How a Thermo Fisher employee spurred Mass. biotechs to fight homelessness

Publish Date:

Friday, January 20, 2017 9:57 am EST

News Organization:

Boston Business Journal, Boston

Source URL:

 

Most days while walking to his job as an account manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Boston, Adam Semple sees a homeless man named Roy sitting near the entrance to Tufts Medical Center. Semple often waves hello and strikes up a brief conversation. Sometimes, he’ll drop off some food.

In August, Semple decided to go one step further. He made a donation to the nonprofit group Friends of Boston’s Homeless, which helps to move people from the city’s streets and shelters and into permanent housing. That, in turn, sparked a bigger idea: What if Semple could get Thermo Fisher (NYSE: TMO) and other prominent life science companies in the Boston area to chip in with contributions of their own?

On Thursday evening, that idea came to fruition with a fundraiser at Faneuil Hall attended by representatives from more than 30 local biotech and healthcare industry organizations, including GE Healthcare Life Sciences, Takeda, Novartis(NYSE: NVS) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE). All ticket sales ($25 each) and proceeds from a silent auction went to Friends of Boston’s Homeless, totaling at least $20,000.

The organization says it costs around $2,500 to transition one homeless person to long-term housing.

In an interview, Semple said that he had organized the effort through brainstorming sessions with a group of young employees at Thermo Fisher, who hoped to dispel the notion that millennials are “self absorbed.” It marks the first time that a specific subset of the Boston business community has led a benefit event for Friends of Boston’s Homeless, Semple added.

“That's where all of the money and power in Boston is,” he said of the life science industry. Indeed, many of the largest and most valuable companies in Boston and Cambridge are drug and medical device makers. However, according to data compiled by the Boston Business Journal, biotechs made up just three of the top 50 corporate charitable contributors in Massachusetts in fiscal 2015.

Other groups with representatives at Thursday’s event included the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the Broad Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Organizers estimated that 450 people attended the event, which was held at Ned Devine's Parris on the second floor of Faneuil Hall. Guests nibbled hors devours as they networked and bid on donated items, including a signed photograph of New England Patriots player Rob Gronkowski and an espresso machine.

"The more you have, the more you've got to give," Friends of Boston’s Homeless founder and president John Rosenthal told the packed crowd. "And the more you give, the more you get."

Jazz musician Ralph Peterson and the Berklee Jazz ensemble provided live music, and renowned Harvard geneticist George Church offered a keynote address in which he encouraged those in the life science industry to get involved in philanthropic causes.

"I haven't really thought about us being the most powerful community in Boston, but it sounds plausible to me," Church said.

Semple said he hopes to turn this into an annual event, hopefully with more organizations participating each year.

As for Roy, the homeless man, he said, “I haven't told him what I’m doing. But I still see him all the time.”

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