Three years since Project Onramp launched, the internship program has opened doors for disadvantaged college students – and continues to improve the talent pool in our industry.
A little over three years ago, I wrote a column for WBUR calling attention to an issue that has long plagued the life sciences industry – lack of gender and racial diversity, and the need to help people of all socioeconomic levels to participate in our workforce.
At the time, I had just stepped into my role as Chairman at MassBio and wanted to identify programmatic approaches to tackle these disparities head on. We all know that there is enormous local talent available to fill roles and internships – but as an organization representing the State, we needed to reach outside of Cambridge and to ensure that we were introducing opportunities in the life sciences to students broadly.
It’s not easy for most college graduates to break into the life sciences industry – particularly for those who might be the first in their family to attend college, or at schools less connected to the industry. As life science leaders, we were doing ourselves a disservice and needed to significantly broaden our horizons to find the next generation of scientists and professionals, expand the pool for talent and increase diversity in our companies.
With this issue at heart, we gathered with Life Science Cares, MassBioEd, the Massachusetts Life Science Center, Bottom Line, and Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives – and the Project Onramp internship program was born.
And three years in, we are starting to move the needle. To date, 217 students from 59 colleges have matched and completed internships with the program – and all of them have identified as BIPOC, low-income or first generation. Participation from Massachusetts companies has grown from 30 to 87, and feedback from these companies regarding the program and the students they have recruited has been outstanding.
Since the program kicked off, we have also seen some exciting new momentum. Life Science Cares, our partner running Project Onramp, has spearheaded a plan for building an exciting future for the program, including additional support and process improvement for both companies and students, placement of an even greater number of students with internships and an alumni network to help connect Project Onramp alumni with job opportunities. In 2022, Project Onramp will expand across the country to include programs in Philadelphia, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay area.
It’s connections like the ones enabled by Project Onramp that open up access to talent that the industry would not have otherwise. Two summers ago, my company Frequency Therapeutics connected with a tremendously talented Project Onramp intern, Elsy Sanchez. Then a junior at Salem State University, Elsy had always planned to become a doctor – and I’ve no doubt she would make a wonderful physician. But working with our research team, Elsy developed an interest in the world of biotech and its potential to impact many, many patients. Today, she is working for a large life sciences company as a biobank technician. Project Onramp interns like Elsy have been top contributors to our work as a company – and watching them go on to build successful careers in our industry is rewarding for all.
As I reflect on the span of three years between launching the program and now, I am pleased to see the increasing focus on diversity in the life science industry as leaders consider what it takes to build the best organizations. A recent MassBio report on the state of diversity told us that the workforce demographics of the biopharma industry in Massachusetts is now equal to state levels for those who self-identify as White, with higher representation than state levels for those who self-identify as Asian and about half the state levels of representation for those identifying as People of Color (POC).
While we still have a lot of work to do, I am confident that we are taking meaningful steps forward, as we know that diversity of thought and background is essential to the future of our and all industries.
I encourage all industry leaders to consider supporting Project Onramp as we kick off the Summer 2022 recruiting season – whether it be through sponsorship, participation, or both. Whether you are a company of 5,000 or 15, Onramp can help you to expand your horizons, add talent to your teams – and be a part of meaningful progress toward closing to this opportunity gap.
For more information about Project Onramp and the summer 2022 internship program, please reach out to Lila Neel.
David L. Lucchino
Co-Founder, President, and CEO, Frequency Therapeutics
Immediate Past Chair, MassBio
David is the Co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Frequency Therapeutics. He has over 20 years of entrepreneurial experience and has played an integral role in launching, building and operating many successful companies in the life sciences and other innovation sectors. Previously, David was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Entrega Bio, a PureTech Health company developing an innovative capsule technology to make injectable substances available orally.