Innovation Quarter News

A Pretty Tough Business Being an Entrepreneur

Eric Tomlinson, head of Wake Forest Innovations, outlines plan to spur ideas, drive growth and create a fun community

It could have been the discussion about driving innovation that filled the auditorium in Wake Forest Biotech Place one recent afternoon.

Or it could have been the PowerPoint presentation that focused on all the varied ways Wake Forest Innovations, the new operating division of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, intends to go after ideas and nurture them into testing and startups and companies that one day will fill Innovation Quarter.

It could have been a first chance to hear Eric Tomlinson, DSc, Phd, the new chief innovations officer at Wake Forest Baptist and president of Innovation Quarter.

Or it might have been the free lunch.

The latter would be just fine with Tomlinson, because the Lunch and Learn series that he spoke at in February is intended to create a buzz and bring together the Innovation Quarter community. The fact that more than 100 people turned out is what counts when you’re trying to spur creativity. Indeed, Tomlinson was introduced by Lindsey Yarborough, who’s been hired as manager of public activities for Innovation Quarter, a part of the mission Tomlinson took time to mention during his 45-minute chat.

Tomlinson spent his time walking through goals for Wake Forest Innovations and Innovation Quarter, the latter a maturing place, he notes, where businesses and Wake Forest Baptists departments deserve support in every way in the effort to innovate.

Tomlinson says the goal is no less than to make Wake Forest Innovations and Innovation Quarter “the next hub for innovation in life sciences and high tech.’’ He notes that there are seven research parks in North Carolina, with Research Triangle Park the big name right now.

“We believe with the assets available to us within Wake Forest and the community, we can build a prodigious hub for innovation and make it the most famous nationally and internationally.’’

To do so, Tomlinson says, will require risk taking on the part of everyone with a say in innovation—from the scientists with ideas to the support staff that will help translate those ideas to the leaders to manage a plan to market. And it will take persuasion to raise venture capital knowing that a fair number of startup ideas and companies fail.

For academic medical centers such as Wake Forest Baptist, the time is right, Tomlinson says. Pharmaceutical and med-tech companies are stepping away from innovation cycles, he says, in favor of focusing on products further along in development. Likewise, venture capitalists are fleeing from early stage funding.

“There’s a huge void there that we, as an academic medical center, can step into,’’ he says.

Tomlinson took the time to explain how the various Wake Forest Innovations divisions will pursue business and translational services within the institution and also seek to monetize existing assets (labs and equipment, for example) by making them available to outside institutions or businesses on a contract basis.

Lest anyone think he is too caught up in the nitty-gritty, Tomlinson also spoke of making Innovation Quarter a place that promotes not just working and learning, but living and playing.

Bailey Park in the center of Innovation Quarter will be a place where people might go to do yoga, or watch a movie, grab food from a mobile truck. By the end of 2014, he notes, nearly 3,000 people will be working in the quarter and they’ll be earning “a lot of dough.’’

Right now there might not be “a grocery store, a restaurant or a wine bar for a guy like me. Well, we’re putting a wine bar in.’’

Brioche Doree café is expected to open at Wake Forest Biotech Place this month.