How endless coffee meetings led to a biotech phenomenon…
This is a tale of two stories that eventually intertwined into one. Michael Welling, Founder and Co-Chair of the Westchester Biotech Project, is also the father of Matthew, born in 2005. Not long after he was born, Matthew’s parents noticed something was not right with their little red-haired baby.
Following numerous invasive tests, at 6 months of age, Matthew was diagnosed with Myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow disease and pre-cursor to Leukemia. After 4 months of regular tests and blood work, the doctors determined the diagnosis to be a rarer disease, Osteopetrosis. A condition affecting the body’s bone production, Little Matthew needed a bone marrow transplant, or he may die. But the doctors advised Michael and his wife, they may not find a donor. They had to prepare themselves for Matthew to lose his sight, lose his vision and prepare for the worst, for Matthew to lose his life.
Imagine an option where your best choice is to hope your child can get Leukemia?
However, luck was on Matthew’s side and a donor match was found. The transplant began and was going well, until Matthew got a dangerous infection. His body decided to fight the infection, so the transplant was stopped and consequently unsuccessful. He was back to square one.
Despite his rotten luck, things turned in Matthew’s favor again, when another donor match was found. So by the time he had turned two, Matthew had his second, and this time successful, bone marrow transplant. Ultimately Matthew and his family spent 143 consecutive days in Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital.
While Matthew has survived and is now almost 13, he is also legally blind, with only partial sight in one eye. Undeterred, he attends school, uses technology to help him learn, gets A-grades and has become an extremely talented musician and performer.
In fact his musical talent is so good, he has performed at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, calls Ziggy Marley a personal friend and recently released his first album! For more of his remarkable story go to his website — www.MatthewWelling.com
Early in Matthew’s diagnosis, his parents took out a cancer insurance policy, which in the long term, saved them from selling their home to fund Matthew’s medical treatment. You may not be aware, but donor recipients are not allowed to meet donors until at least 12 months after the operation, and only if both agree to meet.
Michael and his wife agreed to meet Matthew’s first donor — Steve Karas. Steve lived nearby and worked at Aflac, the insurance company that helped Matthew’s family cover everyday expenses (not covered by medical insurance) while Matthew was in the hospital. He was also a Red Sox and Patriots fan, while Matthew’s family are rusted-on Yankees and Giants fans. Despite their opposing sporting allegiances, the two families became firm friends.
Even better, when Steve learned of Matthew’s story he encouraged his company to establish a donor matching program and also offered Michael a job.
Michael worked with Aflac for 5 years before being offered a partnership with Meridian Risk Management. It’s worth noting, Michael had spent his entire career working in the travel industry prior to Matthew’s diagnosis.
Given his experience with Matthew, Michael had a personal passion to learn more about the biotech industry and to get involved locally with Westchester’s thriving biotech and medical community. Subsequently, he had endless meetings over cups of coffee to get meet people who worked in the industry and learn what their needs were.
It was while sipping all those coffees that Michael discovered how large and disparate the research community was in Westchester. He learned that while many lived in the Westchester County, most commuted to the country’s major centers for biotech research — NY and Boston.
As a result, Michael started a small networking group to bring together Westchester researchers, doctors, scientists, data analysts and others, to share common interests. He also hoped they would buy insurance from him as a result of getting to know him.
From small beginnings, Michael’s networking group started to grow and he knew he was witnessing the beginning of something big, with plenty of latent demand. Realizing the potential, Michael eventually partnered with the highly experienced Joanne Gere. Together they established the Westchester Biotech Project — a virtual community of people working directly or indirectly with medical and scientific research. In less than 18 months, it has flourished into a major organization offering roundtables, webinars and symposiums catering to the educational needs of the biotech industry.
The organization even has its first sister city in France, collaborating across international borders to uncover new discoveries. Recently the local Westchester County government invited the Project’s management team to present an economic development plan, so the County can consider how it may get involved to help develop the Project further.
One area being addressed by the Westchester Biotech Project, is the chronic industry problem of raising funds to finance vital research. There is common agreement that venture capital is not the best way to fund research projects. This issue has made Michael very excited at the opportunities the HeartChain platform offers the research industry.
HeartChain uses blockchain technology, smart contracts and cryptocurrency to provide off balance sheet, non-dilutive funding to biotech researchers. This unique business model gives individuals and organizations the opportunity to sponsor the development of an innovation product.
The HeartChain platform will host ICOs for innovation products that have a strong chance of getting to market. The tokens offered in the ICOs are called Innovation Product Tokens (IPT). Each token represents ownership of one innovation product at its early-stage development cost — so it represents ownership of a product not an idea or speculative currency.
When the product comes to market, the token owners can redeem it with the innovation company for the new retail market price, or donate it back to the company for further research purposes.
The HeartChain platform can also be used to raise funds to recapitalize a business with existing products, to expand into new markets, or even to fund the growth of an industry organization, such as the Westchester Biotech Project.
Of course, given young Matthew’s history to date, his story would provide a legitimate reason for the Project’s members, partners and supporters to get behind any initiative to raise funds to further develop the Project within the Westchester area as well as internationally.
Visit www.westchesterbiotechproject.org to learn more about the Westchester Biotech Project.