Biotechnology Moving Ahead with Boost from Memphis Fast Forward Initiative

When local and private officials commissioned a study to help drive Memphis’ economic development, the initial news was enlightening. Conducted by Atlanta-based Market Street Services and commissioned by Memphis Tomorrow, Memphis Regional Chamber, Memphis Mayor W.W. Herenton and Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton, the study found that Memphis and Shelby County have the “most under-funded economic development plan in the nation.”


In order to improve the city’s economic development efforts, a team made up of the expertise of Market Street Services and several community and business leaders has drafted a 5-year plan for the region. This plan will enable the region to go forward with a world-class economic development plan.

Dubbed Memphis Fast Forward, the new $63 million plan will draw from public and private contributions to focus on growth in four key industries – logistics, bioscience, music/film, and tourism. Ultimately, the city and county hope to gain 49,395 new jobs and additional annual tax revenues in the amount of $53.3 million for the city as well as $32.1 million in the county.

I believe that, with the full participation and support of our government, community and business leaders, Memphis Fast Forward will put Memphis back on the road to economic development success.

Each piece of the plan is being assigned to an appropriate entity that will be responsible for carrying out specific economic development activities. As the driver of bioscience initiatives in the city and county, Memphis Bioworks Foundation will be accountable for several areas, particularly those involving the biosciences: biomedical, biologistics, and agricultural biotechnology.

One of our responsibilities will be to create a national entrepreneurship “center of excellence” that will drive the creation of new high-value business ventures and jobs. This center of excellence will be in a position to help license intellectual property from local and national universities and corporate research departments, create business plans, secure management teams for new companies, and provide seed capital. In partnership with EmergeMemphis and the Fedex Institute, new companies can get incubation support, office and laboratory space needed during the early stages of the new ventures. The entrepreneurship center is a key foundation upon which new bio-businesses in Memphis will be created.

Another item noted in the Fast Forward plan is to expand technology transfer operations at the University of Memphis. Research universities are a community’s economic engine and the technology transfer function is the mechanism to enable this process.

MBF currently works with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, the organization within the UT system responsible for technology transfer, to help identify and commercialize viable technologies. With an expanded technology transfer program within the University of Memphis, we hope to put a similar arrangement in place that would prove beneficial to the university while bringing new jobs and investments to the city.

We also will work with the Memphis Regional Chamber, the Memphis Minority Business Council and other organizations to support their efforts to retain and expand existing Memphis bio-businesses. Our collective goal will include the recruitment of existing venture capital (VC) firms and the creation of new local VC firms to increase the growth of local companies and expand our support of small businesses.

And finally, as part of this new economic development plan, we will continue with our execution of the existing “Battelle” Bioscience Plan. As part of this strategy, we will develop and execute strategies for creating growth in bio-agriculture and biologistics.

Other priorities will include advancing the UT-Baptist Research Park as the multi-use location of Memphis’ bioscience cluster; developing a clean, safe and green Memphis Medical Center; and marketing Memphis internally and nationally as a renowned biomedical center in conjunction with dedicated staff from the Memphis Regional Chamber.

Since Memphis Bioworks Foundation was formed in 2001, we have made great strides in developing a strong bioscience industry. As part of Memphis Fast Forward, I anticipate even greater progress as the city’s leaders come together for the betterment of all citizens.

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