size and tight commercial real estate market.

It’s not good enough simply to build traditional offices. “Empty space is one thing but space that focuses on labs is another story,” CU distinguished professor Marvin Caruthers said.

KBI Biopharma vice president Greg Sebring said the hope within the industry is that the acquisition of the Flatirons Park business campus by BioMed Realty LLC, which has pledged to upgrade facilities in an effort to attract life-sciences companies, will provide some much needed elbow room for growing firms. 

On the other hand, industry leaders ponder what impact would unfettered growth have on the Boulder community.

“Can we outgrow the Boulder feel,” Amide Bio CEO Pawel Fludzinski asked.

While acquisitions by larger national and multinational companies may bring windfalls for founders, Golden Eagle Partners principal David Traylor said these deals can erode the strength of Boulder’s overall life sciences environment.

“Top notch companies got bought out and then diffused,” he said.

Still, leaders in the industry sounded bullish on Boulder’s opportunities to continue its rise as a biotech hotspot and expressed excitement about potential breakthroughs around the corner. 

“There are major initiatives and announcements coming forth,” BioFrontiers Institute director Kristi Anseth said. 

BizWest’s CEO Roundtable sponsor attendees were Ashley Cawthorne from Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti LLP, Sean Nohavec of Plante Moran, Aaron Spear representing Bank of Colorado and Becky Potts of Plante Moran. 

Related Content