Building Baltimore’s ecosystem of innovators, inventors, investors, and entrepreneurs
Christy Wyskiel is the senior advisor to Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. She runs the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures group. During her tenure at Johns Hopkins, Christy has focused her efforts on the school’s innovation, commercialization, and technology transfer initiatives, as well as its relationships with Baltimore’s communities of entrepreneurs and inventors. A seasoned entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and corporate development consultant, she has led organizations such as GrayBug, Cureveda, BioMarker, Maverick Capital, and CWW Research, her own consulting firm. In addition to her job at Johns Hopkins, she currently serves on the boards of the Abell Foundation, the Baltimore Development Corporation, Teach for America, and Mouth Party Caramel.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Can you give us an overview of your career? When did you make the move to Baltimore?
CHRISTY WYSKIEL: I spent most of my career as an investor, an institutional investor, primarily in the medical device and life sciences space and so I had the opportunity to invest in both public and private companies. I came to Baltimore in 1999 and am delighted to have transitioned from the investment world to really helping build the ecosystem now.
What led to that transition?
At Maverick [Capital], I was the Managing Director and part of the healthcare team, and covered both public and private medical device investments. When I left Maverick, I really had an interest in investing and building private companies, and so I started that effort primarily with companies in Maryland. I actually founded two companies with Johns Hopkins faculty members and invested and advised in a number of others.
Tell us about the two companies you founded. What caused you to move toward Johns Hopkins from there?
Graybug is an ophthalmology company that I founded with a number of professors from the Wilmer Eye Institute: Justin Hanes, Peter McDonnell, and Peter Campochiaro. We were really focused on using novel delivery systems for diseases of the eye.
Cureveda was the company I founded initially based on an agreement with a large pharma company. As I was doing my work with Hopkins faculty, and in the Baltimore ecosystem, I sensed—as many others have over time—that there was a real opportunity to build an ecosystem for biotech companies, for life sciences companies, for health IT companies in and around the anchor institutions. And having had some experience with that with some faculty entrepreneurs, I had some ideas about infrastructure building that we could and should be doing as a city as a state to really promote entrepreneurship out of our universities. I was introduced by a mutual friend to President Daniels to talk about the ecosystem.
How have you gone about building the ecosystem?
When I first joined Hopkins two and a half years ago, we gathered a group of faculty and student entrepreneurs. This committee was chaired by two very prolific scientific entrepreneurs, Drew Pardoll and Jennifer Elisseeff. We went around the country and looked at very vibrant ecosystems in and around universities and tried to see what they had, what existed. We then came back and mapped our own ecosystem to say what we had.
I think that we saw in all vibrant ecosystems there were the three elements: space, resources, and funding. I think it’s difficult to prioritize one over the other—in fact, I described them as three legs of a stool because you have to have all three or it does not work. So, we and a number of partners throughout the city and state have been slowly and systematically putting the space, the resources, and funding in place to provide the necessary strength for the ecosystem.
Why does these initiatives matter to President Daniels?
President Daniels—and really the entire leadership of Johns Hopkins—cares about this for four primary reasons. The first of which is simply the right thing to do: to bring products to market. We know that it’s not enough just to write about them or think about them. If you actually want to change someone’s life you’ve got to have that product—whether it’s a drug, whether it’s software, whether it’s a medical device—and bring that to market. It’s all about human impact first and foremost.
Secondly, in an effort in this day and age to attract and retain the very best faculty and students, these are the types of services that we need and want to have. So, to continue to build on the outstanding reputation of the university is an endeavor that’s very important to leadership.
The third is that if we get this right and we do this well—there are a number of examples of our peers that have had great success in translating products to market and then receiving royalties off of those, so there could be financial returns if we get this right.
And the final reason that President Daniels and leadership care about this is the economic development mission, and really the ecosystem-building aspect of what we’re doing.
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