Member’s Corner: Arti Santhanam

1.Name, Title, Organization:

Arti Santhanam, Ph.D., Executive Director, Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII)

2. Explain your background in economic development:

Currently, I direct the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO)’s Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) fund to foster entrepreneurship and commercialize from bench to market via venture creation. Through this work, we help accelerate TEDCO’s mission of identifying, investing in, and growing technology and life science-based companies throughout the State to create a more diverse innovation economy. Since MII’s creation, we have helped support and create over 140 companies and nearly 300 jobs in the State of Maryland. These technology startups have gone on to attract significant follow-on funding, funding that moves Maryland’s innovation economy forward.

3. What are your key priorities within your current position?

As the Executive Director of MII, my key priorities include finding opportunities to advance promising technologies with significant commercial potential from qualifying universities to the commercial sector. We do so through an inclusive and purposeful funding and investment model that is now considered best practice in technology transfer.

4. Does one particular project spark your excitement? If so, describe it below.

All our innovators have inspiring visions behind their research. However, those innovative ideas to help to bring affordable healthcare opportunities to the world have a special place in my heart. Healthcare cuts across geographies and demographics but is inequitably distributed. Improving healthcare access through innovative approaches to delivery, pricing and access will have a global impact if successful.

5. What professional pressures keep you up at night?

Our Maryland researchers are quite prolific in their innovations and inventions. While we help de-risk these technologies well, we are also becoming an attractive pipeline for ideas and technologies for entrepreneurs and investors outside our ecosystem. We are under pressure to make sure the ventures we create remain and grow in Maryland so we can see the economic benefits of our efforts 2-5 years from now. This requires additional funding to help scale and outcompete other funding sources outside our region looking to poach our fledgling ventures away.

6. What attributes are unique to your community?

The MII was created in partnership with the State of Maryland and five of Maryland’s academic research institutions (Johns Hopkins University; Morgan State University; University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland, College Park; and University of Maryland, Baltimore County). Through this collaboration, we can support the acceleration of promising technologies from research labs into the commercial market. With the addition of Frostburg State University and Bowie State University to our MII pilot efforts, we are now expanding our reach beyond the research universities and into the comprehensive universities to build a fertile entrepreneurial workforce to support our economy. The full lifecycle of our fund, from education, research, commercialization, and workforce development, makes our program so unique.

7. What are your locality’s top three “selling points” for future growth?

As an entity of TEDCO, MII’s “locality” encompasses the entire state of Maryland. We specialize in identifying and supporting promising research so that these essential innovations can reach the commercial market. Maryland is uniquely gifted with both state and federal research labs churning out the best and brightest talent and ideas. MII sits at that intersection, leveraging this asset of the state for economic growth.

8. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to work with MEDA to move Maryland forward?

I would want MEDA to recognize the asset of technology developed in our research labs, work with MII to help promote our success stories and spread our model of success throughout the state.

9. Please include any personal background information that you’d like to share (Alma mater, Military Service, hobbies, etc.):

In terms of background, I graduated from the University of Madras, where I received my Master of Science degree in Clinical Biochemistry. I continued my educational journey at Rutgers University, where I received my Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics; afterward, I completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, where I discovered my two passions: (1) bringing affordable healthcare to all and (2) accelerating innovative solutions from bench to bedside. In addition, I served on the Board of Directors of the Annapolis-based non-profit advocacy group METAvivor Research and Support, Inc. There, I helped establish the METAvivor research program to fund groundbreaking research to treat Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Currently, I serve on the Maryland Governor’s Life Science Advisory Board (LSAB), the Maryland Energy Innovation Initiative (MEI2) investment committee, the Baltimore Fund advisory committee, and SpringBoard Enterprises’ Women’s Health initiative. I’m a proud graduate of Leadership Maryland (2020) and an active member of the Women in Bio-Capital Region Chapter.

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