Bioscience ‘rock stars’ moving to OKC indicates city’s rise in sector

Published: Thursday, June 10, 2021 By: Harve Allen Source: The POINT!

If you ask most people outside the state what industry sector comes to mind when the name Oklahoma is mentioned, they might say something like oil and gas because of its long and rich history in the Sooner State. Afterall, what other state capitol buildings have had oil derricks sprinkled on their grounds just right outside their doors? Other people might even blurt out aviation and aerospace, no doubt a worthy response considering Oklahoma’s aviation heritage with notables such as Wiley Post, Clyde Cessna and the Braniff brothers.

Although it has not had a long-standing or deeply rooted history in Oklahoma like oil and gas or aviation has, the bioscience sector is already writing its own history and quickly establishing itself as an economic powerhouse. In Oklahoma City, where public and private partnerships and collaborations have transformed an area east of downtown into a life sciences mecca, medical research abounds that is giving hope to people around the world who suffer from various life-changing, and sometimes deadly, diseases and physical disorders. And the nation is starting to take notice.

Just within the last few months, several industry-leading researchers and professionals from various bioscience hubs such as Boston, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area have pulled up stakes and have made the move to OKC. Others are not far behind.

“These are the kinds of people you can build teams around. They are sophisticated leaders and managers that not only can scale organizations, but scale personnel.” -- Christian Kanady, Echo Investment Capital

Leading the recruitment of these “rock stars” from the bio world to Oklahoma City is Christian Kanady, founding partner and chief executive officer of Echo Investment Capital, a cutting-edge investment firm. He has directed investments in startups such as Prairie Surf Studios as well as investing in and co-founding Wheeler Labs and Zeno Technologies. In standing up a new bioscience vertical, Kanady and Echo are shifting their focus to biotechnology and health care next.

“These are the kinds of people you can build teams around. They are sophisticated leaders and managers that not only can scale organizations, but scale personnel,” Kanady said. “Their decision to join us in Oklahoma City helps us in recruiting other coastal doctors and engineers, and also helps us be able to build in really robust process-oriented businesses so that we can continue to make investments for the next 15 to 20 years.”

Yi-Yen Chen has already made the move to Oklahoma City from San Francisco where she was responsible for U.S. health care investment and portfolio management at WI Harper, a venture capital firm, evaluating investment opportunities in the biotech and medical technology sectors. She now serves as managing director for Echo Investment Capital.

“Yi-Yen is going to help us make educated investment decisions in being able to stand up not only companies that have a chance at success, but also bio-pharma companies that have a chance to call Oklahoma City home,” Kanady said.

After spending nearly four years with WI Harper, Chen said she was recently contacted by a recruiter who was looking for someone to run a biotech investment vertical for a firm in Oklahoma City who was very community minded and was attempting to build a biotech ecosystem in OKC. That firm ended up being Echo Investment Capital.

Chen, who grew up in Taiwan and received her Ph.D. in developmental biology at Max-Planck Institute in Germany, was amazed by the dedication the whole Echo team showed to transform Oklahoma City into a biotech hub.

“There is a great deal of potential in Oklahoma City, and we have a very good biotech infrastructure here. People on the coasts just do not know about it,” Chen said. “It is likely our company will invest in biotech companies on the coasts. That way, we will be able to connect those biotech companies with the infrastructure we already have in Oklahoma City. In the long run, we will make this biotech ecosystem more mature,” Chen said.

Another one of those “rock stars” who Kanady says will be instrumental in building up the biosciences sector in Oklahoma City is David Broecker. Although he is not officially moving to OKC, Broecker still intends to commute one week per month as he continues his work as chief innovation and collaboration officer at Purdue University’s Purdue Research Foundation. He will serve as a venture partner for Echo Investment Capital.

“I just find it to be an extremely exciting opportunity to raise the state of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City’s profile when it comes to the life sciences sector. I am just excited to figure out how I can help and contribute,” Broecker said.

Broecker said he has spent the last 10 years in Indiana building a life science ecosystem and is excited about having the opportunity to do the same thing in Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma City has a terrific set of life science capabilities and assets that provide portfolio investments to Echo’s bioscience platform. Every place is unique, and I think that is one of the key things, is how do you tap into what makes each one of these areas unique? The more time I spend in Oklahoma, the more interesting it becomes in terms of those unique aspects. And again, combined with what Christian wants to do, I just think there is tremendous upside potential to do a lot of things down there in Oklahoma.”

Kanady said there is another key person making the move to Oklahoma City who should play a big role in shaping Oklahoma’s bioscience sector. Like Yi-Yen Chen, this individual will also be coming from the West Coast; however, she has not yet announced her departure from her current employer but expects to officially tender her resignation later in June.

“She is incredibly gifted at process-oriented workflow and will be massively instrumental at Wheeler Labs as our business begins to scale from small-batch biologics to clinical phase biologics,” Kanady said of his yet-to-be-announced recruit. “She really is a multiplier who can parachute in on an operation and not only take it from its infancy into maturation, but can also use the economies of scale from maturation into optimization.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 edition of The POINT.

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