Jul 8, 2021
By Yi Fu
A Changing Biotech Ecosystem: One Startup’s New York Story

There’s no doubt that the biotech industry has grown rapidly in New York City in the past decade. The landscape has changed from the domination of a few large pharmaceutical companies to a wide array of many biotech companies. Some New York-based startups, like Kallyope, have grown from a few founders to a team of dozens.

At Unexpected Biotech, the CEO of Kallyope, Nancy Thornberry, spoke with IndieBio NY Adjunct Partner (and longtime NY biotech entrepreneur) Michael Aberman about the changes to New York Biotech that have situated the city as a great place to found a biotech startup. 

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Why New York? New York City has become a choice location for biotech startups because of its abundance of diverse talents, capital, and resources.

A wealth of biotech talent 

In addition to attracting international scientists, New York City has universities and pharmaceutical companies that provide an ample supply of diverse talents. New York City boasts 107 Nobel Prize Laureates (that number expands to 201 if you include New York State), and these top-ranked programs have attracted pools of biology, medical, and tech talent.

New York City offers much in the way of diverse backgrounds, as well. Kallyope never had a diversity goal but there is an enormous amount of diversity among employees at every level. Thornberry said, “If you interview the best and brightest in New York, you are going to get a highly diverse population.”

Low employee turnover rate

Before joining Kallyope, Thornberry worked at Merck for 30 years, an admitted unusually long employment in the biotech and pharma industries. But Thornberry has found those working in New York also have a longer career appointment than in sibling biotech cities.

During her time at Kallyope, for example, Thornberry estimates a lower than 5% employee turnover rate, compared to around 25% in San Francisco. This stability of employees saves companies a lot of investment in recruiting and training. 

A plenitude of capital and investors

Investors in New York are excited about new biotech and believe the potential of biotech to continuously deliver value to patients. In addition, proximity to financial institutes makes fundraising easier (at least pre-COVID19, when geographic proximity made it easier to schedule meetings). 

Kallyope is supported by cutting-edge technologies, such as single cell sequencing, computational mapping, optogenetics, and organoid culture. And Kallyope was able to raise over 250 million dollars over three rounds and establish a strong investor base.  

Accessible real estate 

With New York City and State investing in lab spaces, increasing numbers of wet lab options are available to early-stage startups. Kallyope is located in Alexandria Center for Life Science, a complex looking over the east river, and was able to work with the landlord to expand four times within the same floor. 

Over the past few years, even more lab spaces, like JLabs, were built in New York City, further decreasing the cost of real estate, with additional lab spaces scheduled to open soon. 

Biotech founders community

One of the most important resources, especially for first-time CEOs, is a network of startup founders for support. When Thornberry started, she made a number of connections and leveraged their strength to help her build Kallyope.

Six years into its journey, Kallyope has 2 de novo programs in clinic trials. The culture of teamwork and being nimble contribute to Kallyope’s success. The future will witness more successful biotech startups, such as Kallyope, thrive in New York City.