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True Chemistry… with Colleen O’Connor

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The Life Science space is now seen as a core product when it comes to alternative asset classes and Collen O’Connor, Vice President of Leasing at Biomed Realty for the East Coast and UK markets, is a sounding specialist! Not only is she responsible for 5.9 million square feet on two continents but she has elevated Biomed’s profile by establishing trusting relationships in the real estate, venture capital and science communities.

In just 7 years, Colleen went from real estate rookie, financial analyst to heading up leasing for arguably one of the most exciting real estate businesses on the planet – impressive.

Whilst the majority of office workers were told to ‘stay at home’ during lockdown 1, the life science world needed to return to work quickly and safely. Almost 40% of Biomed’s tenants were working on COVID during this time so their ability to continue to operate was mission-critical. The sector needed to adapt (quick time), and it then became the norm to tour spaces suited up with gloves, masks and protective gear.

I think we’re going to see the market accelerate at a speed that it hasn’t seen before – it’s very much positioned for growth at a rapid pace.


Biomed Realty and growing the organisation

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the backing of Blackstone – their wider reach, access to capital and access to talent has been paramount. The trends that they’re able to see (and that we have web access to) from a macro perspective is really beneficial for us. We have focused in on a ‘cluster model’, when we think about life science ecosystems, you’ll often hear us talk about it in the sense of groups that don’t perform research in isolation. Their world – and the organisations within it – are very connected, which is why we’ve really honed in on the key markets, Cambridge (Boston) being one of them.

Understanding your audience is mission critical in the life science sector, whether you’re customer is a start-up or an established organisation, the needs change and trends will differ per user base. It’s interesting, because as a real estate provider, we have to realise that actually, the customer doesn’t really care about the real estate. What they care about is having a lab which they can get in as soon as possible and that’s functional, where they can go and do their research.

In terms of life science companies, the most important thing they’re looking for is the ability to attract and retain the top talent. And if you think about the UK region, specifically Cambridge (UK) you look at all the excellent universities with graduating scientific talent, it’s incredible and a natural location for us to want to grow. We have a substantial presence in Cambridge, UK but we do believe in the fundamentals of the Golden Triangle – Cambridge, Oxford and the London region. There are obviously some more challenges in London, for example, building in an urban environment, but it’s something that we’re looking at in terms of growing across the UK.

I would say, as a younger person, I genuinely did not have a passion or an end goal of where I wanted my career to be


I began in accounting and finance roles, but I knew that I didn’t really see myself staying in the finance and accounting space because I could see people that were more senior than me and I didn’t want their jobs. And for me, that was a telling aspect – even if I did all the right things and that I succeeded, and I get to the level they’re at, well, that’s not even what I want.

When I learned about this job (Biomed) moving over to the real estate side it was interesting to me, because it was a more tangible product, it seemed exciting, it seemed like a rapidly moving sector. Those things are all exciting to me.

I think taking risks is important. But I think the other thing is, I was able to take the risk, because I had a solid skill set to fall back on. I had a technical skill set that I knew I could rely on and go back to if I needed to. So, I think it’s important to find something that you focus on and that you really bring to the table in terms of a skill set, and that doesn’t have to be finance. It could be marketing, it could be economics, really anything, but you have to have something that you’re working towards and improving constantly.

For the future, I’m really interested in the growth of the business looking at acquiring new sites and growing the platform. I think I’ve been fortunate that I have aligned with the life science portion of the real estate business, to be totally candid when I joined seven years ago – I really didn’t have an appreciation for how incredible working alongside this industry is, as compared to some other industry sectors that I could have gotten into. I feel very fortunate on that aspect of the business, but I do see myself continuing to grow and work more on expanding the portfolio and progressing out of a core leasing position and really being more focused on that aspect of business.

Listen to the full interview where Andrew Deverell-Smith questions Colleen O’Connor on the most impressive ideas she’s seen tested in the lab, how the sector will evolve and most importantly, whether she’s a Bowie, The Beatles or Britney fan.