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Group extends summer program

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By Daniel Pearson

Laboratories for Learning, a Durham-based nonprofit that uses private resources from local biotech firms to help underprivileged youngsters learn about biotechnology, plans to extend its summer program and begin offering five to 10 internships this fall at local bioscience companies.

Andrew Rothschild, the group’s founder, says the program has been in the planning stages for some time.

“The sheer speed with which the life sciences are advancing threatens to eclipse our educational system’s ability to keep pace,” Rothschild says. “As this occurs it is our most fragile students, the socio-economically disadvantaged, who are most at risk of being left out of the growing knowledge-based economy.”

Rothschild declined to disclose how much funding the nonprofit has received, or how much it is seeking from private donors, but he did say that funds have come from the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and out of his own pocket.

“I just think this is the best way I can give back to the community and help contribute to the growth of economic opportunities for people who live in Durham,” he says.

The biotech industry has more than tripled in size, from $8 billion in annual revenues in 1992 to $27.6 billion in 2001, and the top five biotech companies spent an average of $89,400 per employee in 2000, according to a study by the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Venture capital firms are starting to look at biotech as the next hot investment. Forty-one  percent of biotech firms, for example, were successful in raising capital last year, compared to 28 percent of all other sectors receiving private investments, according to a recent study by Venture One, which tracks the venture-capital industry.

One-fourth of the more than 60 venture-capital deals that have been completed throughout the Carolinas and Georgia went to biotech or pharmaceutical services companies, according to a report published by LocalTechWire.com, a Web-based daily news service.

To keep up with the expected increase in demand for biotech workers who are needed to complete research and development, state lawmakers founded the N.C. Biotechnology Center in 1981. But the nearly $2 billion hole in North Carolina’s budget has state officials worried that providing biotech educational opportunities in underprivileged areas for prep school students, not a normal part of North Carolina’s curriculum, may hinder the organization’s efforts.

Rothschild says concerns like these inspired him to launch Laboratories for Learning, and to try and bring together public and private enterprise to give kids an opportunity they otherwise might not have.

Laboratories for Learning is the latest project undertaken by Rothschild, a native of New York living in Carrboro and founder of Durham-based Scientific Properties, a real estate development firm. He graduated with a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and later completed his residency in internal medicine at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

But he gained an interest in real estate development and moved to the Triangle in 2000, where he launched Scientific Properties. The firm is in the middle of buying the old Venable Tobacco Co. building at the corner of Roxboro and Pettigrew streets in downtown Durham. Once the deal is inked – he expects to close on he building in late July — Rothschild plans to begin looking for tenants to occupy what will become the new “Triangle Biotechnology Center at Venable.”

On top of launching Scientific Properties and Laboratories for Learning, Rothschild is pursuing an MBA from the Kenan-Flager School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I’m only 32 years old but between all of those projects, having a wife and child with another child on the way I’m not feeling so young anymore,” Rothschild says. 

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