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An Intro to LabCentral Ignite with Krista Licata

This morning, LabCentral announced an ambitious new initiative – LabCentral Ignite – intended to expand and diversify the talent base for the biotech industry with a particular emphasis on socio-economically disadvantaged, underserved and under-represented individuals and communities.

In the planning stages for years, the effort is organized, managed and led by Krista Licata, recently promoted and named the Managing Director for LabCentral Ignite. Krista has spent the past seven years with LabCentral in a variety of roles, most recently serving as the Senior Director of Site Operations. Krista and the LabCentral Ignite team are charged with the overall growth and development of the program.

We sat down with Krista to get a bit more insight and details into the idea behind LabCentral Ignite, their plans to grow the program and how the broader community can get involved.

What is LabCentral Ignite?

LabCentral Ignite is a platform for collective investment and a “spark” for regional systemic change in STEM Education, talent development and placement and entrepreneurial support in the biotech industry.

What was the impetus for this initiative?

Since 2014, LabCentral has been acutely aware of our place in the surrounding neighborhood. We sit in this historic building representing the innovation history of Kendall Square, squashed between state-of-the-art pharmaceutical research labs and directly across the street from a generations-old city housing development, and part of a rapidly changing urban topography. Kendall Square looks and feels much different than it did even five years ago. Since we first opened our doors at LabCentral, we recognized the responsibility we carry to not only be involved with the local community but to impart change.

Typically this has been through hosting student tours and future scientists who might find this place inspiring, offering our open spaces for a variety of educational programs, and supporting economic development through talent and career pathways including internships and apprenticeships. This work evolved with the creation of the LabCentral Learning Lab. We took advantage of our 2017 expansion to build a dedicated STEM space for workforce training and education in partnership with New England Biolabs and BioBuilder Education Foundation. The proximity of educational forces within our community has been energizing for the non-profit educational organizations involved, as well as our resident scientists who enjoy supporting the development of the next generation of scientists. From there we began to develop additional relationships with the goal of joining forces for collective impact.

Here at LabCentral we are all about building efficiencies. We do this for early-stage biotech startups by providing turnkey laboratories, offices and services to make R&D and proof of concept work far easier, while also intentionally building “collisions,” or interactions that spark connectivity. We not only provide the space and operational support, but a plug-and-play network as well. These two major categories of our work exist in response to start-ups specific challenges in navigating the early challenges of getting a life-sciences company launched and to meet early R&D milestones.

It became clear to us in conversations with many companies over the past few years that another early-stage hurdle had developed: procuring high-quality talent at every level from interns to executives. There is an even bigger challenge in self-exclusion where-by people of more diverse and potentially less privileged backgrounds don’t see themselves represented in biotech so elect to not even apply. This leads to a skewed industry demographic that fails to reflect the talent pool and increasing the fall-off effect of talent opting out of an industry in which they don’t feel a sense of belonging. LabCentral Ignite will challenge and change this.

How does LabCentral Ignite relate to the work LabCentral is already doing?

We identified the talent gaps within our community, but we also recognized that there were other non-profits already doing incredible work in this space. Organizations like Station1, MassBioEd, and Jewish Vocational Service –our first round of major grant awardees – are already focused on driving systemic change and creating opportunities for underrepresented populations. We do not plan to replicate their work. Instead, we are interested in creating synergies and amplifying their impact by connecting such groups to each other, our industry partners and building their capacity to do this work on a grander scale.

As connectors of people and of companies already, we believe LabCentral is well equipped to connect what is currently fractured and uncoordinated. For example, LabCentral is sponsored by many large international corporations who are often interested in supporting this same work at the local level, but struggle with the coordination of interest, effort, and investment to create lasting impact. They are making significant donations to these causes in STEM education, DEIB, and workforce training, but aren’t properly situated to aid in the orchestration work of connecting the dots for greater impact.

LabCentral Ignite seeks to take the work we are already doing and capitalize on it by activating our community, filling gaps within the talent development pipeline, and ultimately acting as a connector within the ecosystem.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?

This year will be one of groundwork and partnerships. Welcome! Bring your toolbox and let us see what you have that can be shared in an effort to build collective change!

Within the non-profit world, we will be inviting organizations to join us in creating a structure and to coordinate the formation of this ecosystem. We will be documenting relationships, understanding collectively shared values, and building consistency through alignment of common standards, indicators, and metrics to track collective impact.

Within our network of startups, investors, and sponsors, we will focus on understanding their interests and what types of return they most value. We will invite these partners to join us in assessing their needs for awareness and development on topics of inclusion and belonging to better receive and retain talent.

Within our entire network, we will play matchmaker for volunteerism, exposure, support, and partnership. All this to create a platform to connect non-profits with resources and talent with opportunity.

We hope that through this work, we will mitigate some of the redundancies within the ecosystem of nonprofits and investors while creating concrete plans to fill the gaps in our regional resource set as it relates to access and opportunity in entrepreneurship and biotech.

Tell us more about the grant-making arm of LabCentral Ignite.

We are awarding grants through what we call the Talent Ecosystem Fund. These monies are awarded to organizations with demonstrated experience in this work, and is intended to support key programmatic priorities, partnerships, capacity building and organizational tools. We are not taking a charitable foundation approach. This is a fund – a term our community understands well - and we will build a clear expectation for a return on investment. The “returns” – or what we want to see from the grant awardees – are continued participation in the ecosystem through development of program-to-program sightlines, shared standards for development, standardized competencies between programs, new talent feeding our ecosystem of employers, and a measurable impact on various measures of diversity within LabCentral and beyond. LabCentral is investing our own money to set LabCentral Ignite aflame and kick things off and expect to leverage these funds through our strong network connections and beyond as we seek additional funding. Our goal is to add to our list of investors as we intentionally build momentum and amplify the work that can be done

Is there anything else we should know about LabCentral Ignite?

We are excited! For the last 2+ years we have held hundreds of informational interviews and engaged with multiple stakeholders to learn about and really understand this landscape. Just as LabCentral has served as a model for building a thriving biotech innovation ecosystem, LabCentral Ignite will be a model of inspiration for other regions that are trying to increase their workforce in quality as well as quantity while creating broader opportunity. It is incredible to see this all come together as LabCentral takes a bold next step towards igniting not just biotech start-ups but also the greater workforce to create a talent base that will strengthen Massachusetts and the innovation economy.