Jonathan Thon, an Argentine native, first came to the Boston area in 2008 to complete a Harvard Medical School postdoc, and stayed on to become an Assistant Professor there. He knew that platelets, the cells that promote clotting, had enormous commercial and medical potential, and so in 2014, Thon and his postdoctoral adviser founded Platelet BioGenesis, a biotech startup that seeks to provide a reliable supply of manmade platelets for the world’s hospitals, and to develop designer platelets as new way to treat disease.
The company has already netted $10 million in venture funding, and this year won a $3.5 million research grant from the U.S. Army to develop a portable version of its technology for battlefield medics. “This couldn’t have happened in any other city,” Thon says. “Being in Boston, with its investors and its mentors and the types of people we employ, is what made this possible.”
That’s partly because local leaders understand the value of Boston’s foreign-born researchers and entrepreneurs. According to New American Economy’s new Cities Index, which celebrates communities that welcome immigrants, one of Boston’s biggest strengths is in Government Leadership, and in its public officials’ determination to help new arrivals find their feet. “Our mayor, our local officials, and our Congressional delegation all recognize that this is an important source of growth for the city,” Thon says. “They know we bring tremendous value to the region.”
Boston’s immigrant population has been a boon for Platelet BioGenesis, too. About half of the company’s 21 employees are foreign-born, and Thon says the ability to recruit the brightest STEM experts from all over the world has given the company a major competitive advantage.
Thon has also benefited from the wisdom of past generations of biotech entrepreneurs — many of them foreign-born — who’ve built companies in the Boston area. There’s a well-developed mentorship network in the region, and as an immigrant entrepreneur, Thon says he’s drawn on their insights to help navigate the challenges of starting a company and scaling up a new technology.
Boston’s entire biotech ecosystem is grounded in the contributions of foreign-born students, researchers, and entrepreneurs, Thon adds. “People come from all over the world to Boston’s universities, and that lays the foundations for industries such as biotech to build upon,” he says.
Thon’s own path hasn’t always been straightforward; he only started working full-time as CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of Platelet BioGenesis in 2017, when he was finally able to secure a green card. But despite such obstacles, Thon feels at home in Boston.
The city is incredibly rich, with people from many different backgrounds and ethnicities… It’s an incredibly welcoming city.”
“The city is incredibly rich, with people from many different backgrounds and ethnicities — it really is a melting pot,” he says. “It’s an incredibly welcoming city.”