CLSA/CLSI Announce Initiation Of Mentoring, Coaching And Professional Development Programs To Help Address Gaps In Representation And Inequity In The California Life Sciences Industry


Launch of CLSA/CLSI’s new Racial & Social Equity Initiative aims to address inequities faced by Black, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander populations

San Francisco, March 18, 2021 – The California Life Sciences Association (CLSA)/California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) announced the creation of the Racial & Social Equity (RSE) Initiative, part of a multi-year program, funded by CLSA/CLSI member companies, with the goal of helping close the gaps in inequity and create a more diverse industry. The RSE Initiative has already surpassed its initial fundraising budget of $1M, with a goal of sustaining 3-year commitments of $1M annually.

The immediate focus of the RSE Initiative is to increase STEM opportunities for under-represented students; facilitate the hiring, development and advancement of under-represented talent; invest in diverse entrepreneurs and increase board member diversity; and provide underserved communities with equitable access to care.

“The life sciences industry has fallen short in making meaningful progress to address the inequities that under-served and under-represented populations in California experience. Because we feel we must be better and are committed to change, we have created the RSE Initiative with the support of our members and community partners,” said Melinda Richter, chair of CLSA’s Board of Directors. “By focusing on impactful action, support, investment and resilience, we hope to ignite real change and help ensure that every person in California has the opportunity to bring their unique experiences and backgrounds to be a part of creating potential solutions for a better, healthier world.”

Results of a survey conducted by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) of nearly 100 member companies in 2019 found that representation of people of color in the industry at the national level is only 32% overall. The report, the most comprehensive on diversity and inclusion in the biotech industry, found that only 15% of executives and 14% of board members were people of color.[i]

“Given the low representation of people of color in the life sciences industry, we feel its more important than ever to implement initiatives that can help our leadership, our teams, our innovations and our investments reflect the diverse populations we serve,” said Mike Guerra, president and chief executive officer of CLSA. “We are thrilled by the enduring commitment of our members to the RSE Initiative. These companies can provide a range of opportunities, diverse thinking and inclusive approaches that can help drive future innovations and, hopefully, improve the lives of patients worldwide.”

The RSE Initiative will revolve around five pillars of change that will support a more inclusive industry and healthier communities in California. They include:

  • Build a Pipeline of Diverse Talent and Future Leaders: Increase awareness of STEM and the life sciences for under-represented students, as well as increase access to educational opportunities, scholarships, paid internships and sponsorships in our member companies.
  • Hire, Develop and Retain Under-Represented Talent: Increase awareness of and access to life sciences careers, as well as expand paths for internal development and professional advancement of under-represented talent.
  • Fund Diverse Innovators: Address bias, discrimination and social inequities and how they unjustly impact many facets of the industry, including under-represented innovators’ opportunities to launch companies and secure funding, and entrepreneurs’ abilities to create and fund solutions that meet under-served populations’ needs.
  • Build Diverse Boards: Support California’s new legislation, SB826 and AB979, to increase the number of board seats secured by women and under-represented populations.
  • Provide Access to and Coverage for Care: Advocate for under-represented populations to have equitable access to and coverage of care.

Several community programs, supporting the RSE Initiative, are currently underway:

  • The CLSA Inspire QuickFire Challenge series, with support from Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Abbvie and 5AM Ventures, will launch in April, with an initial opportunity for $150,000 in grant funding and mentorship to be awarded to California-based Black, Hispanic, and Native American entrepreneurs. The winner will also be invited to participate in the FAST Advisory Program, receiving commercialization advising from a tailored group of industry veterans.
  • South San Francisco Science Empowerment Initiative (SEI) Helix Cup Competition, developed by Genentech, to inspire under-represented students to pursue STEM careers.
  • FASTMedTechColor startup to join the Fall 2021 FAST Accelerator program, offering entrepreneurs intensive team review and coaching to perfect their business model, product development plans, and commercialization strategy.
  • NexGENEGirls partnership to provide 10-15 high school young women of color with (virtual) internships and will include a hosted NexGeneGirls Summer Poster Session, during which students will present on their research.

CLSA is also hosting several upcoming events that will spotlight diversity and inclusion. The annual Life Sciences Academy, taking place March 19, is an opportunity for CLSA members to educate California’s legislature about the industry’s role in therapeutic development, social inclusion and advocacy engagement. On March 25, CLSA is planning a Conversation with Thought Leaders, focusing the discussion on diversity in clinical trials. Additional webinars on market access and telehealth are in development.

To learn more, visit

About CLSA and CLSI

CLSA and CLSI play an indispensable role in connecting and strengthening the life sciences sector in California, bringing together the full spectrum of our life sciences community to network, learn, and advance our world-leading life sciences ecosystem. In addition to its leadership in policy and advocacy, CLSA hosts a portfolio of signature events as well as supporting several strategic initiatives and partner programs that foster partnerships, recognize leadership, address research breakthroughs and market trends, and feature distinguished industry thought leaders. Collectively, these opportunities foster an environment for collaboration and education, while providing the necessary professional and business resources to help our members achieve success and progress their innovations forward.

Media Contact:

Aulani Capuchin,, (559) 355-2673