TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bioscience Authority will rely more heavily on private-sector support after significant state funding cuts, according to the head of the state-established entity.
Kevin Lockett, who recently took over as president and CEO, said this week that the agency doesn’t intend to fully separate from the state, although it’s working to transfer as much of its original mission as it can to the private sector, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
“We’re not privatizing the entity,” Lockett said.
On Dec. 31, the KBA said in a statement that its board of directors had voted unanimously two weeks earlier “to shift the organization’s mission to the private market in 2016, allowing portfolio companies to partner with experienced investors in the private sector, retaining Kansas bioscience jobs and paving the way for the continued growth of the sector in Kansas.”
In that same statement, the agency announced that Duane Cantrell was stepping down as president and CEO of the organization and that Lockett had been named as his replacement.
KBA was established by the Legislature in 2004 as a kind of venture capital firm that would make investments and loans to startup bioscience companies and to make grants to state universities to conduct bioscience research.
But in recent years, tensions have arisen between KBA and the Kansas Legislature, with some lawmakers questioning how the agency has been managed, how it has invested its funds, and whether it’s even appropriate for the state to be involved in the venture capital business.
Last year, lawmakers slashed KBA’s annual appropriation to just $13 million for each of the next two years, with $6 million of that reserved for grants to universities. KBA had been expecting to receive $35 million this year, and $75 million in fiscal year 2017.
Kenny Wilk, a former Republican lawmaker from Lansing who was one of the original architects of the Bioscience Authority, said it was always assumed that it would eventually transition to a private-sector entity.
“It was always the vision that the KBA would either, one, go away because it had fulfilled its mission, or two, that it would move toward some sort of privatization model,” said Wilk, who now serves on the KBA board of directors.
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