CLSA in the San Francisco Business Time: New MBA program caters to life science professionals in South San Francisco

By Chris Rauber  – Reporter | Read at the San Francisco Business Times
Mar 29, 2018

With a bit of a nudge from the city of South San Francisco, San Francisco State University plans to launch a new biotechnology-focused MBA program in South City beginning in late August.

The program, geared for professionals with several years of experience in the working world, hopes to attract between 10 and 25 participants in its inaugural class or cohort, according to Sanjit Sengupta, the marketing professor who serves as faculty director of graduate business programs at S.F. State.

The city of South San Francisco hopes to attract more biotech and other technology jobs to its thriving life sciences sector. This program is designed to be another piece of the puzzle: Biotech workers having their cake and eating it too, as they earn an MBA while working in one of the world’s premier life sciences hubs.

But despite the city’s support and that of local biotech leaders, the S.F. State program has faced some delays. It’s been “a bit of a challenge” rolling things out, Sengupta concedes.

The university originally hoped to start the program in January, but by late last year had only seven qualified applicants — not a large enough cohort. So it delayed the program’s anticipated start until late this summer.

One of those applicants is Patti Viri, a senior project manager in design and construction at Genentech, who says she’s “very excited” to be entering an MBA program that focuses on the biotech field.

“It pertains exactly to the industry I’m in,” she said, “and offers good opportunities for networking as well.”

To be admitted, Sengupta said, students need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, “several years” of experience in the biotech field, plus an acceptable grade point average and suitable scores on the GMAT or GRE tests. Students will take just two courses per semester, a framework designed to appeal to staffers at local companies.

South San Francisco already hosts what Alex Greenwood, its director of economic and community development, says is “the largest biotech cluster in the world,” with 20,000 biotechnology workers within a one-mile radius. The city’s been working with San Francisco State on other projects, he said, “and this is the next step, but it’s a huge one.”

South San Francisco’s then-mayor, Pradeep Gupta, and other city council members met with S.F. State President Leslie Wong and a team of university executives in early 2017 to start the process.

The California Life Sciences Association also played an active role, as did some of its members. “We consulted with SFSU and the city of South San Francisco as they built this program,” said Sara Radcliffe, the association’s president and CEO. Members of the group provided advice on the curriculum, serve on its advisory board and were involved in spreading word of the new program, she said.

Startups and mezzanine-size companies, in particular, are looking for this kind of educational support, Greenwood said. “It’s really important that our local entrepreneurs have access to some of the best business training in the region.”

One of the program’s goals is to help provide a business context for busy scientists, including some who may be preparing to “go off in an entrepreneurial direction,” Sengupta said.

Viri, one of the first to be admitted to the program, also likes the fact that it’s affordable, compared to other local options, that it’s close by, and that its two-nights-a-week schedule leaves her weekends free.

Its pragmatic aspects are also appealing, she said. “I hope to take what I learn and apply it directly in my day-to-day.”