Community Propels Life Science Entrepreneurs – A Q&A with BioHouston CEO, Ann Tanabe.

4 Minute Read

The vehicle that transforms research into value for patients and clinicians is innovation, and innovation can’t be actualized without community. 

Communities are, at their core, the way people have always come together to learn. They provide the space, interactions, and trust necessary to create shared meaning. Life science entrepreneurs are successful within the TMC Innovation community because the people needed to grow and access the market are here –  like Ann Tanabe, CEO of BioHouston – who is active in building the life sciences community. 

I recently sat down for a Q&A with Ann to discuss Houston’s life science landscape.

Why life sciences? 

 Through my earlier investor relations work at a local biotechnology company, I became familiar with the pharmaceutical industry and Houston’s life sciences ecosystem in particular. This experience provided a great skillset to deploy at  BioHouston. What keeps me here is the end result: BioHouston member companies are delivering new therapies, devices, and technology to patients. These companies are looking at unmet patient needs and figuring out ways to make lives better. 

Every innovation has patients at its center.

As BioHouston’s motto says, we are here to help convene, connect and catalyze our life sciences community. That community is growing and becoming more complex, so what BioHouston is best positioned to provide is the ability to curate these connections. We’re available to talk with anyone, not just members, when they need to understand who or what they need from the local life sciences scene. 

To have a vibrant life sciences ecosystem, you need companies at all stages – from seed stage and early clinical trials through those marketing new products. You also need service providers who support these companies – accountants, lawyers, architects, as well as investment funds, clinical research organizations, and contract manufacturers.  And when people from these different areas connect at one of our events like the Annual Chili Cookoff, the energy level is exciting to witness.

What are the biggest challenges for biotech companies right now? 

The biggest challenge right now is capital. According to an April 2022 article in Biopharma Dive, the first quarter of 2022 was the slowest in three years for initial public offerings and private capital investments in biotech., Biotech companies are having a tougher time getting deals done, and a lot of investors are in watch-and-wait mode. 

What areas of biotech do you see having the biggest impact in the coming years?  

Oncology continues to be a focal point and a big contributor to the ecosystem. As home to MD Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine, and Houston Methodist, the Texas Medical Center is a hub for world-class cancer research and translational work. A lot of that is also being fueled by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), a $6 billion, 20-year initiative that’s the largest state cancer research investment in the United States. We also have Texas Medical Center innovators participating in an Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, and we anticipate those companies eventually becoming part of the larger biotech community.

What is the biggest misconception when it comes to the wealth of talent and research in Houston? 

When I first got involved with BioHouston, the local academic institutions were all about research. The research would then be handed off to a tech transfer department to translate it into patient applications, and researchers would go back to their next project. 

 Now, the mindset has changed.

Young doctoral candidates, post-doctorates, and investigators also want to be a part of the entrepreneurship that brings their research to the patient. I think that is fantastic and great for the community. A great example of this is Dr. Jordan Miller, a Rice University professor who formed the company Volumetric Biotechnologies. He grew his company at TMCi Accelerator for HealthTech and received investment from the TMC Venture Fund.  The company was acquired by 3D Systems in October 2021 in a $45-million-plus deal.

To the professional pondering if life science entrepreneurship is for them, what do you have to share? 

Like anything else that is high-risk, high-reward, therapeutic development and device development are not for the faint of heart. There’s always uncertainty and life science entrepreneurs have to understand that. They need tenacity because the development cycle can be long. 

This is where organizations like BioHouston and TMC Innovation come into play. We are the community alongside entrepreneurs at every step of their journey. We help connect them to resources not just in their early entrepreneur stages, but as they go through the whole development process, which can take years. 

You have previously said that BioHouston is like the “information booth at the airport” – has that changed or evolved? 

We’d definitely like life science companies and investors to make BioHouston their first stop when they are looking for opportunities in Houston. It’s more than a quick exchange, though. Ideally, we want them to become a part of the community, and to join us in the goal of expanding the Houston region as a global competitor in the life science industry. Think of the impact that will ultimately have on the lives of countless patients. 

Meet Ann Tanabe

Ann Tanabe joined non-profit BioHouston in 2011 and is now its CEO. The organization advances the life sciences industry in Houston by connecting scientists, intellectual property and product development experts, venture capitalists, pharmaceutical companies, and life sciences entrepreneurs. 

Earlier in her career, Tanabe worked in investor relations with publicly traded companies, including energy and pharmaceuticals. “I have a passion for working with innovators,” she says. BioHouston’s most prominent programs are the Texas Life Sciences Forum (hosted with Rice Alliance), Women in Science with Excellence (WISE), which celebrates women leaders who have made lasting contributions in STEM fields, the Annual BioHouston Chili Cookoff, as well as a Texas Life Science CEO Summit that is an invitation-only gathering of Texas life science CEOs. 

 Connect with BioHouston on LinkedIn

Learn about joining the TMC Innovation community here.

Back to top