Stella Robertson Honored With 2023 Dennis K. Stone Award at BioNTX Summit

From Johns Hopkins academic to biotech powerhouse, Robinson's career is a mix of innovation and influence. “It is just a wonderful ride,” she said.

Biotech innovator and investor Stella Robertson was honored with the 2023 Dennis K. Stone Award at the recent BioNTX iC3 Summit. The award highlights Robertson’s trailblazing decades-long career, including her pioneering role in developing ophthalmic innovations at Alcon and co-founding investment firm BIOS Partners.

The Dennis K. Stone Award, established by life science organization BioNTX, commemorates Stone’s pioneering work in biotech and is awarded annually to individuals like Robertson who have left an indelible mark on the North Texas biotech ecosystem through their vision, leadership, and commitment to advancing research and innovation. The 2023 iC3 summit on Sept. 28-29 drew record attendance with more than 550 researchers, founders, investors and life sciences professionals from across North America.

“I’m humbled, and I’m honored to receive this Dennis K. Stone Award for the service to the biotech community,” Robertson said during her acceptance speech.

Robertson’s career tracks the transformation of North Texas from what she described as a “biotech desert” to a burgeoning hub of innovation and enterprise. “It’s been a real pleasure to work with a lot of people that are in this room. We have made incredible, incredible progress,” she said.

“It is just a wonderful ride,” she said.

Dennis K. Stone award-winner Stella Robertson, center, with BioNTX CEO Kathleen Otto, left, and Cadence Insurance DFW Market President Kristin Lonergan. [Photo via BioNTX]

The “beginning of biotech”

The scientist’s journey from a Ph.D. academic at Johns Hopkins to an iconic figure in industry and investment has been an odyssey—and the saga continues. Recalling the early days of her career, she said, “When I first came to Texas, from Baltimore, from Hopkins, it was the time of monoclonal antibody discovery. This is sort of the beginning of what people think of the beginning of biotech.”

The landscape in life science was very different at the time, Robertson said: “North Texas was an absolute biotech desert. There was nobody here.”

The award recipient’s contributions have been pivotal in cultivating the life science landscape in North Texas, which is now considered a hub, BioNTX said.

With a career marked with positions such as the VP of R&D at Alcon and co-founder of BIOS Partners, her penchant for turning “ideas and discoveries” into products that “get to patients and “get to the shelf” has been the catalyst for change.

“You’ve got to be in the industry to do that,” she said, highlighting a critical transition from the realms of academic research to practical, industrial applications in biotechnology.

In her remarks at BioNTX, Robertson underscored the importance of collaboration and a unified approach. “I learned how important teams were, and I really hope that as we’re growing in North Texas, we can begin to become large, huge organic. Because we all need to work together and help each other to grow this ecosystem,” she said.

From her initial strides in the region when “you couldn’t find two things to rub together” to witnessing North Texas blossom into a promising biotech cluster, Robertson’s story affirms the results of collective efforts.

“It’s relationship building. It’s working with each other,” she said.

Capital connections

Robertson also highlighted her engagement with Cowtown Angels, a Fort Worth angel investment group that has invested in 54 companies, including successful biotech startups like CES Pharma and Encore Vision.

She explained Cowtown Angels’ inception to support biotech entrepreneurship and its meticulous due diligence process involving experts from diverse fields evaluating startups’ potential.

They asked: “We need help on due diligence, can you show up?” Robertson did, and “It was so exciting. It was just like being on a project team,” she said, noting the pivotal role angel investing plays in the biotech sector.

Robertson went on to co-found BIOS Partners, a private equity firm that invested in over 17 companies with 300 million in assets, she said. She’s also known for volunteering her time and expertise to assist startups and entrepreneurs and is associated with Cowtown Angels, an angel investment group. Robertson sees a positive trend in future funding and investment opportunities for biotech entities in North Texas. “Now you can really raise $2 million. It may be a little harder to raise 20 million, but you can do it,” Robertson said.

Looking ahead, Robertson is optimistic about North Texas biotech. “We can make the biotech sector in North Texas as vibrant as anywhere else,” she said, echoing a sentiment that permeated the two-day BioNTX iC3 summit.

Her speech was also an homage to the unwavering support of her family. “I couldn’t do it without thanking my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, so many because they all helped me raise my twin boys, and we just kept going all together to get to where we are,” she said, reminding us of the integral role of personal support networks in professional achievements.

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