"Talent is migrating to Boston from Philadelphia," and not just in biotech research, affirms Michael Costonis, senior managing director at consulting giant Accenture's East Coast insurance group. "As a native Bostonian who came to Philadelphia (to attend Swarthmore) and now calls this city home, this is beyond troubling."
But haven't our civic leaders offered biotech firms tax breaks? Aren't our colleges and office landlords promoting 'innovation neighborhoods'? "It's hard to declare yourself an innovation center but maintain practices that are challenging for most business to grow in," Constonis told me.
"Boston has a much friendlier relationship with its corporate base than Philadelphia," and start-ups there can rely on support from corporate customers -- along with colleges, public agencies, venture capitalists and skilled labor -- the kind of network that established Massachusetts' Life Sciences Center and Advanced Cyber Security Center to aid new industries. By contrast, "we do not have all engines firing in Philadelphia," Constonis added.
The "preferential attraction of the Boston/Cambridge area for pharma/biotech startups and R&D sites... has occupied the minds of a great many good people in the Greater Philadelphia region for a long time," says Thorir Bjornsson, president of the Main Line-based Therapeutics Research Institute (and Thomas Jefferson University instructor), who drafted a 19-page "Pharma/Biotech Startup Ecosystem for Greater Philadelphia" report after retiring from Wyeth and consulting, he says, with 60 professors, founders, Big Pharma people and business groups.
"This region has everything," if you look at the parts, Bjornsson added. But pulling together to support small firms "will take a lot of dedicated, comprehensive effort by many."
Ryan Udell, attorney at White and Williams, which has offices and life sciences clients in both Philadelphia and Boston, says the topic of Philly vs. Boston "is near and dear to the Lifesciences Collaborative," a Philly-founded industry group that has recently expanded North. "We intend to have a Philly/Boston summit of sourts in the fall to discuss how Philly can learn from Boston's successes, and vice versa."
In Philly the focus, even at enlightened colleges that want to stimulate start-ups, is narrowly "on technology, rather than innovation and transformation," claims Boston native Jethro Heiko, boss at Philadelphia-based Common Practice, a firm he says helps medical professionals deal with ill and dying patients.