Member’s Corner: Griffin St Louis

1.Name, Title, Organization:

Griffin St Louis, MII Program Manager, TEDCO

2. Explain your background in economic development:

I began my career in economic development managing a pilot program for the Maryland Department of Commerce called the Maryland Defense Technology Commercialization Center (DefTech). Gary Evans, Ph.D, Kim Mozingo, and I worked with stakeholders across the state of Maryland to design, pilot, and implement programs and services that encouraged economic development activity through collaboration with Maryland-based Department of Defense (DoD) research laboratories. Specifically, I worked directly with Maryland companies and DoD labs to assess their technical needs and mission priorities to streamline processes allowing both parties to work with each other and consider agreements that would be complimentary toward their goals. Through the efforts of the DefTech program, the region was made more aware of opportunities to leverage capabilities from federal research institutions for their technology and business development objectives. In part, DefTech activity was influential in encouraging the formation of start-up companies, creating jobs, attracting investment, winning grant funding, and generating revenue.

In 2020, I was hired by TEDCO to support the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) under the leadership of Arti Santhanam, Ph.D. The MII was created as a collaboration between the State of Maryland and five Maryland academic research institutions (Johns Hopkins University; Morgan State University; University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland, College Park). The program is designed to promote and support the commercialization of research conducted in the collaborating universities while leveraging each institution’s strengths. In this role, I have continued to learn more about the life cycle of translational research and its impact on economic development.

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

Currently, I am responsible for supporting the MII pipeline of applications, making sure our review process is comprehensive, managing awards from start to finish, and making sure that the transition from lab to market is well supported through access to TEDCO programs and resources. Additionally, I work cross-functionally with my team, Board of Directors, other TEDCO programs, and relevant stakeholders to make sure that our data management and reporting processes are robust, transparent, and capable of providing timely insight into program performance at any level of granularity. Finally, I am responsible for maintaining a professional relationship with stakeholders and making efforts to be a good representative of TEDCO’s mission and values.

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

Yes! In a short period of time, I have had the privilege to observe the material impact MII has made on how innovation through entrepreneurship is made possible. In particular, the program provides focused and accessible means for researchers with commercial aspirations for their work to perform experiments, gather critical data, create an informed business plan, and attract resources needed to get their technology to customers and end-users. As such, I am excited to be a part of what the future holds in terms of MII’s broadened impact through expansion into more Maryland-based research institutions.

5. What professional pressures keep you up at night?

Generally, I put a lot of effort into learning as much as I can about a subject so that I can be prepared to offer helpful suggestions or make informed recommendations to others who may have a similar interest. In terms of professional pressure, I push myself similarly to learn about new technologies, industry trends, funding programs, and business development opportunities so that I can communicate with innovators to better understand their needs and effectively direct them to helpful resources. Start-ups can move quickly, and opportunities can be timely; as a professional, I want to make sure that I am prepared to keep pace with the speed at which innovation and growth occurs.

6. What attributes are unique to your community?

The TEDCO MII program is unique because it provides funding and support through the entire lifecycle of translational research. Accordingly, the program has become a staple within the translational research funding pipeline for collaborating research institutions. As grant funding, MII dollars can be a low-risk way for innovators to explore the viability of their inventions through experimentation and the development of a commercialization plan. As investment, MII funding can be critical to the early success of start-up companies that license IP from collaborating research institutions.

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

Diversity, Talent, and Proximity. Maryland is sometimes referred to as “Little America” because of how many different demographics that are represented within the state: truly, a nexus of cultures. Additionally, Maryland is home to some of the world’s most capable and talented individuals whose roots stem from an impressive number of world class research institutions. Finally, the diversity and talent of Maryland exist within a commutable driving distance of one another which makes the possibility of collisions more likely to occur and spark cultural overlap as well as innovation.

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

I would like to see more monetary incentives to initiate translational research activity, encourage technology transfer agreements, and accelerate the development of technology within Maryland through start-up activity. Technology commercialization is difficult and often happens in an already competitive and resource constrained environment. With the wave of my wand, I would want to work with MEDA to reduce the friction between lab and market to zero by streamlining administrative processes and finding as much funding and talent as it takes to make translational research worth the risk of exploring to anyone.

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

I graduated from Mississippi State University with degrees in Chemistry and Marketing, and I am currently in the process of completing coursework for an MBA from the University of Southern Mississippi. I enjoy drinking locally roasted coffee, trying new craft breweries, exploring new restaurants, and singing karaoke! I have a passion for staying active that includes a combination of going to the gym, running, golfing, playing tennis, hiking, and practicing martial arts.

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