With over three decades of experience spanning entrepreneurship, investment, and leadership, Erika Smith has not only left her mark on the biotech industry but has also embarked on a journey to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities. As a distinguished member of BioCT’s Board of Directors, Erika has taken on an expanded role, overseeing a new People committee, focused on initiatives in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as workforce development from middle school through C-suite and mentoring. Moreover, her upcoming expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro alongside fellow biotech executives to raise funds for cancer research showcases her commitment to leveraging her influence for the greater good.
Q: Congratulations on your expanded role at BioCT, Erika. You’ve worked with BioCT for some time on our DEI initiatives – can you tell us more about your new responsibilities and goals in the “people” domain and how they align with the organization’s mission?
A: Our industry recognizes the importance of nurturing a robust talent pipeline. Attracting and retaining the best and brightest minds is essential, and I believe Connecticut holds a unique advantage in this regard. I’ve had the privilege of participating in several organizations and initiatives, such as BioCT and the Bioscience Collaborative, where we’ve established internships with various Connecticut-based companies. Over the past two years, this Collaborative has enabled approximately 300 individuals to work at 20-35 different companies, which is truly exciting for our industry. We’ve also formed partnerships with local schools to both attract and retain new talent. A recent initiative involves collaborating with New Haven public schools to promote and support STEM education. While the project has only just begun, we’re committed to ensuring that no one is left behind in joining our industry. It’s about inspiring talent at an early career level and striving for diversity to reflect the world as a whole.
Q: The New Haven partnering initiative for STEM opportunities sounds promising. Is this effort expanding beyond New Haven?
A: Absolutely! We believe in starting with a focused approach and then expanding. Many of the participating companies are based in New Haven, so that’s where we’ve initiated the program. We’ve established a strong partnership with the STEM coordinator in K-12 education in New Haven schools, which serve over 28,000 students. The key here is bridging the gap between schools and the industry. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue. While there may have been one-off attempts in the past, our goal is to unite the entire community behind this initiative. We’re piloting it this year and hope to extend it statewide in the future. For more information, you can visit www.welikescience.com, but please note that it’s still a work in progress.
Q: As a recognized thought leader and an advocate for diversity in the biotech industry, what advice or insights can you share with aspiring women leaders and entrepreneurs in the biotech sector who are looking to make a significant impact in their careers?
A: I’ve been fortunate to be involved in various organizations, such as WIB, BIO, and BioCT. One invaluable lesson I’ve learned in my career is the importance of building a strong network. It’s about establishing relationships and engaging with people you admire. Many established professionals are eager to work with up-and-coming talents and pay it forward. I recently participated in a podcast with BIO alongside two other women leaders, discussing how to get involved and seek support. This podcast may provide more detailed insights. One crucial aspect is ensuring you have the right resources and building your own personal “Board of Directors” – people who truly support you and offer career advice. I didn’t realize this when I was younger, but I now see its immense value. Drawing upon the expertise of others can help you advance and achieve your goals more efficiently.
Q: It’s inspiring to hear about the importance of building a support network. Can you elaborate on the significance of seeking out relationships with people you admire?
A: Certainly, and it’s not just about having people around the table. It’s about proactively seeking out and establishing connections with individuals you look up to, those who have accomplished what you aspire to achieve. These might not be people you talk to every day, but they can provide valuable mentorship and guidance. The key is being intentional about it. By broadening your network in this way, you gain access to diverse perspectives and experiences that can be incredibly enriching.
Q: You’re heading on a remarkable initiative in February to hike Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for cancer research. What inspired you to take on the “Timmerman Traverse,” and what impact do you hope to make through this endeavor?
A: The “Timmerman Traverse” had always intrigued me when I saw it in previous years. It seemed like such an ambitious goal and opportunity. A colleague asked if I’d like to be introduced, and although I enthusiastically said “yes,” when I received the invitation, I realized I had a lot of work ahead of me to prepare! However, the reason I initially reached out was because the funds raised through this endeavor go to the Damon Runyon cancer Research Foundation. Both my mom and aunt are breast cancer survivors, making the fight against cancer a deeply personal cause for me. Providing resources and cutting-edge developments to change the course of cancer is incredibly meaningful. Additionally, it’s a personal challenge – questioning whether I can achieve this goal, raise the necessary funds, and complete the training. It’s an arduous journey, one step at a time, much like the progress in research. We have to keep moving forward, believing in ourselves, until we have all the right pieces in place to succeed.
Q: How can others support your efforts in the “Timmerman Traverse”?
A: There are opportunities for organizations to sponsor this initiative. It’s a remarkable chance for them to be associated with biotech and innovation, as their support will be prominently displayed at the summit,19,000 feet high. It’s a high-profile and visible way to support these critical causes.
For those interested in supporting me individually, there’s an option to provide funding towards my goal of raising $50,000. I’m currently a little less than 60% there, with 40% left to go. Even though the hike takes place in February, we aim to secure the funding sooner rather than later.
Erika Smith’s leadership, both in fostering diversity and embarking on an epic adventure to Mount Kilimanjaro, exemplifies her dedication to making a profound impact on the world.. As we conclude this interview, we’re reminded that the world of life sciences is not just about science and business but also about the impact we can have on our communities.