A significant portion of the work of BioEnterprise Corp., the Cleveland nonprofit that has supported young biotechnology companies and that sharply curtailed its services in the spring, is being taken over by JumpStart Inc., another nonprofit that supports a broader range of entrepreneurs.
JumpStart’s chief investing and services officer, Jerry Frantz, told Crain’s on Wednesday, Aug. 26, that the two organizations have always worked collaboratively — JumpStart actually oversees the state funding of BioEnterprise and other economic development nonprofits — and that JumpStart, and other local organizations with biotech interests, will step in to replace the assistance and advice BioEnterprise offered to young medical and health care businesses. BioEnterprise was created in 2002, while JumpStart started in 2004.
“We are continuing to support those health care entrepreneurs,” Frantz said.
“We’ve always worked as a collaborative, so, as (BioEnterprise) may be changing their activities moving forward, (we will be) working without interruption” for companies in an important sector of the regional economy, Frantz added.
Frantz said JumpStart will share the role of assisting startup and early-stage biotechnology companies with several other area organizations with biotech interests, including the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals.
In early June, BioEnterprise announced that Aram Nerpouni, BioEnterprise’s president, and 14 other employees had left the organization at the end of May, leaving the nonprofit with four employees. An emailed statement indicated that the board had “begun an assessment of our strategic options due to ongoing operational and financial considerations and the economic uncertainty that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
BioEnterprise’s demise is the result of a series of very public missteps, in particular investigations by Cuyahoga County that focused on the questionable spending of public money. The BioEnterprise board has never made clear what role the county investigations have played in those departures.
BioEnterprise board chair Dr. Pamela Davis, dean of the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, said last Wednesday that future meetings of the 14-member BioEnterprise board have been canceled but that a small group of board members meets regularly to plan the organization’s future.
She said that only BioEnterprise’s incubator is currently operating.
“We’ve been looking to retain the key aspects of BioEnterprise, particularly the incubator function,” Davis said. “It’s a transition from the larger footprint that included providing executives-in-residence (who advised entrepreneurs) to a much more limited, incubator function.”
BioEnterprise owns two floors of the four-story building at 11000 Cedar Road that bears its name. (Case Western Reserve University owns the other two floors). Nearly a dozen rent-paying, startup biotech businesses are using the space to get their businesses off the ground.
Frantz said that his organization, despite its own pandemic-related staff cuts, and others with interest in advancing the region’s biotechnology businesses will work more collaboratively.
“What we do have is a good deal of adaptability and flexibility in terms of being able to bring in contractors,” or people from its collaborators, he said. “What’s happening is the level of engagement that’s happening in terms of sharing resources and working with new innovations is going up.”
This article originally appeared in Crain’s Cleveland Business on August 30, 2020.