Some big changes are underway at the Virginia Bio+Tech Park in downtown Richmond.
As it seeks to become a more proactive force in the Richmond region’s innovation economy, the park is revamping its leadership structure and plans to hire a new president and CEO.
It also is in the planning stages for a new building on East Leigh Street between North Seventh and North Eighth streets that will contain more laboratories, offices and meeting spaces for startup companies.
The new CEO will lead strategic planning and outreach for the Bio+Tech Park, a 34-acre campus in downtown Richmond that is home to about 70 businesses, nonprofits, government laboratories and research institutes.
The person also will lead strategy for Activation Capital, a nonprofit associated with the park that provides grants to support organizations that provide mentoring and other resources for startup companies and entrepreneurs in the region.
Carrie Roth, who has served as president and CEO of the Bio+Tech Park since 2013, will remain on staff and move into a chief operating officer role, where she will continue to oversee operations at the park.
“Our true mission and goal with all of this is to create a stronger, new economy in the Richmond region,” Roth said. “We have a number of significant endeavors underway that take an extraordinary amount of time and commitment to execute — not just execute, but execute well.”
Roth is part of a seven-member committee of the Virginia Bio+Tech Partnership Authority board that is conducting the search for the new CEO.
Advertisements have been placed seeking candidates with a minimum of 10 years of leadership experience in economic development or entrepreneurship and innovation. The job description also seeks someone preferably with an advanced degree and “a strong understanding of the business start-up environment including experience with or exposure to fund management and venture investing.”
The search committee’s goal is to hire someone by July, when a new fiscal year starts for the park.
“That’s a pretty aggressive timeline, but we think we can do that as long as we have a solid pool of applicants,” she said.
Roth previously served as Virginia’s deputy secretary of commerce and trade under Gov. Bob McDonnell before being named in late 2013 as interim president and CEO of what was then called the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park. She replaced Robert T. Skunda, who retired after being the park’s first president and CEO since 1997.
She was hired as full-time CEO the following year after a national search.
“Carrie has been a good sport and has been willing to handle pretty much all aspects of this, which has been difficult with a small staff,” said Michael Rao, president of Virginia Commonwealth University and ex-officio chairman of the park’s authority board.
“The Bio+Tech Park is not a small, insignificant thing. There is a lot of internal work that has to be done.”
The move to revamp the Bio+Tech Park’s leadership structure comes as the park’s leaders seek to transform its mission, making it a more effective resource not only for biotechnology companies that are located in the park, but for entrepreneurs and startups throughout the Richmond region.
The park rebranded its nonprofit as Activation Capital in 2017. Activation Capital received proceeds from the sale in late 2017 of the park’s Biotech 8 building, which had been the former downtown headquarters of bankrupt blood-testing lab Health Diagnostic Laboratory. The biotech park had owned part of the 262,000-square-foot building at 737 N. Fifth St.
With proceeds from that sale, it set up a $5 million fund from which it provides grants to support programs for entrepreneurs in the region.
Rao said the new CEO will be more of an “outward face” for the park and Activation Capital.
“This will be the person who will be out there scouting for things that have the potential to be entrepreneurial and marketworthy,” he said. “One of the things we need this person to do is spend significant time with [VCU] faculty and students, mining for ideas and trying to grow those ideas and harvest them.”
Roth “has done amazing work to get us to this point,” said Eric Edwards, co-founder of the Richmond-based pharmaceutical company Kaléo and a member of the park’s authority board.
“She agrees, and we all agree, that we need to change the organizational structure to leverage each person’s strengths and take this to a whole new level.”