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Nationwide search produces seven semifinalists to lead new R.I life science agency

The Boston consulting firm leading the nationwide search for an executive director to head Rhode Island’s new life science agency has narrowed a field of 100 applicants to seven.

Now, it’s up to the 15-member volunteer board of the Rhode Island Life Science Hub to make its pick ahead of the end of the 2024 legislative session.

“It’s ongoing, it’s proceeding,” Neil Steinberg, the agency’s board chairman, said of the search in an interview on Monday.

Finding a full-time, administrative leader to take charge of the nascent, quasi-public state agency has since the board began meeting in January. Korn Ferry, the consulting firm hired to help with the executive director search, is scheduled to give an update on the search at the board’s .

The majority of applicants are regional, said Steinberg, who could not share names of any finalists or applicants.  The top seven candidates will now be interviewed by a panel composed of a half-dozen board members, with the final four advancing to interviews before the full board.

Prior to beginning its search, Korn Ferry suggested an annual salary for the executive director ranging from $250,000 to $400,000.

The creating the agency and board and outlining its mission requires the Rhode Island Senate to approve an executive director, which means the board’s selection must be made before the Rhode Island General Assembly finishes the legislative session in late June — or else wait until the beginning of the 2025 session in January.

Steinberg is optimistically hoping to hire a director by late May, however.

“I am an expediter,” he said, when asked about his confidence in the timeline.

The for the new life science agency; however, board members are also considering other sources of funding including grants and private investment to take on the pricey to-do list before them. Other key duties outlined in include finding wet lab and incubator spaces for prospective companies looking to move to or expand in Rhode Island, workforce development, and creating a new fund to help startups pay for operations.

The board is slated to approve publication of a request for proposals Tuesday seeking a private developer or partner on the incubator space.

The agency has also announced its first public event, an at the Rhode Island Convention Center, featuring keynote addresses from Robert Coughlin, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle and former CEO of MassBIO; and Travis McCready, head of life sciences in the Americas Market for Jones Lang LaSalle and former president and CEO of Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Coughlin and McCready commissioned by the Rhode Island Foundation in 2022 on the need to expand Rhode Island’s life science industry, with recommendations on how to accomplish that goal.

Steinberg headed the Rhode Island Foundation at the time the report was published. He likened the upcoming summit to similar events hosted by the foundation which foster innovation by bringing different groups of people together.

“When you smash atoms, things happen,” Steinberg said.

The board meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Rhode Island Nursing Education Center at 350 Eddy St. in Providence. The meeting will also be streamed on Zoom.