A decade ago Gloucester neighbors Joe Rosa, a retired Biogen executive, and Harvard professor Greg Verdine began exploring how the biotechnology sector, which was exploding in Cambridge, might lift a Gloucester economy freighted by a fishing industry depressed by increasingly strict regulations.
These discussions expanded to include former Gloucester mayor John Bell, Marc Vidal, a Professor at Harvard Medical School and other Gloucester neighbors. They talked about bringing the science of genomics to fish counting, attracting biotech start-ups to Cape Ann, and launching a program to train recent Gloucester High School graduates for successful careers in biotech labs.
“There was broad community enthusiasm for a school we called ’Year 13’ for high school graduates who, within a year’s time, could become entry level technicians,” said Joe Rosa. “We felt that this was a way to create a biotech workforce.”
“I loved the concept,” said former mayor John Bell. “Our group grew to include Ann Margaret Ferrante, Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Sheree Zizik, a local developer, and for the next few years we continued to meet and plan. Bringing it all together was something I wanted to be a part of.”
“Unfortunately we have lost many of our fisheries related blue-collar jobs,” said Ann Margaret Ferrante, State Representative from Cape Ann and the House Chair of the Community Development and Small Businesses Committee. “I graduated from Gloucester High School and come from a lower middle class fishing family. I know that more students, like me, are capable of succeeding academically and professionally if they are given a chance.”
Ann Margaret met with David Walt, a Tufts University professor and founder of Illumina, to recruit his participation. Several discussions also involved State Senator Bruce Tarr.
“We had a series of public forums,” said John Bell. “We talked with the fishing community and the Northeast Seafood Coalition. We wanted people to know we were there as a partner with the goal of making Gloucester a better place.”
Over time, with a mission crystallized and objectives clearly defined, Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute (GMGI) was founded as a non-profit in 2013 by three entrepreneurial scientists with legendary experience in the sciences of genomics and proteomics – Greg Verdine, Marc Vidal and David Walt – along with prominent Gloucester Businesswoman Sheree Zizik. Taken together, the founders had a unique chemistry of experiences in science and commerce that continues to enable GMGI to attract a growing group of people with complementary skill sets, all equally committed to the mission.