Training program aims to extend benefits of biotech boom to city residents

BioLaunch will offer key skills and on-the-job training for New Haven residents interested in establishing a foothold in the biotech and biopharma space.
BioLaunch participants in an information session.

With dozens of new startups underway and the imminent opening of a state-of-the-art biotech incubator at 101 College Street — a burgeoning ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship nurtured by Yale and city leaders — New Haven has positioned itself as a growing hub in the life sciences sector.

In the past 15 years alone, the university has helped launch over 50 new local companies, many of them the biotech sector. These enterprises have collectively raised around $5 billion in equity capital, creating new jobs and boosting economic development across the region. In 2021 alone, 11 Yale-affiliated startups emerged, raising over $50 million in new venture financing.

Now, a new Yale-led job training program aims to make the professional opportunities inherent in this biotech boom available to New Haven residents by helping them cultivate the kinds of skills these companies will need.

BioLaunch, recently established by Yale scientist and entrepreneur Craig Crews, will offer key skills and on-the-job training for residents, aged 18 to 26, who are interested in establishing a foothold in the biotech and biopharma space. It is being offered in collaboration with 10 New Haven-based biotech companies.

I’m aware that not everyone in the New Haven community is sharing equally in the success of these biotech companies,” said Crews, the John C. Malone Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, who has lived in New Haven for nearly 30 years — and has launched four different companies based on his research. “I wanted to find a way to make sure that the workforce of my New Haven-based companies reflected the demographics of our community.”

This month the program began training its first cohort of 15 participants. The group will undergo four months of classroom and laboratory training on critical technical and social skills required for success in the biotech industry followed by a two-month internship at a local biotech company to conclude the program. A second cohort will be trained during the fall.

OrLando Yarborough III and Craig Crews
BioLaunch program director Orlando Yarborough III and founder Craig Crews

Participants will take courses on a range of topics that teach industry-specific skills — like pipetting, blotting, and centrifugation — and knowledge that can be applied in many fields — such as environmental health and safety, inventory management, and lab equipment maintenance. They will also learn general professional development skills like keyboarding, communications, and financial literacy.

The program was developed in partnership with the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), a leading jobs training and skill-building organization, and will be led on a daily basis by program director OrLando Yarborough III, a former Yale doctoral student and a pastor at the Black Church at Yale.

While similar training programs like Southern Connecticut State University’s BioPath exist for college-bound students, BioLaunch is targeting non-college-bound city residents. The program aims to dispel the misconception that a college degree is a necessity to work in the industry.

Modeled on the kinds of apprenticeship initiatives offered in Germany and elsewhere, the program will offer a valuable foundation in biotech skills for participants, Crews said. Unlike typical job training programs, participants will gain “industry-led” job training by working with local biotech start-ups and learn relevant skills. The program emphasizes that basic reading and mathematics skills are all someone needs to apply.

The idea is to get people who aren’t necessarily in the system, give them the necessary job skills to be able to get a good-paying job, and start their path towards something larger within the industry,” Crews said. “We’re trying to solve an industry problem, and so industry should be the one that takes responsibility for that.”

Among the companies participating in the program is BioLabs, which provides fully equipped lab spaces to small life science companies, allowing them to test ideas, run experiments, and determine the viability of new technologies. The company will soon inhabit a space at 101 College St., a new bioscience facility set to open this year (and where Yale will be an anchor tenant). In that BioLabs space, the BioLaunch training program will eventually run much of its training, allowing participants to work in cutting-edge laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment.

A key partner in nurturing the city’s growing biotech sector is Yale Ventures, created last year to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in the Yale and Greater New Haven communities. Among other efforts, Yale Ventures works with Yale faculty, staff, and students to translate ideas and inventions into new companies that address challenges facing humankind, from cancer to the threat of climate change.

Biotech startups receiving Yale Ventures support — including many that were borne from ideas hatched in Yale’s research labs and classrooms — will form the foundation for training programs like BioLaunch, university leaders say.

Yale spinout companies include many of the largest and fastest growing companies in New Haven that create hundreds of jobs and drive the region’s economic development,” said Josh Geballe, managing director of Yale Ventures. “BioLaunch is helping ensure that this growth is broadly inclusive and creates opportunities for people without college degrees to fill important jobs in the bioscience industry.”

Geballe said he hopes that other Yale Ventures-supported projects — including ClimateHaven, a recently announced incubator space for startups tackling the climate crisis — will provide further opportunities for growth.

BioLaunch is already getting recognition for its contributions to the city, with Crews receiving an Ivy Award at the 2023 Seton Elm-Ivy Awards for his work enhancing the lives of New Haven residents and nourishing the partnership between Yale and its host city.

We were delighted to honor Craig, given his steadfast commitment to grow and build ventures in New Haven and strengthen New Haven as a bioscience hub while simultaneously creating job opportunities for New Haven residents at all levels of the ecosystem.” Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties, said. “BioLaunch is his most recent contribution to New Haven and will enable historically underserved, non-college educated New Haven residents to obtain the necessary training to earn well-paying jobs in the local biotech industry.”

Beyond the logistics, Crews ultimately aims to help build bridges between the biotech sector and the city’s many communities.

There are so many talented people in New Haven,” he said. “We need to make sure that we have ways that ensure everybody has an opportunity to share in the success.”

Those interested in participating in the fall training cohort can express interest using this online form.

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