Over the past year, our “Conversations” series has given us the opportunity to connect with many facets of our community to bring in new ideas and fresh perspectives. We firmly believe there is much to be learned when we step away from the familiar and reframe our thinking. Recently, we were delighted to connect with Erin Ford, Interim CEO of SCBIO, a not-for-profit life sciences industry association dedicated to actively promote, build, support, expand, and convene South Carolina’s life sciences industry. In her role, Erin is responsible for serving as the primary lead for SCBIO’s business operations and finances, championing investor relations and existing industry strategies, and spearheading integrated marketing initiatives.
We attended SCBIO’s virtual Annual Meeting in February of this year, where we were inspired by the tremendous growth and innovation within this industry. We reached out to Erin, who was kind enough to share some additional perspective with us.
We know you are amid some exciting organizational transition, Erin. Congrats on your new role! What is it about SC BIO and Life Sciences in general that has you most excited as you see its potential?
Change is a constant in every industry today, and certainly life sciences is no exception. My predecessor as CEO, Sam Konduros did many great things for the organization, not least of which was building a strong, experienced and deep bench, so even with his departure to a company in our industry, SCBIO won’t miss a beat. I am excited because as large as we have determined SC life sciences to be – over 700 companies and well over $12 billion in annual economic impact in our state – I believe the real growth and success is still to come.
We at Think Up refer to ourselves as “Thinkers”. As you have gotten to know the industry leaders–the key “thinkers”–in life sciences in our home state of South Carolina, how would you characterize them?
The life sciences leadership in our state is an amazing group. They are smart… they’re always innovating… they care about growing the industry even as they grow their own success stories… and they care about building the industry right. They are world class scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders who choose to be in SC and could be rock stars anywhere in the world. It is no wonder this state and this industry are growing so rapidly.
At Think Up we focus on the people inside organizations, how they learn, how they bring brands to life, how they live out company values & culture, how they are a company’s most strategic asset. In your experience, how do you see the Life Science industry prioritizing the learning and growth of people? The human dimension of their business?
Workforce development, recruiting and retention are critical to this industry, and it’s an unequivocal Job One for the industry here in SC. Our single most active work group out of many that SCBIO has established and is leading is our workforce team, which is developing strategies at all levels – from K-12 through 2- and 4-year colleges. To be successful long-term, the industry understands that people are our greatest asset, and we are treating them as such.
We know well that managing significant change is tough. It seems there are very bold plans for growth for the industry, going from where we are to where we dream of being. What do you see as the biggest obstacles to that growth and what are some of the important strategies for getting over and around them?
Perhaps the greatest challenge is the strongly established competitors we have surrounding us – NC, GA, FL, TN, VA and others – as well as historical strength in other markets like California, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Their critical mass dwarfs SC at this point; their private- and public sector support budgets are often 50-100 times our support funding. We are actually using that difference to our advantage. We take a much more personal approach to recruiting such organizations, making personal introductions and stressing that the things they need to be successful are already here – PLUS they can be a bigger, far more important fish in the pond than if they go to a Research Triangle Park or Boston. It’s a story that prospects are eagerly embracing. And SC is a far more affordable state for top talent and a delightful place to live and work, which helps.
Check back soon for Part 2 of our conversation with Erin Ford!