Spark Therapeutics is committed to creating a world where no life is limited by genetic disease. Learn more about how the company is attracting talent and preparing for job growth from Jennifer Flaisher, chief human resources officer, who answers our questions in this article. Then, hear from Ali Nowrouzi, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at Spark, who moved to Greater Philadelphia from Heidelberg, Germany, about what it’s like for him to live and work in the region. His story is the latest addition to the CEO Council’s “Discovery Starts With Me” video series, and you can watch it below.

Q & A with Jennifer Flaisher, Chief Human Resources Officer, Spark Therapeutics 

Q1. How do Spark employees help the company fulfill its mission of challenging the inevitability of genetic disease?

We are united by a genuine passion and commitment to create a world where no life is limited by genetic disease. To deliver on a mission that big, we hire the best and most creative people from different backgrounds and industries that represent the diverse communities we serve. Our team members are focused not only on delivering transformative therapies but also advancing scientific breakthroughs in the fast-moving Cell and Gene Therapy (C&GT) sector. C&GT research and manufacturing processes are going to look very different in 5 years and Spark is right there out front leading new approaches.

Q2. Please tell us about the collaborative environment at Spark, and the company culture.

We are cultivating a culture that is collaborative, non-hierarchical, and fast-paced where employees can feel a shared sense of belonging.  A culture that is both patient-centric and employee-centric.

The bedrock of Spark’s culture is our company values. Our values celebrate championing the patient, breaking barriers in our work, demonstrating the respect you seek, owning your excellence, and committing to collaboration. Those values guide how we treat each other, how we partner in an equitable way with the communities we serve, and how we develop and deliver treatments for people living with genetic disease.

As we navigate the pandemic, our workplace strategy has evolved to continue to meet the needs of the business and our employees, which are our most important resource. We heard from employees that flexible work arrangements would support work/life balance. As a result of that feedback, we adopted a hybrid work model. Beginning in January 2022, this hybrid approach enables employees to collaborate onsite and perform other heads-down, individualized work remotely. We have empowered people managers to partner with their teams to determine the best fit for them considering needs of the business, team needs, and individual needs.

Spark also offers a competitive and comprehensive total rewards package. Our benefit offerings take a holistic approach to well-being (generous time off through a combination of paid time off, company holidays, winter shutdown, and alternate half-day Fridays, along with a generous 401(k) contribution from Spark) to ensure we are attracting top talent not only in the Philadelphia metro area but across the country. Our programs are designed to support both the employee and their families to ensure that overall wellbeing enables them to do their best work.

We invest in our workforce by offering both new hires and all employees annual equity grants. To further aid in attraction and retention, starting in 2022, we will offer expanded mental health resources and extend benefits to part-time employees. This helps ensure that Spark meets the needs of its employees while further positioning us as an employer of choice.

The development, growth, and career advancement of our workforce is a top priority. We offer a variety of learning solutions including targeted training for new and tenured People Managers, career ladders, a subscription to LinkedIn Learning for all employees, and tuition reimbursement.

Our employee-centric culture is one of the reasons why we are so incredibly honored to have made the Philadelphia Business Journal Best Place to Work list for the fifth year in a row. Additionally, Science and Science Careers has ranked Spark fifth in their 2021 Top Employers survey, placing us among the leading biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, and pharmaceutical employers in the world. Spark has been included in the Top Employers list three years in a row.

Since late 2019, Spark has been a member of the Roche group. We work collaboratively to bring cutting-edge solutions for patients with genetic diseases, leveraging Spark’s expertise in gene therapy with Roche’s global network.

Q3. Please tell us about anticipated job growth at Spark over the coming years and the types of jobs you will be seeking to fill.

Since our start in 2013, Spark has grown from a team of three to a team of nearly 800, achieving breakthroughs that have heralded a new era in medicine.

Currently, our talent acquisition strategy is focused on jobs in our R&D and Technical Development & Operations organizations. We are seeking individuals with experience in discovery research, immunology, data sciences, bioanalytics, clinical, regulatory, biometrics, QA, QC, analytical sciences, engineering, supply chain, and manufacturing.

As the largest cell & gene therapy organization in our region, we believe that we have a responsibility and to lead the way in terms of how we grow and prepare the local talent for jobs we will need in the future.  Our focus is not only on advancing our portfolio for people living with genetic disease, but also on how we partner with team members to help them reach both their professional and personal development goals.

Q4. What are some of the attributes of Greater Philadelphia and its cell and gene therapy hub that make the region attractive to Spark employees and potential employees?

Philadelphia is home to world-class medical centers, universities, and life sciences companies — a combination that is priming Philadelphia for biotech success. This ecosystem has created fertile ground for top talent, investment, and growth opportunities.

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia recently reported as of 2020, greater Philadelphia was home to 41  C&GT companies, pioneering researchers, and a workforce that could grow up to over 11,000 in 10 years. It’s simply an exciting time to be in Philly and a part of a company that is committed to turning genes into medicines for patients with inherited diseases.

Institutions like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and UPenn are making investments of both money and talent in local companies to commercialize research, while biotech companies also are supporting research facilities in  greater Philadelphia area. This area offers companies like Spark access to a talent pool with diverse backgrounds and thinking which positions us to achieve the vision many biotech innovators have today – to benefit patients, the healthcare system, and society as a whole.

Philadelphia also has such a rich history, cultural diversity, and walkable, vibrant neighborhoods. Spark’s headquarters are in West Philadelphia which is the perfect location for us. We can take a meeting within the four walls of a Spark building or go for a walk through UPenn’s campus along the river. We are also walking distance from the 30th  Street transportation hub which is convenient for commuters. Additionally, our Bulletin building labs are cutting-edge, innovative, and incubators for advancing the science of gene therapy.

The city has a lower cost of living compared to cities like Boston, New York, and Washington, DC which makes it an attractive place to call home for those considering relocation. Philadelphia’s award-winning restaurants, thriving performing arts scene, magnificent museums, and beautiful parks make this city a great place to live and work.