Since 2015, we have partnered with BioSTL, a nonprofit that advances St. Louis’ economic vitality by cultivating a strong bioscience and innovation ecosystem. We have helped local bioscience startups build their businesses, with MilliporeSigma employees serving as mentors to help startups solve problems. We are continuing to provide this support while strengthening science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and employment outcomes for underserved communities, particularly for women and people of color.
We sat down with Ben Johnson, vice president, programs at BioSTL, to showcase how the organization is driving innovation in St. Louis.
1. Please explain what BioSTL does and its mission.
Since 2001, BioSTL has laid the foundation for St. Louis' innovation economy with a comprehensive set of transformational programs that advance the region’s leadership in solving important world challenges in agriculture, medicine, health care and other technology areas. BioSTL has introduced nationally acclaimed initiatives in startup creation and investment (e.g., BioGenerator), strategic business attraction (e.g., GlobalSTL), physical environment (e.g., the Cortex Innovation District, BioGenerator Labs), entrepreneur development (e.g., BioSTL Fundamentals), seed and venture capital, a diverse and inclusive workforce, and public policy.
Through our work, we envision a St. Louis region where economic opportunity from biosciences and innovation helps close health and economic outcome gaps in the region and around the world, and where the opportunity to thrive for every student, employee and entrepreneur is not determined by their demographics.
2. Tell us about your role at BioSTL.
My role at BioSTL is to lead many of our programs and partnerships aimed at strengthening the St. Louis bioscience and innovation ecosystem, while collaborating with colleagues to link these activities to our company building strategies in BioGenerator and our global innovation strategies in GlobalSTL.
Ecosystem-building initiatives among my portfolio include:
- STEMSTL and Science Coach to build equitable STEM pathways and STEM-capable learners in St. Louis
- The Innovation Advocacy Council and NEXT Missouri to promote pro-innovation and new business policies in Washington, D.C. and Missouri
- A suite of diversity, equity and inclusion activities — both in partnership with others, like the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective, and embedded throughout our other strategies
- Regional collaboration platforms, like the BioSTL Coalition: a convening of 50+ corporate, academic and philanthropic leaders in which MilliporeSigma leadership, including Deb Slagle currently, has long been active
3. What programs does BioSTL offer?
BioSTL offers a robust suite of programs to support St. Louis bioscience startups and entrepreneurs; build a diverse, inclusive and equitable bioscience ecosystem; attract global innovators to St. Louis; and improve access to capital and federal grants. Our activities fall largely into three buckets: 1) Creating and Building Quality, Homegrown Startups; 2) Global Recruitment of High-Growth Innovators; and 3) Building the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. Within each of those areas, we have a broad suite of activities.
4. What is the reach and impact of BioSTL?
Below is a snapshot of our reach and impact by key initiatives.
- $31 million invested in 91 St. Louis startups
- $1.2 billion follow-on capital raised by BioGenerator St. Louis startups, a 36:1 leverage
- 251 BioGenerator Labs clients
- 239 St. Louis startups received grants or investments
- $85 million in grant funding attracted to startups elevating Missouri to 19th (up from 29th) in NIH startup grants
- 643 researchers and scientists coached to think and act entrepreneurially
- 346 business ideas evaluated
- 30 international companies with business deals in St. Louis
- 15 international countries engaged
- $166 million generated in investment and local revenues by international companies
- 27 companies founded
- 351 diverse founders trained
- $53 million raised for inclusion participant businesses
- 1,644 inclusion program participants
- 713 women
- 845 people of color
- 170 foreign-born
5. What feedback have you received from startups that BioSTL has supported?
We are often the first support for an entrepreneur, beyond friends and family. We balance providing direct, candid feedback related to technology and business models, while working to nurture the entrepreneur and their own growth. We are increasingly focused on integrating inclusive and equitable entrepreneurship support structures into everything we do. Below is a sampling of the direct feedback we have received from entrepreneurs over the years.
“BioGenerator was deeply committed to working with the founders to build a successful company. Without the ongoing support of BioGenerator, the Confluence story would never have happened.” – Joseph Monahan, PhD, co-founder and CSO, Confluence Discovery Technologies
“BioGenerator played a critical role in leading our initial financing — putting together the due diligence and orchestrating additional investors. Their commitment to supporting Benson Hill BioSystems in multiple ways beyond their share of invested capital is part of the reason we are excited to call St. Louis home.” – Matthew B. Crisp, co-founder and CEO, Benson Hill
“BioGenerator has been instrumental in launching our company — from learning how to be successful academic founders to the details of starting and financing SentiAR, our spinout from Washington University in St. Louis. They have made crucial introductions to industry leaders at appropriate times and invested in our company. We could not have embarked down this path without all the support from the BioGenerator team.” – Jennifer N. Avari Silva, MD director, pediatric electrophysiology, Washington University co-founder & CMO, SentiAR
“BioSTL offered me valuable coaching and mentorship and also a grant early on to help solidify my work in my startup.” – Felice McClendon, founder, Soundcrip
“BioSTL got me plugged into the entrepreneurship ecosystem after I heard Dr. Cheryl Watkins Moore on a podcast. She helped me stop thinking like a freelancer and start thinking like a business leader, CEO, founder and entrepreneur. It was a forward, big and ambitious way of thinking that led to a successful business startup.” – Rachel Lee, founder, Heartworks Video
6. What is one skill you think is valuable to have when working in the nonprofit sector?
Thinking, acting and reacting entrepreneurially has helped BioSTL to both anticipate needs and fill gaps within the bioscience entrepreneur ecosystem — benefitting startups, established companies and St. Louis as a whole. An entrepreneur must have a future orientation that recognizes opportunity and builds collaboration — in building an internal team and with external partners — through clear communication and critical thinking. These entrepreneurial mindset skills are invaluable in the nonprofit sector as the work, especially in a space like BioSTL, must blend mission-driven purpose with market forces and broad, diverse, public and private constituencies.
7. How has MilliporeSigma’s partnership with BioSTL supported the organization’s mission?
MilliporeSigma’s partnership — both financially and programmatically — has furthered BioSTL’s mission by providing us capacity to support a broad range of diverse entrepreneurs and to promote bioscience experiences for students from underserved communities. Further, MilliporeSigma’s global brand and reputation helps BioSTL engage partners across the globe and enhance St. Louis’ reputation as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship in biosciences.
We look forward to further deepening our partnership through engagement opportunities for MilliporeSigma employees — to support emerging entrepreneurs and startups and to continue building pathways for diverse talent into career opportunities in the biosciences.
8. What has been the most rewarding part of your role at BioSTL?
The most rewarding part of my role with BioSTL is collaborating with my colleagues — at BioSTL and through the St. Louis ecosystem — to see the dreams of entrepreneurs and students realized. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely path and an uphill slog, especially in a region not traditionally perceived as a hotbed. Through the success of our entrepreneurs and activities like those supported by MilliporeSigma, St. Louis is gaining a global reputation as a center for bioscience innovation and entrepreneurship.
As economic activity grows, with international focus on building an inclusive and equitable ecosystem, we will continue to see opportunities to thrive through bioscience and innovation for all in the region — while St. Louis innovators contribute to solving the world’s most pressing health and food challenges.
Tweet me: .@MilliporeSigma sat down with Ben Johnson, vice president, programs at @BioSTL, to showcase how the organization is driving innovation in St. Louis. Check out the partnership spotlight here: https://bit.ly/3wglE6E
KEYWORDS: MilliporeSigma, BioSTL, Bioscience, Innovation, GlobalSTL, STEMSTL, BioGenerator, inclusion