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Cornell University


Friday, May 12, 2017
NYBIO meeting: NY life sciences at a tipping point

Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point) opened up the annual two-day NYBIO conference in NYC with record audience attendance. His keynote message touched on creativity, risk taking and what we need to have in support. His talk made us all remember the necessary gestation period (~10,000h), patience (10-30 years), faith that the process of innovation is not as predictable or accurate as we'd like it to be, and comfort with the uncertainty of the creative endeavors that we invest in to make ‘overnight successes'.

Creative success evolves out of necessity due to obstacles in the way (compensation learning). In research we know that not much is learned when all goes right. It is precisely when you have failed experiments, dashed hopes, and mis-steps that you learn the most from the experiences. However, Gladwell stressed that we need to develop mechanisms of social support for failures so people don't fall all the way to the bottom. Perhaps our gravest mistake, he suggested, is overlooking the importance of collaboration to support times of tumult.

Gladwell drew on examples of fine artists, classical musicians, and mainly Fleetwood Mac as his analogy for the lessons learned: Rumors was not their 3rd album, as is commonly thought, but #16, thanks to the faith of their record label; they pivoted through a long period of hiring and firing, even suffered the loss of their star to a German cult; and went through a lot of hashish, weed, and experimentation with R&B, country, and other musical styles before they came upon their California sound. His message certainly resonated with the large audience.

The rest of the conference featured updates and successes of building biotech in New York from all over the state, interspersed with pitches by small emerging companies, and reverse pitches on how to work with large companies Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Merck, Roche, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Charles River labs.

Cornell was featured in a panel session highlighting the importance of the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem for venture creation. Starting with talent and training (the BEST Program), facilities and culture (CCMR), tech transfer & licensing (CTL) and incubation all contributed to the business acceleration and success of an example company (Zymtronix).  


  • Michelle van de Walle, Cornell Center for Materials Research
  • Susi Varvayanis, Cornell University BEST Program (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training)
  • Michael Riedlinger, Rochester Bio Venture Center, & High Tech Rochester (HTR) Technology Commercialization
  • Alice Li, Cornell Center for Technology Licensing
  • Stephane Corgie, Zymtronix