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Meet Dave Whelan of BioscienceLA in Culver City

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dave Whelan.

Dave, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a technologist turned businessman turned healthcare leader – building businesses and inspiring entrepreneurs at the intersection of technology, health, and wellness. I studied artificial intelligence (actually, Symbolic Systems) at Stanford, had a brief stint with a biotech incubator after college, and then spent my formative years as a retained executive search consultant in San Francisco. Somehow, that last experience earned me a lifetime free membership to match.com….

In 2000, I moved to Los Angeles to get my MBA at UCLA Anderson School. That led me to a strategy and consulting career, starting with a few years with a subsidiary of 24-Hour Fitness, where I launched one of the first fitness wearables and caught the bug for healthtech. After some time consulting to Boeing and other technology companies, I spent three years commuting across the country to launch New York Genome Center, a unique not-for-profit scientific research institute, where I served as Senior Vice President, Business Development & Chief Strategy Officer and collaborated on development of the business plan, fundraising of $115 million, and operational launch.

Since then, I have worked across the health innovation spectrum, including genomics, wearables, digital health, consumer health services, wellness and nutrition, enterprise health services, and healthcare providers. Recent engagements include incubating a digital health and media start-up (including serving as Chief Operating & Strategy Officer), steering a multi-year strategic and financial plan for a leading synthetic biology organization, launching a cancer diagnostic spinoff from a leading hospital, and developing a market assessment and strategic plan for an innovative integrative healthcare research institute, which was designed to bring together academic research and commercialization.

In 2020, after a long recruitment process, in the midst of a pandemic, I was named the first permanent CEO of BioscienceLA, taking over this 18-month-old initiative that was seeded by LA County and has backing from Amgen, PhRMA, Richard Lundquist, Richard Merkin, City of Hope, and Cedars-Sinai, among others. The vision is to be the catalyst for bio and life science innovation in the greater LA area, creating more opportunities for funding, space, and talent, as well as messaging and awareness-building. And I could not think of a more exciting time to be leading the growth of a vibrant ecosystem that will create new opportunities for all stakeholders.

Oh, and it was a long time ago, but I grew up all over the East Coast, primarily a small town called Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I never considered myself a small-town boy, and I’ve lived in New York and London to prove it. I have been in California for 30 years, 20 of that in Los Angeles, 10 of that in the San Fernando Valley. So, I am like totally an Angeleno at this point.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
How can you tell if you are on the road if you don’t feel the bumps? For me, it seems like a struggle comes along every ten years or so. I really wanted to go to MIT for college, but I didn’t get in. I was accepted to Stanford, but my parents convinced me to stay closer to home. After a semester at Carnegie Mellon, I was miserable, and I almost dropped out. Instead, I applied again to Stanford and was accepted as a transfer student.

I tried to return to Stanford ten years later for business school, but I got rejected. I decided to move to Los Angeles to attend UCLA Anderson School for my MBA, and 20 years later, I am still here.

Since then, I have started a couple of companies that failed. I made it to the dress rehearsal for Shark Tank and then got rejected. I have had clients fail. I have been penniless. I have been hopeless.

But I have an amazing wife, two beautiful kids, two crazy dogs, and a dream life building businesses and inspiring entrepreneurs at the intersection of technology, health, and wellness.

Please tell us about the organization.
BioscienceLA is an innovation catalyst for bio and life sciences in the LA region. It is an independent not-for-profit organization that has the backing of some industry and philanthropic leaders, including Amgen, PhRMA, Richard Lundquist, Richard Merkin, City of Hope, and Cedars-Sinai, among others. The organization was founded in 2018 by the County of Los Angeles, and I was fortunate to be named its first permanent CEO in early 2020.

Unlike industry trade associations such as Biocom and SoCalBio, which I count as trusted partners, BioscienceLA is a regional accelerator with all stakeholders as constituents, participants, and beneficiaries. We support a diverse economy, including biotech and biopharma, medical devices, digital health, bioinformatics, healthcare IT, MedTech, synthetic biology, and adjacent industries. Our role is to build innovation capacity to create and grow opportunities for all, with the idea being that a rising tide lifts all boats.

While I am just getting started, I am particularly excited about some workforce development programs we are creating, which have the potential to grow the life sciences industry while also training Angelenos for new jobs, tackling the COVID-era unemployment situation.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
This will sound very nerdy, but I can still remember my first interaction with a computer. It was 1980 or so, and I was in fourth or fifth grade. A select few of us got to go into the basement of our little school, to what I think was an Apple II Plus. I programmed something simple in BASIC, like 10 PRINT “HELLO” 20 GOTO 10, and I was hooked.

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