Louisiana to Host 14th Americas Competitiveness Exchange

Event to convene global economic leaders to discuss trade, innovation, entrepreneurship and economic resiliency

NEW ORLEANS (May 25, 2021) — Today, Louisiana Economic Development (LED) Secretary Don Pierson announced Louisiana will host the 14th American Competitiveness Exchange from Nov. 6-12, 2021. ACE is the premier economic development, innovation and entrepreneurial network of the Americas and a leading initiative of the Organization of American States (OAS). International delegates will engage with Louisiana’s cutting-edge research institutions, entrepreneurial hubs, foreign trade zones and world-class business sites during the tour. ACE serves as an opportunity for Louisiana to enhance its presence across many industries and global markets.

“I believe the value of this unique opportunity cannot be overstated,” Pierson said. “ACE will bring international attention to Louisiana’s rapidly growing excellence within industries, such as bioscience, logistics, water management, renewable energy and more. LED and Team Louisiana look forward to welcoming the international delegation and demonstrating the unique assets and best practices behind Louisiana’s rise to the top as an international business destination. We have an impressive story to communicate to these leaders from across the globe.”

Organized by OAS, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Economic Development Administration, ACE Louisiana will bring together 50 senior-level government, business and economic decision-makers from across the Americas and beyond. They will experience regional partnerships, strategic investments and signature projects from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Discussions during the event will focus on Louisiana’s innovative approach to economic development and the state’s record of resilience in the wake of disasters. The tour will highlight recommendations of the Resilient Louisiana Commission’s 2020 report.

“The New Orleans Business Alliance is delighted to partner with the State of Louisiana, regional partners and the local community to showcase our city to our hemisphere neighbors. We are most fortunate to welcome ACE to our city,” said Quentin L. Messer, Jr., New Orleans Business Alliance President & CEO. “As the economic development organization for New Orleans, NOLABA seeks opportunities for inclusive and meaningful economic growth that changes residents’ lives.  ACE symbolizes a return to what we do best: welcome leaders from around the world to conduct business in the most inspiring of places, New Orleans. New Orleans thrives when we welcome individuals from all over the world to connect, grow and celebrate together.”

Leaders are carefully selected for participation in the weeklong ACE program and are encouraged to explore economic development models; share experiences and knowledge; build networks to enhance competitiveness in the Americas; promote sustainable and inclusive economic development models; and increase trade and investment opportunities.

“Our vision is that ACE Louisiana will complement the ‘melting pot of innovation’ in Lafayette and the state by welcoming new ideas and applying them to the rich talent and leading-edge strategies already in place here,” said Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux. “The Opportunity Machine’s new Innovation Center is just one of the many sites ACE attendees will visit as they learn how Lafayette continues to be a national energy hub while stimulating entrepreneurial growth across high-tech sectors.”

Since 2014, ACE has convened in the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Germany, Israel, Mexico and Canada. Delegates have spurred new international research partnerships, exchanges of best practices to solve common issues, new investment and trade agreements, and greater collaboration across the Americas — outcomes that Louisiana leaders intend to emulate.

“As we continue to position New Orleans as the go-to research and innovation hub of the Gulf, we are pleased to welcome the ACE delegation to our community to explore the wide range of opportunities for collaboration and investment here,” said Greater New Orleans, Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht. “With our low-cost, high-culture market, New Orleans stands ready to foster the growth of innovative ventures both local and global.”

The opportunity to host ACE’s economic leaders resulted from a successful bid by “Team Louisiana,” composed of Louisiana Economic Development, the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, Greater New Orleans, Inc., the New Orleans Business Alliance, Lafayette Economic Development Authority, Baton Rouge Area Chamber, New Orleans & Company, the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and other public- and private-sector leaders in the region.

“Team Louisiana’s bid was selected from a highly competitive pool of applications from nations and regions throughout the world for this ministerial-level engagement activity,” said Kris Khalil, BioFund managing director and executive director of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center. “We are thrilled to be able to showcase Louisiana’s entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as provide those same individuals and companies opportunities to foster and develop partnerships with business and policy leaders from across the Americas.”

More information about ACE Louisiana — including sites and focus areas — will be released as plans are finalized. Programming will be subject to change, based upon COVID-19 guidelines in place during the visit, to ensure the safety of attendees and host communities. For more information on the ACE program, visit http://riacevents.org/ACE/.

About Team Louisiana

Established in 2020, Team Louisiana convened a successful effort to bring the 14th Americas Competitiveness Exchange to South Louisiana on Nov. 6-12, 2021. The ACE Louisiana event will showcase the region’s economic, entrepreneurial and innovation strengths, and forge economic ties across the hemisphere and around the world. Representing Team Louisiana are the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, Louisiana Economic Development, Greater New Orleans Inc., the New Orleans Business Alliance, Lafayette Economic Development Authority, Baton Rouge Area Chamber, New Orleans & Company, the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, Ports Association of Louisiana, World Trade Center New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Tulane University, LSU Health New Orleans, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and other public- and private-sector leaders from across the region.

Innovating Louisiana Biotech: What It Took, What It Takes

Installment III

The people of Louisiana are no strangers to struggle—and their resilience is precisely what the biotechnology industry needs now more than ever. Dr. Trivia Frazier (of Obatala Sciences) and Dr. Sunyoung Kim (of Chosen Diagnostics) are two examples of biotech entrepreneurs who were able to cultivate resilience and capitalize on the opportunities available in Louisiana to achieve remarkable success.

If you’re unfamiliar with these two trailblazers, check out the first installment in this series. For more information about the challenges they’ve faced and solutions they’ve brought to Louisiana, read our second installment. For this third and final installment, we’ll delve into how Dr. Frazier and Dr. Kim stay motivated and resilient throughout their journeys, advancing the biotech industry in Louisiana and setting an example for innovators to come.

Finding Resilience

Despite historical calamity and current adversities, Dr. Kim (of Chosen Diagnostics) believes in the irrepressible “joy and optimism of people in the area. They know how to set aside their troubles and their sorrow.” 

Dr. Trivia Frazier (of Obatala Sciences) is undoubtedly one of those people. “The opportunity came and so did the risk,” she says. As a young woman balancing her desire to graduate on time with her commitment to her roots, Frazier sat out a semester of college to help her parents rebuild their home post-Katrina. Emerging from this period of hardship, feeling both intensely “drained and driven,” Frazier took on a staggering 36 credit hours of advanced coursework, along with a master’s level thesis and laboratory research examining the impact of antioxidants on osteosarcoma.

Dr. Trivia Frazier of Obatala Sciences among her lab equipment, innovating Louisiana biotech.

She’s taken classes from trailers and hotel rooms, self-motivating on no sleep and all drive. Her experiences with Katrina, she says, “revealed my resilience and ability to think through situations to reveal opportunities. Now, during the pandemic, I look for opportunities to leverage our existing resources for survival and growth.”

Years ago, when she realized she needed to find a means of commercializing her findings surrounding fat-on-a-chip, Frazier went back to school for her MBA. “I was applying for grants and putting a commercialization plan together, but everything in the business world was completely new,” she told Freeman Magazine. In this way, Frazier reframed a shortcoming and molded it into an opportunity, one that allowed her to seize greater control over her life and accomplishments. 

“For the past twelve months…I don’t think there’s been any balance for anyone,” says Buckley of Chosen. Along with the nation at large, Chosen’s team has learned to accept flux and make sacrifices for the greater good. “We all had to survive this and hopefully we survived it stronger,” adds Kim. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have scars. It doesn’t mean you don’t take some hits along the way.”

It is neither the lucrative company nor the breakthrough research that constitutes true success in the biotech industry. Victory is embedded within the unflagging dedication of individual trailblazers igniting torches along the tangled path forward, finding success by attempting, by doing, and by setting an example for those to come. 

Looking Forward

Biotechnology and the world that it serves have always mutually shaped one another. With the advent of this global pandemic, it’s never been more crucial that this sort of work continues to receive widespread funding and respect, as well as a constant influx of new talent and innovation. 

For Dr. Trivia Frazier and Dr. Sunyoung Kim, there is much more in store; both Obatala and Chosen are bent on transporting their projects out of the laboratory onto shelves nationwide. “It’s not just a research project for us,” says Dr. Buckley, “We’ve taken it on as our mission to make sure that this is a reality in the very near future.” Each company has raised private investments and garnered external grants to help their goals materialize. Chosen hopes to move the needle and help NEC preemies survive with groundbreaking pediatric care by alleviating undue healthcare burdens on affected families. 

As their organizations continue to flourish here in Louisiana, Kim and Frazier hope to motivate other like-minded researchers to pursue careers in-state, especially those who haven’t had historically equal opportunities. In Kim’s words, in a land populated by “so many wonderful people and so many wonderful ideas, most of the time people from Louisiana end up leaving and making them work elsewhere in the country. They don’t stay here.” 

Dr. Frazier agrees. She adamantly believes that Louisiana is “well-positioned for growth in the biotech industry, considering the number of colleges and universities that we have, the infrastructure that can be outfitted to support biotech expansion, and the saturation of activity within other major hubs on the East and West Coasts.”

Dr. Trivia Frazier of Obatala Sciences among her lab equipment, innovating Louisiana biotech.

So these entrepreneurs are leading by example. In her podcast special with WHIV, Frazier says that it’s important to lead the way for others, especially black youth, “so that others can walk in those shoes and surpass [her].” For those looking to blaze their own biotech trails, Dr. Frazier advises them not to be “afraid [of taking] a risk, especially when people around you haven’t taken the same risks. You will be advised to go in many directions, but follow your heart and your passion. It won’t lead you wrong.”

With more and more individuals recognizing Louisiana as an emerging biotech ecosystem, we’ll see a positive feedback loop involving greater job attraction, retention, and security in the industry. This, in turn, makes it possible for a growing community of biotech pioneers to tap into the deep well of local potential in the present as well as for decades to come. 

“Through the chaos and upheaval of the past twelve months, we couldn’t be more proud of the powerful and inspiring work produced by our local entrepreneurs and innovators,” says Kris Khalil, Executive Director of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center and BioFund Managing Director. “Both Obatala and Chosen have exhibited an unwavering devotion to the betterment of our communities and to those suffering across the nation. They serve as an inspiration to our entire Louisiana community.”

Follow Us for More News and Insights

While Dr. Frazier and Dr. Kim have set exemplary examples, they are far from the only entrepreneurs bringing exciting biotech innovations and accomplishments to Louisiana. Read our blog and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to keep up with the latest news from the New Orleans BioInnovation Center and our local biotech community.

Where There’s Change, There’s Challenge

Installment II

Ushering in a new era of biotechnology is no small feat. Both Dr. Trivia Frazier (of Obatala Sciences) and Dr. Sunyoung Kim (of Chosen Diagnostics) have dealt with sizable hurdles surrounding personal career-building, demanding financial obligations, and the propagation of seed ventures in uncharted territories.

If you’re unfamiliar with these two trailblazers, check out the first installment in this series. In our second installment, we’ll explore the challenges that Dr. Frazier and Dr. Kim have faced, the need for biotech innovation in Louisiana, and the strategies our community can learn from these two entrepreneurs’ solutions and successes.

Dr. Trivia Frazier of Obatala Sciences hard at work to achieve her success, demonstrating the challenges with changemaking

Challenges with Changemaking

For one, there is the glaring problem of gender disparity in the industry. As of 2019, women accounted for a mere 27% of workers in STEM-oriented fields (and have historically made less wages than their male counterparts). Not only have they had to balance their positions as gifted scientists with their personal lives and families, but they have also needed to take up the mantle of business entrepreneurs. Working diligently to commercialize their ideas required a completely different skillset, one that is hardly innate, the reality being that innovation and research in a void do not equate to widespread usage, implementation, and distribution.

All these preexisting obstacles were further complicated by COVID-19. Though the biotech sector at large saw a significant surge in funding due to the global hunger for health science innovation, seed companies, being generally pre-revenue, often experienced many of the same funding droughts as businesses in other industries. With both Obatala and Chosen nurturing impending breakthroughs coinciding with the pandemic, generating unique funding solutions assumed ever-greater urgency.

The New Orleans Bioinnovation Center (NOBIC) has been at the forefront of such changemaking, guiding local entrepreneurs (including Frazier and Kim) through the weeds of leasing, licensing, commercialization, and funding. Over the years, NOBIC has garnered an extensive list of partnerships with both local and national entities, working to provide essential resources that broaden the scope of available opportunities for professionals working within the biotech industry. Through our work with BARDA, EDA, B2S, and the BioFund, among others, NOBIC has played a monumental role in nurturing equity and providing much needed support during trying times. We look forward to continuing to provide this support for many more entrepreneurs in the years to come.

Louisiana’s Need for Biotech Innovation

More and more companies are discovering why Louisiana boasts particularly fertile grounds for seeding biotech ventures—including tax credits, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and tightly-knit professional communities, to name a few. But this budding industry is not without its hurdles, leading to a lack of predicate examples of successful biotech entrepreneurs in the area. Those that have chosen to build their careers in-state, such as Dr. Frazier and Dr. Kim, have found themselves motivated by the challenges closest to home. 

There is a persistent need for medical solutions in Louisiana, where many vulnerable demographics remain both underserved and disproportionately affected by preventable illnesses. Dr. Kim feels this profoundly in her work. “I think Louisiana has been underserved by others,” she says. “I think Louisiana has underserved itself.”

Such health disparities run deep, especially those corresponding to class and race. Centuries of biased policies have led to a minority experience steeped in far higher levels of disease incidence, prevalence, and mortality. “We are ranked 49th in health, compared to the other states in our nation. This is partly due to obesity, diabetes, and other issues,” explains Dr. Frazier.

Dr. Kim also saw this inequality materialize during her research process. “Nearly 70% of preemie babies in our communities are African American,” said Dr. Kim, putting them at higher risk for developing necrotizing enterocolitis. 

A new partnership between Ochsner Health and Xavier University has announced a ten-year campaign to boost Louisiana’s national health ranking up to 40th place by the year 2030. The initiative aims to develop a variety of collaborative programs targeted at lowering the barriers to accessible healthcare and redistributing valuable community resources through a combination of education, research, and local advocacy. While this plan marks an important step forward, there is still much work to be done to help usher this vision to fruition. In service of this goal, Ochsner Health recently invested in Obatala Sciences to help fast-track their fat-on-a-chip technology. 

Luckily, you’d be hard pressed to find professionals more equipped to shoulder these sorts of challenges than Frazier and Kim. Such work reminds us of the foundational nature of biotech innovation—the creation of extraordinary solutions in response to malignancies and setbacks, against extreme odds.  

Invigorating New Solutions

What makes the respective successes of these women remarkable isn’t their circumvention of challenge, but rather their ability to embrace it as a riveting and generative part of the process. Dr. Frazier firmly believes that “successful paths forward are only revealed when we are forced to use our creative minds. Challenges are a way to tap into that aspect of thought, and to unleash our greatest potential.” 

Great potential, indeed. Despite a global pandemic and economic downturn, Obatala and Chosen have emerged from the worst of the crisis with standout resiliency. They’ve been able to accrue impressive investments (both public and private), they’ve won various pitch challenges throughout, and they’ve spoken at multiple local events. Just last year, for instance, Dr. Frazier was named the recipient of LED’s 2020 Lantern Award for Southeast Louisiana. She also moderated a discussion session with bestselling author Walter Isaacson, whose latest book is about the revolutionary impact of CRISPR technology, during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW). 

In response to new financial pressures brought about by COVID-19, both women spearheaded pilot projects which will help them further their respective technologies. Obatala Sciences has two pilots up and running, which are testing the impact of therapies on normal tissue response as well as evaluating the impact of a breast cancer therapy on human adipose tissue models. These projects provide clients a window into how their compounds operate in real time.  

Chosen Diagnostics has garnered Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding via both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. These grants will help “develop the technology further to ultimately [transition] into a clinical setting,” says Dr. Rebecca Buckley, Chosen Diagnostics’ COO and Kim’s right-hand woman.

Dr. Kim and Dr. Buckley of Chosen Diagnostics, whose careers include both the successes and challenges with changemaking.

Both Dr. Kim and Dr. Buckley have re-conceptualized COVID-19 as being in direct conversation with their research. “There are babies who die every day and parents who mourn and don’t have an explanation for this any more than they have an explanation for COVID,” states Kim. As is the case for the coronavirus, NEC can engender swift and heartbreaking bodily harm, with mere hours demarcating the difference between life and death. She continues, “Maybe COVID provided a stronger filter for people to understand what we were doing, because now everyone is living it in their own way. There’s this idea that you don’t know if or when your child’s going to get a disease, [and whether or not] they’re going to survive it.”

On the issue of equity, Dr. Frazier hopes that fat-on-a-chip’s ability to model fat on different demographics and ethnicities will help expedite treatment solutions for ailments that disproportionately affect the black community, such as diabetes and obesity. Chosen’s NECDetect aims to accomplish the same, given the disproportionate number of African American babies born prematurely. Both companies are determined to produce solutions for those who need them the most—right here in the state of Louisiana. 

Read About Cultivating Resilience and Opportunity in Installment III

A major theme in both Dr. Frazier’s and Dr. Kim’s journeys has been maintaining an attitude of resilience. Overcoming challenges and finding opportunities are inherent to innovation at every part of the process.

For more of Dr. Frazier’s and Dr. Kim’s insights, read the third and final installment of this series. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for our latest updates.

How the Leaders of Obatala Sciences and Chosen Diagnostics Are Shaping the Future of Biotechnology in Louisiana

Installment I

In parsing through today’s landscape of American biotechnology, the concentrations of development are visibly bicoastal. From Seattle to San Francisco, over to Boston and New York, the industry has historically entrenched itself far beyond the reaches of the Midwest, the South, and the Gulf Coast. But these divisions are beginning to change: Louisiana is bringing bioinnovation closer to home.

The past decade has seen Louisiana biotech flourish in new and exciting ways. A number of local companies have excelled, adding their brilliance to the growing in situ bioscience industry. Two shining examples are Obatala Sciences and Chosen Diagnostics, both of which recently received investments from the New Orleans BioFund and have garnered additional funding from other prominent investors, both public and private.

Gaining national press and recognition for their achievements proved no small feat for Dr. Trivia Frazier (CEO of Obatala Sciences) and Dr. Sunyoung Kim (CEO of Chosen Diagnostics). The biotech research that these two incredibly distinguished women have spearheaded over the past few years is certain to inspire many others to follow their goals to revolutionize modern medicine. But the challenges they’ve faced along the way have been formidable as well. 

What Frazier and Kim have already accomplished in Louisiana is remarkable in its own right. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, many researchers had been forced to license their ideas out of state, having encountered the foundational lack of local biotech infrastructure, thus generating valuable jobs and capital elsewhere. Relatedly, with Louisiana suffering from what has been publicly dubbed a “brain drain problem,” graduates continue to leave the state for jobs and residencies in coastal biotech hubs. The pressing problem becomes a tremendous exodus of talent, further compounding Louisiana’s biotech “desertification.” 

In the past year, this historically underdeveloped and underfunded regional industry suffered further from pandemic-related setbacks. And yet, these two entrepreneurs continue to emerge victorious, sowing innovative solutions into the local economy. Through their work, they have kept and continue to keep their eyes trained squarely on the horizon, authoring a blazing testimony of this region as one rife in opportunity and potential. 

Meet the Changemakers

Dr. Trivia Frazier of Obatala Sciences

Dr. Trivia Frazier is a force to be reckoned with. A New Orleans native, Frazier harbors a deep well of respect for her hometown, and much of her education took place locally. Looking back to the inception of her biomedical journey, she refers to her high school physics class as her “first love.” Since then, she’s accumulated years working within the domain of mesenchymal stromal and stem cell research.

Unlike many of her fellow graduates, Frazier chose to remain in state after receiving a PhD in biomedical sciences from Tulane University—where she was the first African American woman to complete the joint degree program (with Dillard University) in physics and biomedical engineering—followed by an MBA in 2018. She’s also been widely published and recognized for her research in stromal and stem cells, adipose tissues, and, of course, fat-on-a-chip technology.

Frazier’s journey is unique in that she has always been incredibly committed to building a career in New Orleans specifically. She views her research as a means of serving the diverse communities she lives and works within. 

In 2017, Frazier left her tenure-track position at Dillard in order to co-found Obatala Sciences, bound to its mission of commercializing groundbreaking fat-on-a-chip technology. By modeling fat outside of the human body, fat-on-a-chip aims to revolutionize the drug discovery pipeline for obesity-related and metabolic disorders, fast-tracking lifesaving clinical trials by expediting researchers’ ability to understand human response to new pharmaceuticals. 

Dr. Sunyoung Kim of Chosen Diagnostics

Dr. Sunyoung Kim has also trodded her own dynamic path. After earning her PhD from the University of Michigan and the University of Padova, she continued her postdoctoral studies at the University of Minnesota and went on to become a professor at LSUHSC. For over five years, she’s served as an editorial board member of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and has published over 28 lauded papers. 

Though she has called many places home over the years, she too has settled in New Orleans and embedded herself within its emerging biotech community. After being approached by local neonatologists, Kim became aware of the dire need for a noninvasive diagnostic test able to detect neonatal necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) both earlier and with greater accuracy. The disease, which ravages newborns’ intestinal tissues, develops aggressively and leads to death if left undetected. For decades, the going rate of true positive detections for NEC has remained at an abysmal 44%.

A photo of Dr. Kim taken at the Louisiana state capitol when Chosen Diagnostics was commended for its work in creating life-saving solutions for preemie babies, demonstrating the bright future of biotechnology in Louisiana.

Armed with the desire to help mitigate this dire affliction, Kim formed a biomedical company known as Chosen Diagnostics. Since its conception in 2017, Chosen remains committed to improving the prognostic and diagnostic processes surrounding NEC in preterm infants. Beyond the bounds of New Orleans, the country quickly took notice of Kim’s potentially lifesaving technology: this past November, the FDA named Chosen’s NECDetect as a Breakthrough Device. With ongoing clinical studies and major approvals on the horizon, Dr. Kim’s work will continue to illuminate ever-brighter possibilities.

Read About Challenges and Solutions in Installment II

New and aspiring biotechnology entrepreneurs in Louisiana can learn a lot from the experiences and insights of both Dr. Frazier and Dr. Kim. Check out the second installment of this series, where we discuss the challenges these innovators have faced—including funding and commercialization, regional health disparities, and the pandemic—as well as their strategies and outlooks for success. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for our latest updates.