Alisa Kilgas grew up on a farm in a small town in southern Indiana. She knew since a 2nd grade science class, she was destined for the lab. At Purdue, she studied pharmacy and engineering, and upon graduation, she went to work for Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. In the late 1990s, she made her way down to Bloomington after she began working for Cook. In 2001, Cook spun off its pharmaceutical arm and Alisa’s division was acquired by Baxter Pharmaceutical Solutions, yet another giant player in the life sciences industry. While working at three of the largest life science companies in Indiana, she saw voids and unmet demand in the market. So, in 2004 she founded her second entrepreneurial venture, BioConvergence, now Singota Solutions.
A Little Background on Acronyms
Singota Solutions is a CDMO – a Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization. Other life science companies contract with CDMOs to study, develop, and perform services from microbial fermentation to produce drug substances, to aseptic production for filling drug products into vials, syringes, or cartridges.
Before starting the company, Alisa had 15 different business ideas. Recognizing the need to limit the scope of the business, the company initially began providing two services, and has since expanded to offer four services as Singota Solutions.
Alisa explains, “Singota Solutions now provides four main services – drug development, production, QC testing, and supply chain management.”
“We develop new drug products. Most people know these as tablets or capsules, but we develop primarily injectables. We identify the active ingredients needed to balance the divergent goals of creating drug stability while ensuring ease and safety of administration. Next we determine the quantity and order of addition of each inactive ingredient and develop formulation processes required to deliver a safe and effective drug product.”
“We do production – the aseptic filling and packaging of injectable drugs. This requires ensuring everything about the process is sterile because the drug products we manufacture are going to be injected, bypassing the natural defense mechanisms of our bodies.”
She continues: “We do QC testing. This includes the initial and ongoing testing of drug products to ensure safety and efficacy throughout their shelf life.” She goes on, “and finally, we do supply chain because the active and inactive ingredients as well as the products we produce only remain stable when stored and shipped at strictly controlled environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, and pressure, for example).”
Singota Solutions is often asked by its clients to add more capacity as well. Due to the nature of contract work and innovation in both active ingredients and drug delivery technologies, the scope of a project can vary wildly from client to client. She humbly explains that she’s grateful Singota’s clients entrust their new products to Singota’s team and thankful for their requests to expand services to meet even more needs. Right now, Singota is focused on helping their clients get products to patients who need them, faster. Singota is focused on faster.
The Life Sciences – Pillars of our Community
When asked why she decided to start her life science company in Bloomington, Alisa explains “I think a big factor was that there were so many larger life sciences companies already here. When you start an entrepreneurial venture, you need to rely on the pillars in your economic sector. Those are the companies that drive people to think of this area as a destination for life sciences careers. They also work with educational institutions to ensure that we have graduates coming out the Universities and Ivy Tech to meet the requirements of our jobs.”
To clarify, she explained that smaller companies and startups don’t have the resources to set up a recruiting network and form partnerships with the leverage that established companies do. In Bloomington and Monroe County, the large number of life sciences companies has ensured that this infrastructure is already in place. And smaller companies like Singota have really benefited from the cluster or “pillars of our life science community.”
A Community Preparing the Workforce
Monroe County’s dedication to the life sciences sector runs deep. There are more than 15 life science companies operating in the Bloomington MSA. Alisa explains that her own workforce is drawn primarily from this area, which means that schools in Monroe County and the surrounding area are thoroughly committed to producing graduates with the skills that companies need.
Alisa explains that her staffing needs are very educationally diverse. “Our workforce covers the gamut of people, from those that have a high school education, to people with multiple PhDs or postdocs,” she says.
“It’s a diverse group, even though we’re not a big company. We have been able to find the people that we need, mostly from this area. We also have quite a few people from the life sciences industry that have significant experience. They’re not straight out of school, but they’re interested in working and living in the Bloomington Area. This works out really well. Bloomington is a nice place to live, and they appreciate the amenities in Monroe County.”
Reiterating that academic partnerships are crucial to the success of life science companies, she praised Ivy Tech Community College – Bloomington for setting up the biotechnology associates degree program.
“People have been very responsive – it’s not just because of our company, but support for the life sciences in this area,” Alisa says.
Tapping into the Resources in Monroe County
Alisa attributes part of her success to the business climate in Bloomington. She mentions the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, the local community, and government officials were all helpful when she was starting out.
Alisa explains, “As an entrepreneur when you’re starting a business you have thousands of questions to answer every week. And you hope you’re going to find someone who knows a lot more than you do, to give you good advice or to do something for you. And I think we found that here in the local community, people stepped forward and said we know you’re going to need this.”
With a smile and a laugh, she adds “I didn’t have to go pull teeth to find people who were willing to help us.”
The local government support, in the form of a tax abatement, was a significant component to the early success of Singota Solutions.
“It’s like the community investing and saying, ‘We’re behind you.’”
To provide more perspective on the resources in the area, she says “Monroe County had set up this area (the land Singota sits on) as a tax increment financing zone, and that helped with the large capital investment required to not only ready the land, but to put up the facility itself—It’s expensive to construct a life sciences facility. Everyone was helpful – the city and county engineers, and everyone who explained what we needed to do.”
Quality of Life – The Best Kept Secret in Southern Indiana
Alisa attributes some of her success in finding a qualified workforce to the quality of life in Monroe County. She tells us about how much her employees love living here, citing the small community feel coupled with the benefits of a large community that makes Bloomington so attractive. There are hundreds of events to attend, and dozens of organizations where you can volunteer or get involved.
Interestingly, Alisa also brings up her clients when talking about the quality of life and why she chose Monroe County as the home of Singota Solutions.
“I also think about our clients who come from all over the world. They visit us and spend time here,” she explains. “And downtown Bloomington is so diverse, they can find a restaurant that really might have close to homecooked food no matter where they’re from in the world.”
“It’s a culturally diverse community, and I do think that there’s a lot of emphasis on being fair, just, and overall decent towards everyone that’s here in the community, so I think that that spills over into business life too.”
What’s next for Monroe County
When asked about the future of the life sciences in Monroe County, Alisa suggested that the area is approaching “critical mass.” This could result in the development of a “supplier tier, or second tier.” Alisa explains that due to this heavy concentration of life science companies she anticipates suppliers to those life science companies moving in next to help to streamline the production process.
“Why wouldn’t you want clients and suppliers right next to one another, as opposed to across the world?” she asked.
Alisa posits that these suppliers would be advanced manufacturing, even pseudo-technology companies who use automated manufacturing techniques and robotics to meet production quotas and standards.
Are you one of those life science supplier companies looking for a welcoming place for your business, employees, clients?
Special thanks to Duke Energy for their assistance in the creation of this blog and video.