This story was corrected on June 22, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
Innovation and creation are at the heart of the biotech industry and close to the heart of international business development consultant Richard A. Bendis.
Bendis, 65, has devoted almost 40 years to helping enterprises grow, in both the public and private sector.
Most recently, Bendis was named CEO of the new regional effort to foster commercialization of federal and university laboratory innovations and increase access to early-stage funding for biotechs. BioHealth Innovation of Rockville is a nonprofit private-public partnership that leverages the resources of several biotechs and research institutions, including the University System of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region.
Montgomery County has allotted $250,000 for BioHealth this fiscal year, with the nonprofit’s business partners putting up $1 million. BioHealth also is seeking $1.25 million from the county during the next three fiscal years.
Bendis, who previously was interim CEO since the nonprofit launched, “has unparalleled experience and a breadth of knowledge about innovation and life sciences that made him the perfect candidate for the job,” said Steven A. Silverman, director of Montgomery County economic development.
Bendis has provided global consulting services to more than 16 countries and 22 states, was a member of the White House U.S. Innovation Partnership Advisory Task Force and was a leading force behind the former Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp., which provided business development grants. Maryland has an analogous organization, the Maryland Technology Development Corp.
When Bendis joined the Kansas Technology board in 1986, the Sunflower State’s economy was struggling to subsist chiefly on oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing. He came up with a model that would give the state equity interest over early-stage companies. Kansas Technology was funded by the state lottery and federal grants.
Bendis became CEO in 1995 and saw Kansas Technology create or retain 10,000 jobs and have ownership of 150 companies by the time he left in 2005, he said.
“You’re going to see a pattern in that I like to build things, but when I get to the maintenance mode, it loses the challenge and I have to start something new,” Bendis said.
Kansas Technology was dissolved last summer due to state budget constraints, according to published reports.
“He taught me the power of startups,” said Keith Molzer, president and CEO of Balance Innovation in Kansas, and a former consultant for Kansas Technology who worked with Bendis for five years. “I’ve used his advice and counsel in my own startups. The big thing he taught me is perseverance. You’re going to get beat down, but you’ve got to keep trying.”
Bendis initially came onto the Montgomery County scene about two years ago while on one of his speaking tours for Innovation America, a global partnership focused on accelerating the growth of the innovation economy. He is founding president and CEO of Innovation America.
A representative from Johns Hopkins approached Bendis after a talk on biotech clusters, because the university was looking at something similar for its Montgomery County campus. From there, Bendis gradually was steered toward Silverman and a county biotech task force report, which Bendis then reviewed before being engaged as a consultant in 2010.
He spent 15 months researching the county’s trend of having a heavy emphasis on basic research but not much in the way of commercialized products and technologies to show for it, Bendis said. The system was lacking day-to-day feedback between researchers and businesses on what the market needed and what investors preferred.
For example, the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Technology Transfer in Rockville supports $3 billion in intramural research among its 27 institutes, but has yet to achieve its ideal level of success, Bendis said.
BioHealth, the product of all that research, seeks to remedy this by placing an entrepreneur-in-residence within technology transfer offices. Todd Chappell was chosen for the NIH tech transfer office in late March.
Bendis said BioHealth hopes to place others like Chappell at Hopkins, the University System of Maryland, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
BioHealth also looks to create a $5 million angel investment fund for biotechs in 2013, with 50 to 75 investors, Bendis said. BioHealth also wants a direct investment fund in 2013 that would offer investments of $50,000 to $500,000.
Most of this funding will come through BioHealth’s partners such as Human Genome Sciences of Rockville and MedImmune of Gaithersburg and potential federal grants, Bendis said.
“We want to focus on larger awards beyond the proof-of-concept stage,” he said, referring to the stage that commonly receives federal and state funding.
Bendis appreciates the importance of collaboration, said Tom Sadowski, CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, another BioHealth partner.
“There’s not as much money to go around, so it’s important various stakeholders get together,” Sadowski said. “He is imminently committed and passionate, with a wealth of knowledge. This really has become a labor of love for him.”
Bendis grew up in Pittsburgh, where his parents ran and lived above a small grocery store.
“I didn’t think of them as entrepreneurs at the time, but now I look back on the risks they had to take and see that they were,” he said.
Before entering the economic development realm, Bendis had brief stints with Quaker Oats, Polaroid and Texas Instruments.
His first dip into the health industry was as vice president as a subsidiary of the former Marion Laboratories in Kansas in 1975. The most important lesson he gained there was Marion founder Ewing Kauffman’s philosophy of ensuring every employee shared in the profits, Bendis said. Kauffman offered all employees stock options when Marion went public, he said.
Bendis shared this philosophy when he became CEO of Continental Healthcare Systems in California years later. After taking a second mortgage on his house to provide capital for the company, Bendis was able to take Continental Healthcare public six months later and then helped sell it to a Dutch conglomerate in 1986.
“The greatest feeling was giving everyone a check,” he said.
Prior to Continental Healthcare, Bendis honed his health care industry skills at Kimberly Services, which helped convert nurses into businesspeople. Bendis said he took charge of the family business after the Iranian business owner died of a heart attack at 45 and helped the family manage the business until its sale.
As for his new role at BioHealth, Bendis said: “I’m at the stage of my life where I can do the things I want to do, not have to do. I’ve gotten to see things all over the world and found very few regions that have the quality and amount of assets to work with as Montgomery County. They have not fully realized the potential for significant returns.”
Explanation: Richard Bendis became CEO of Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. in 1995, not 1992, as initially reported. Also, he grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., not Virginia; he first came on the Montgomery County scene two, not three years, ago; and he helped sell Continental Healthcare Systems to a Dutch conglomerate, not take it private.