Banner Image: Giving (and Getting) Back: A Story of Basketball and Drug Development

Giving (and Getting) Back: A Story of Basketball and Drug Development

Life at Ironwood

If you ask Ironwoodians, they probably won’t tell you they’re the best basketball players in the world (or even on Binney Street), but they will tell you that they are some of the most enthusiastic Bio-Ball players around. 

Bio-Ball, a one-day basketball tournament that partners the Massachusetts biotech community with Special Olympics teammates to raise money for Special Olympics Massachusetts, has become a favorite annual tradition at Ironwood, thanks to Senior Principal Investigator Pei Ge, who introduced it to the company eight years ago. Pei led the effort to engage with Bio-Ball because it felt like a natural fit with the company’s culture of service. “I did come across some nervousness initially, with people saying, ‘I don’t know about this, Pei, I’m not a basketball player,’” Ge says with a laugh. “That very quickly changed when they saw that Bio-Ball is so much more. It is a chance to spend a day with some amazing and inspiring people who are challenging the odds. We do our part to support them, but over the years we’ve gained so much more than we’ve given.” 

​Ironwood Bio-Ball teammates hold a basketball signed by Ironwoodian and Special Olympics team members and the trophy awarded to the winner of Ironwood's annual Bio-Ball chili cook-off winner.
​Ironwood Bio-Ball teammates hold a basketball signed by Ironwoodian and Special Olympics team members and the trophy awarded to the winner of Ironwood's annual Bio-Ball chili cook-off winner.

For Gene Hull, Chief Compliance Officer, his biggest Bio-Ball “win” isn’t about hitting a jump shot or winning a game; rather it’s all about the relationships built during the event. Hull recalls the 2016 Bio-Ball when he met an Olympian by the name of Louie during joint team warm-ups. The two hit it off and were “joined at the hip” throughout the day. When the last game ended and everyone was saying good-bye, Hull went over to Louie and gave him his Celtics hat. Hull remembers, “Louie jumped into my arms and hugged me as tight as he could for 30 seconds. He wouldn’t let go. You would have thought I’d given him a million dollars. And that’s when it hit home to me that we get so much more from the Olympians than we give. Just being around them and experiencing their pure joy and spirit of camaraderie; the high fives, the hugs, the smiles – regardless of whether we make or miss a shot, win or lose a game - these live on long after the games are over.” 

Ironwood Bio-Ball team members

That same spirit is integral to Ironwood’s culture. “There are a lot of parallels with what we do every day, whether that’s leaning on our team’s diversity of experience, learning from the ups and downs that are part of any business, or thriving in an environment of collaboration,” says Tamarah Annand, Senior Environmental Health & Safety Specialist and the company’s first Bio-Ball coach. “At Bio-Ball and at work, we value and place emphasis on the journey as much as the goal. That’s one of the reasons our relationship with this cause is so special.” 

That isn’t to say Ironwoodians don’t enjoy a little good-natured competition – especially for a cause. Fundraisers to support Bio-Ball can be fiercely competitive, and none more than the annual chili cook-off, which sees Ironwoodians go head-to-head for the titles of “best tasting,” “hottest” and “most innovative” chili. 

“It gets pretty intense as far as cook-offs go,” smiles Ted O’Leary, Tax Manager and mastermind behind the cook-off. O’Leary introduced the cook-off in 2016 to raise funds for Special Olympics Massachusetts – and compete with other biopharma companies on the Bio-Ball fundraising leader board. “Not only does it showcase some pretty exemplary cooking skills, but there’s the satisfaction of knowing that no matter who wins the title – we all win. Whether at the cook-off or on the court, everyone’s contribution is important toward supporting this cause.”

“Winning isn’t about individual success or having the loudest voice in the room,” agrees Ge. “It’s about teamwork, and building a culture that values every voice. That’s true at Bio-Ball, and it’s true at Ironwood.” 

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