NOTE: This month, IDRI is celebrating its 23rd anniversary. The photo below shows founder Steve Reed, with a small sign pointing to the original IDRI site, sandwiched between a video store and a pizza joint on Nickerson Street in Seattle.

It’s all about relationships.

It was interesting to read about Rainier beer a couple of months ago in the local newspaper. And that made me recall the role that Rainier beer played in IDRI’s development – actually, in its birth.

Founder Steve Reed at first IDRI, sandwiched between a video store and a pizza joint.

When I first moved to Seattle, I worked at the Issaquah Health Research Institute. I went from being an associate professor at Cornell to a postdoc in Issaquah, but that’s another story. The institute in Issaquah was a small organization; we grew it over time and eventually it became Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and now the Center for Infectious Disease Research.

But in those days, it was a little bit lonesome out there in Issaquah so I sought collaborations. One of the groups I wanted to collaborate most with was Immunex Corp. (acquired in 2002 by Amgen). At the time, Immunex was the up-and-coming biotech company in Seattle focused on immunology, and immunology was what I was doing.

So how could get work done in the most effective way? Well, I decided to have a party. I remembered from my student days at the University of Washington that the Rainier Brewery would allow you to have a party there, but only if you had 50 people or more. They provided free beer and catering. This was available Monday – Friday in the Rainier Room (or maybe it was called the Mountain Room). It was a great deal!

We certainly didn’t have 50 people at the institute in Issaquah so I put up a notice at Immunex, saying join us for free beer at Rainier. I hoped 50 people would show up and they did! We had a great party at the Rainier Brewery with my lab and Immunex people, along with some great conversation about immunology. This led to a strong collaboration with Immunex, which after IDRI spun out of Seattle BioMed, led to Immunex providing seed funding for what became Corixa Corporation, which spun out of IDRI. Thanks to Rainier beer for being the conduit for these great relationships.

So my advice to young biotech/life sciences entrepreneurs? Keep drinking beer and keep collaborating.