Harry McCoy – Chairman & Co Founder, North Shore InnoVentures
Q: Why did you start NSIV?
Harry: I moved here for the first time in 2001 to take over as President and COO of a biotech company that’s here in the Cummings Center. I immediately thought it was a fabulous area – the North Shore / Boston. However, I thought it was economically underdeveloped and it’s such a beautiful area that I thought it should be so much more than what it was. About a year later, I was invited to give a talk at the North Shore Technology Council about raising money for a biotech company. I gave that talk – it was the first time I’d ever attended a meeting of North Shore Technology Council and I met a lot of like-minded people.
A few of us started talking about what could we do to help the economic development of the North Shore. From my point of view, the answer came from private enterprise. I was thinking if we could help companies develop on the North Shore, that would be good for the tax space of the area and would help economic development. That would filter down to improve the entire community.
Reflecting on what it was like to start my first company, I thought helping early-stage technology companies to get started would be a benefit to all. Coming from the life sciences sector, I was primarily interested in life sciences, but I also thought it was important to include clean technology. So, in 2008, we opened an incubator for early-stage companies to focus on either biotechnology or clean technology.
Q: How have things changed since you first started?
A lot has changed, but the mission remains true. There’s still a need to help early-stage companies get started. Again, reflecting my own background, the main thing I needed coming out of academic science was basic business skills, and I relied on mentors too. That directly moved into North Shore InnoVentures developing a strong mentorship program from the very beginning.
Q: Where do you think NSIV should be going next?
We are currently going through a strategic review to help develop that answer. My answer right now is to continue to have good people helping us out, like we always have, and continue to plan for the future.
Q: How do you see the landscape changing for startups?
The industry is always changing, but for the startups it’s always a question of looking for gaps of what’s needed. An individual looks at the market and says ‘why isn’t this happening’ and ‘I have a skill or a knowledge base that can help fill that need.’ That part remains true.
Q: What’s next for you at NSIV?
I’m trying to land a little bit of funding for a project that I think is going to revolutionize the clinical diagnostics of DNA and RNA analysis.
Q: What makes this work fun for you?
All kinds of things. Part of it is just the scientific discovery part – that’s fun. Also, over the course of my career I get a lot of enjoyment from people that I’ve employed or helped in the past and what they are doing now. Them saying, “it’s so nice that you helped me at this point in my career, I couldn’t have done this without you.” That’s really a wonderful thing to hear about.
Q: What is a hobby of yours outside of work?
I am a jazz saxophone player.
Q: How long have you been playing the saxophone?
I started and I was 12 years old, maybe even younger. Then, completely cold turkey, I decided I’m a serious scientist now and don’t have time for jazz. I put the horn in the closet for eight or ten years. One day, I read a review of a musical group that intrigued me so I bought their album. I was playing the album and thinking that I could do this. Why am I not doing this? That’s what started me playing again. Since then, I’ve been playing again for 40 years.
Q: Are there similarities between jazz and science?
Of course there are. My very first music teacher actually said that there’s a strong relationship between math and music. I didn’t necessarily believe him but it turns out he’s really right. There really is a strong relationship between math and music, and math is part of all science.
There are similarities in terms of scientific discovery too. I’m never satisfied with what we know about today. I’m always looking for what could be known later. That’s the same as jazz improv. I don’t want to play the same line again. How can how can I take that line I just played and make it better?
Q: Do you prefer hamburgers of hotdogs?
I’d like both I usually get a hamburger.
Q: Mustard or ketchup?
A hotdog should never have ketchup on it. A hotdog should only have mustard or chili, but a hamburger should have both mustard and ketchup.
Q: Do you prefer the beach or the mountains?
I actually prefer mountains. I enjoy the beach but I really get invigorated in the mountains and the smell of pine trees and that atmosphere.