Starting out, Aldevron founders Michael Chambers and John Ballantyne had one thing in common besides being fascinated with biotechnology and its applications in health care. They are both graduates of North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo.
While Fargo may not seem a likely location for a biotechnology firm specializing in biological products used for vaccines and therapeutics for diseases, the connections Chambers and Ballantyne made through NDSU have helped grow the business by attracting fellow NDSU graduates.
Tom Foti, Jennifer Bath and Meagan Gelinske are just three of Aldevron's team members who have made their connections through the school network. Foti is vice president, general manager of the company’s Madison, Wisc., offices, while in Fargo, Bath is the company’s director of global relations and Gelinske serves as Aldevron’s scientific liaison.
For Foti, the story begins at NDSU in the 1990s where he and Chambers worked in the same lab and had the same academic advisor, Dr. Gene Barry. Fast forward to 2009, their paths crossed again in the business world. Foti and Chambers realized they also shared a philosophy for building strong, long-term client relationships.
Seeing an opportunity to expand on Aldevron’s existing platforms, Foti signed on to build a custom development and manufacturing platform for proteins––complementing the company’s existing pDNA and antibody capabilities.
“NDSU gave me a foundational understanding of the science behind the manufacturing of plasmid DNA, antibody, protein and mRNA products,” Foti said. “Along with a number of internships that gave me hands-on work early on, it’s also where I made the first connection with Michael, which led to the plan that’s put us in the exciting place we are today.”
With Bath, her connection with Aldevron was somewhat different. She met Chambers and Ballantyne while she pursued a Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology at NDSU. She moved on to become an associate professor of cellular and molecular biology at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where the connection continued, and strengthened.
“Many of my students pursued careers at Aldevron, allowing me to stay connected to the company,” she said. “I also had the pleasure of serving as a consultant to Aldevron before taking my permanent position at the company. What drew me were the interactions with Michael and John, their integrity and the company’s reputation for quality.”
Gelinske echoes Foti’s and Bath’s views of the connections that led all of them to Aldevron. One thing that appealed to her was the fact Aldevron is located in her home state, allowing her to use her degree in microbiology from NDSU while staying connected with friends and family.
“When student tours come through,” she said, “it’s a helpful reference with them, and I also cross paths quite often with former teachers, whether here or at conferences. It’s also a great way to connect with former classmates and other NDSU graduates whom I just now happen to work with.”
All the connections with NDSU and the success they show is inspiring another drive at Aldevron; the desire to expand connections to other regional colleges such as Minnesota State University Moorhead, North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Aldevron Vice President, General Manager Jenny Stafford, who leads the company’s Fargo location, also has ties with NDSU, and she sees this growth in the networking approach with the school as a model for expanding Aldevron’s connections into higher education.
“One area is in getting the word out about summer internships,” she pointed out. “Our goal is to use them as on-the-job training so that if someone with a science degree comes in, we can provide them the opportunity of a path to a full-time position within the company. We’re growing and we’re always seeking out good people to join our organization and support our corporate goal of helping to treat millions of people through the work we do.”