Two weeks before Winter Storm Jonas snarled our streets, I drove around Baltimore's harbor to the old Tindeco factory building.
Once a thriving manufacturing center, whose workers could produce millions of tin containers a day, this former factory is now home to Personal Genome Diagnostics, or PGDx. I was there to meet with two Johns Hopkins doctors, Victor Velculescu and Luis Diaz, who launched the business based on their proprietary, noninvasive technologies—including blood test–based biopsies—that can detect and diagnose cancerous tumors at very early stages. These physician-scientists are, simply put, helping to revolutionize cancer medicine.
They are also part of a growing group of Johns Hopkins–related startups that have decided to stay—in Baltimore.
For a city such as ours, decisions like this reinforce our growing belief that Baltimore can become a truly robust innovation ecosystem.
Johns Hopkins is doing its part to help nurture that ecosystem. In the past several years, we have strengthened our efforts to support commercialization, innovation, and entrepreneurship through Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. Under the JHTV umbrella, we have expanded our on-campus business accelerators designed to support companies that have emerged from Johns Hopkins and from across our city, and we will continue that expansion next fall when our East Baltimore innovation hub takes up permanent residence in 25,000 square feet of new space. We have also increased the number and quality of our business services to better support Johns Hopkins entrepreneur-scientists, such as Victor and Luis, who seek to commercialize their ideas. We have created a mentors-in-residence program, supported seed funding for translational work, partnered with regional academic institutions and the National Science Foundation to offer an intensive startup training program called DC I-Corps, and nurtured the aspirations of our students, whose entrepreneurial acumen is giving rise to wearable diagnostic devices and new, mass-produced protective gear for workers fighting Ebola.
As I sat with PGDx's founders, I listened to their hopes and plans for the future. I was heartened by their determination to take the company from 63 employees to more than double that number in two years. I was delighted by their desire to create a recruitment pipeline to bring more Johns Hopkins undergraduate and graduate students into the halls of PGDx and keep great talent in Baltimore.
This is the story of just one company, yet it speaks volumes about the role our institution—and its people—can play in the life of our city, as an igniter of ideas, a place where individual promise is nurtured, an incubator of economic opportunity, and an institution that can unlock the many possibilities that lie ahead for the city we call home.
Ronald J. Daniels