Ramping up Rochester’s innovation capacity

A diverse business landscape is critical to Rochester becoming a true Destination Medical Center. It will take more than excellence in patient care for the DMC vision to succeed. Susan Windham-Bannister knows this well.

Windham-Bannister is a life sciences industry expert and president and CEO of Biomedical Growth Strategies. She has spent years working in areas like New York, Boston, and Maryland to help communities create environments that are enticing to startups and established businesses alike.

Windham-Bannister joined more than 35 stakeholders from across the state to share her experiences and provide insight on how our own community should go about setting priorities to ensure DMC’s success.

“DMC is a very exciting project,” she says. “I commend the vision and think it’s spot-on for Rochester.” But the challenge, according to Windham-Bannister, is determining the right formula of investments to achieve the initiative’s goals. “Research is already taking place in Rochester,” she says, but when you are trying to ramp up your innovation capacity to take you from research to commercialization, there are five factors to consider.

  1. Culture. What’s happening with the culture around your pipeline of translational research? How are you applying your findings to human health and well-being?
  2. Entrepreneurship. Do you have a strong pipeline of people interested in starting new companies? How does your business culture support that? Windham-Bannister stressed the importance of this. “Large companies are looking for their next generation of products,” she explains. “Having a community with a vibrant entrepreneurial environment is a major magnet for mature companies.”
  3. Workforce. Are you attracting and developing talent? “This must include more than medical workers,” Windham-Bannister says, reinforcing DMC and Journey to Growth efforts to diversify the workforce in and around Rochester.
  4. Enabling infrastructure. Are you creating environments where people can connect? Accelerators, convening spaces, and technology all support the innovative culture.
  5. Ecosystem. Do you have one? Windham-Bannister says having an ecosystem that works together is critical. “It’s tempting to see assets like health care and educational institutions as being connected,” she says, “but you have to evaluate whether they coalesce into a true ecosystem.”

Windham-Bannister also spent time with community leaders discussing the strengths and gaps that exist in Rochester. “There were great candor and willingness among the stakeholders who met to recognize your community’s strengths but also acknowledge areas that need greater strengthening,” she says. Windham-Bannister was impressed with the conversations that took place. “Not everyone is willing to hold up a mirror.”

Windham-Bannister is excited about the initiative and anxious to return to Rochester to continue conversations.

“I compliment the community and legislature for launching DMC,” she says. “It has a lot of opportunity for success, but I hope it extends beyond Rochester. Minneapolis and St. Paul have a rich ecosystem in medical devices. There are major companies and a lot of talent there that could be recruited to Rochester. I hope there is a realization that the cross-pollination between these two communities, which are geographically quite close.”

Bannister also hopes to see a clear connectedness among DMC activities. “Most important for Rochester is seeing how the many developments happening fit together so they don’t end up being just a series of disconnected activities.”

She suggests continuing efforts to identify the key priorities that will make the initiative successful and address those priorities. “There is always a lot of demand and many things to be done in an initiative like DMC,” she says, “but focusing on the right things is what catalyzes the activities and draws funding and interest from the private sector to achieve the goals you’ve set out to achieve.”

Stakeholders and staff found the discussions with Bannister to be both productive and timely as DMC initiates next steps for Discovery Square and Heart of the City. DMC staff is currently in the process of synthesizing the information garnered during Bannister’s visit and incorporating it into plans for Discovery Square.