An investment ‘critical for the future’
Blumenthal, others call for more federal funds for science research in state
NEW HAVEN — Technology entrepreneurs and representatives from the University of Connecticut and Yale University met Friday with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation, to lobby for more federal money to fund research in Connecticut.
Blumenthal, D-Conn., is urging Congress to provide at least $10.2 billion in the fiscal year 2022 appropriations bill for the National Science Foundation to promote the progress of science, secure the national defense and advance the nation’s health, prosperity and welfare. The NSF invests $71 million in Connecticut, according to Blumenthal.
“This is cutting-edge stuff,” he said. “We should value and celebrate the scientific research and the training of future scholars. In Connecticut, we don’t have oil wells, we don’t have gold mines, but what we do have is smart and talented people.”
Panchanathan said the focus Connecticut has made on the biotech, life sciences and green energy industries ultimately will pay off.
“They are going to be blockbusters,” he said. “You’ve got amazing institutions in Connecticut and they are focusing on niche areas when they can have an impact.”
Faculty from Yale and UConn said for important scientific research to continue, they need to be able to count on an uninterrupted flow of federal money from agencies such as the NSF. The NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education in science and engineering; its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health.
Jeff Brock, dean of Yale’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, said “consistent funding allows for a steady stream of ideas.”
“One of things we’re focusing on is how engineering is a driver of innovation,” Brock said.
Radenka Maric, vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship at UConn, said 40 percent of funding for research at the university’s School of Engineering comes from the NSF.
“We believe research and education go hand in hand,” Maric said. “Your investment shows that Yale and UConn are a powerhouse.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, also D-Conn., addressed the event via a recorded video. He called work in the sciences being done in the state “the economic salvation of Connecticut” and said there is room for the federal government to invest more money in the field.
“We should be proud of what the NIH and NSF do,” Murphy said. “And yet only 4 to 5 percent of the federal budget is invested in science.”
Investors have a definite interest in funding life sciences and biotech companies, said Kevin Rakin, a partner in HighCape Capital, a New York City equity fund that has raised $600 million for a variety of Connecticut companies. The pandemic has made investors recognize the importance of science, he said.
“Something is resonating out there about the role science can play,” he said. “There are a lot of places people can place capital and some of them are placing it here. And what you’re seeing is just the beginning,”
Friday’s event was held at 100 College Street, home to a large Alexion Pharmaceuticals research and development facility and a building built by Massachusettsbased developer Carter Winstanley.
The developer has spent more than two decades developing space in the New Haven area to meet the needs of the life sciences and biotech industries. Winstanley said the area has “all the right ingredients that were found in Silicon Valley and Kendall Square.”
“Areas that have the deepest pool of intellectual capital create a sustainable market,” he said. “Investing in that will be critical for the future. We’ve done over 2 million square feet here and I feel like we’re just getting started.”
Winstanley said his family’s company has $500 million invested in the New Haven area.
For the biotech and life sciences sectors to continue to thrive, he said, more incubator space for start-up companies is needed. To that end, Winstanley is doubling down on his company’s investment on New Haven.
Across the street from Friday’s meeting, construction crews were busy at work on another Winstanley property, a 10-story life sciences building known as 101 College.
Part of the space in the new, 500,000-square-foot building will be devoted to flexible biotech incubator space. BioLabs, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that specializes in managing coworking space for life science startups, will operate the incubator, Winstanley said.
Johannes Fruehauf, chief executive officer of BioLabs, the nation’s largest provider of laboratory co-working space with spots for 350 startup companies, said, “We have situation in this country that is very unique.”
“We have a very productive and efficient engine for biotech innovation. We need to keep this industry at home and to keep it strong,” he said.
To do that, Winstanley said Connecticut officials said private sector companies need to work on developing space for companies that outgrow incubator space.
“When the companies emerge from the incubator, we don’t want them to move to New York,” he said. “We want to keep them here, close to the innovators.”