San Antonio has long been considered an industry leader in the health care and biosciences sector, but it didn’t become common knowledge until Ann Stevens helped form the nonprofit BioMed SA.

Stevens announced plans Tuesday to retire as founding president of the organization early next year, following 14 years of leadership that helped advance the growth and visibility of one of the city’s leading industries. 

“I believe I have put my skillset to good use, and far exceeded what I thought I could do,” Stevens said. “I am very proud of what we have accomplished so far, and am excited for all of the potential there is for BioMed SA to accomplish even more going forward.”

Launched in 2005, BioMed SA is the brainchild of former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who wanted to help accelerate the growth of a thriving – yet relatively unknown– biomedical industry. Stevens, an experienced leader in the biopharmaceutical industry, was tasked with building a nonprofit organization to promote San Antonio’s industry assets on a global scale from the ground up.

Cisneros called Stevens  “lightning in a bottle,” saying “her contribution to the city is indelible.” He noted that “her leadership has helped the [health care and biosciences] sector grow to an annual economic impact exceeding $40 billion and employing more than one of six people in the local workforce.”

Stevens told the Rivard Report that while she had no previous nonprofit experience when she launched Biomed SA, she was “passionate about the cause” because she had seen firsthand “the value that the biotech industry could bring.”

“At that time, even back then 15 years ago, health care and bioscience were the leading industry in San Antonio, but even local people didn’t know that,” Stevens said, noting that Ilex, the locally founded drug development company she previously had worked for, was the first drug company in San Antonio to be publicly traded on Nasdaq and eventually sold for $1 billion.

“I knew that if we did it the right way, we could bring people together, get them out of their silos, and show them what we could accomplish working together,” she said.

Stevens said the work BioMed SA did to create connections and relationships among research organizations and educational institutions throughout the city was the starting point for San Antonio’s “culture of collaboration,” which she calls “one of the biggest and most notable characteristics of our city.”

BioMed SA board member Ann Beal Salamone said when the company she co-founded, Rochal Industries, was planning to relocate to San Antonio in 2007, it was Stevens who personally took them around, introduced employees to local companies and schools.

More importantly, Stevens helped form relationships and promote collaborations within the life sciences community, Salamone said.

“[Stevens] is an admirable leader for the biomedical industry and health care sector within San Antonio, and she has really led the charge citywide and nationwide to help people understand the knowledge and resources we have here in San Antonio,” Salamone said. “The city is filled with opportunity, and she was on the front lines of informing and reminding companies of the collaborative opportunities they might benefit from.”

Stevens said retiring as president of BioMed SA “is the right move at the right time” because the organization recently formulated an industry action plan that is the “apex of all the work BioMed SA has done.” The plans calls for a focus on research for diabetes, cancer, neurological disorders, infectious disease, and the area of trauma, wound healing, and regenerative medicine.

The plan also calls for attracting biomedical talent and promoting resident expertise needed to fuel San Antonio’s health care and bioscience sectors, as well as on building new sources of funding for local companies, and developing incentives to make San Antonio a more attractive location for businesses, Stevens said. 

“We have been thinking about how we will be able to get to the next level, and need to look for new leadership that will help us get there,” Stevens said. “I am of retirement age, so I got to thinking this might be the perfect time for someone else to be brought in, and maybe their skill set is more about implementation, which we need.”

In the coming months, she will continue working with the organization’s board of directors to determine how BioMed SA will pursue its future plans. Stevens also plans to participate in the Masters Leadership Program, which prepares local business and civic leaders to help improve San Antonio by serving as board members with local nonprofits.

“Ann’s contributions to San Antonio’s health care and bioscience sector are unparalleled,” said Walt Downing, BioMed SA’s board chairman. “Her energy and passion for advancing this sector have made a significant impact.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.