Capitalizing on Collaboration: Brian Stemme '91

Monica Holb ’09

from Fall 2018

“I wanted to find opportunities to make Indiana better, and I felt like there was more we could do.”

When Brian Stemme ’91, Director of BioCrossroads, graduated with an Accounting degree from what is now the Lacy School of Business, “venture capitalist of ideas” in the life sciences industry was not a job description he imagined. He pursued public accounting with his business background and evaluated companies’ financials. From there, he learned the complexities of the pharmaceutical industry by way of Eli Lilly and Company.

And then, the Lacy family provided him a spark to venture into a new career—long before they lent their name to Stemme’s alma mater’s school of business. Stemme joined the Stanley K. Lacy Executive Leadership Series, where he met emerging leaders and engaged with the Indianapolis community.

“The program inspired me,” Stemme said. “I wanted to find opportunities to make Indiana better, and I felt like there was more we could do.”

Stemme took his first step toward “venture capitalist of ideas” as he and other leaders began exploring what would become BioCrossroads—an organization established to be a catalyst for the continued growth of the life sciences sector in Indiana. After determining that they could make a difference and that the work was important, the group set out with just two years of grant funding to start. Stemme told his Eli Lilly colleagues that he was leaving to pursue the startup nonprofit; they thought he was crazy for leaving a stable and successful company.

It is highly unlikely they still would call him crazy. His first bet was a good one.

After 14 years, Stemme has seen BioCrossroads provide seed funding for 26 companies, help increase local venture capital investment from $7 million to $111 million, create sustainable business models for organizations from IndyHub to the Indiana Health Information Exchange, and share knowledge of the life sciences in Indiana. The inspiration from the leadership program has sparked new ideas and energy for the industry.

Stemme wants Butler students to know how close they are to this exciting, growing sector—56,000 people work in the industry with an average salary of $95,000, or about twice as high as an average salary in the state, Stemme explains. Further, think tanks rank the top five states for life sciences as California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina—and Indiana.

“And unless we stand up and say that, no one will know, even though we have as much activity and scientific expertise as those states,” Stemme said.

It is no accident that Indiana earns these accolades. “Historically, we’ve been lucky to have companies such as Eli Lilly and Zimmer start here,” Stemme said. “But, even better, they have remained here and expanded as their businesses grew.”

Many life sciences companies not only perform research and development here, but also manufacture their products in Indiana. This has led to an unusually strong life sciences sector. In addition to these companies, supporters of the life sciences sector, including governments, universities, and philanthropies, are investing in the region. World-class companies and high-paying jobs help make Indiana a desirable place to live. And because it is a good place to live, more companies want to locate here, Stemme explains. BioCrossroads helps to create an environment for companies to thrive.

But a hospitable environment still isn’t much without the right seeds. Life sciences, because it relies on scientific ideas, is about people, Stemme says. “If it is all about the people, a big part of that is how they are educated.”

Butler is readying its students to succeed in the industry and is supporting talent attraction and retention activities, according to Stemme. The school is connecting interns and new graduates to life sciences companies and developing relevant post-graduate programs. Butler is also enhancing the student experience with innovative partnerships such as one with 16 Tech and providing thought leadership through initiatives like One Butler: The Brain Project and hosting BioCrossroads talks on campus.

Stemme knows collaboration is key in the industry. It is also key to continuing Butler’s success in it. He has collaborated with Butler by serving as President of the Alumni Association and on the Board of Trustees, assisting Internship and Career Services by meeting with students, and, in general, being a connector for the school and life sciences industry.

Stemme spends his days evaluating and investing in ideas that will help the life sciences industry grow in Indiana. In Butler he sees an institution that is expanding its collaboration with the industry. And that spirit of collaboration will only help in finding the next big idea.