Benchmarking Memphis Ag and Energy Initiatives in France

December 6, 2012

Recently, a group of scientists, academics, government officials and agriculture experts gathered at the Pommery Vineyard in the heart of the French Champagne region.  But the subject wasn’t the making of the world’s most famous sparkling wines. Instead, the gathering was designed to discuss, critique and highlight the benefits of a potential bio-refinery and to examine best practices in establishing such an operation in the middle of a valuable agricultural region.


Of course a meeting of this type would normally go unnoticed and be of little interest to those of us in the Mid-South, except for one thing.  Of the 18 speakers and panelists, one name stood out from the rest as obviously not French.  That was Bill Stubblefield, director of the AgBioworks Regional Initiative from the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.  As the lone expert from outside of France, Bill had been invited to outline and overview what is taking place in the heart of the Mid-South in terms of alternative crops, bio-cellulosic use, partnerships, commercialization, farmer networks, establishing and operating a bio-refinery, and the development of biobased products from plant materials to replace fossil fuels.  In other words, of all the programs and initiatives around the globe dedicated to AgBio, our work here at Memphis Bioworks and with our partners in the region was selected as the definitive best practice to benchmark by those leading the efforts in France.


So often, Memphians take for granted what is happening in our own backyard.  This is an excellent example of our initiatives beginning to capture international attention.  For the group in France, which first was introduced to Memphis’ bioscience leadership through Memphis In May activities, the similarities to what is happening here and what could happen there were clear.  The Champagne region of France is historically highly agrarian, just like the Mid-South.  In their case the crops are grapes along with barley, peas, sugar beets, white cabbage and onions, while our traditional crops have been cotton, food crops and forestry.  But, the issues they are facing are the same – dealing with crop waste, proper land utilization, supply chains and most recently the establishment new crops and processes to feed a burgeoning biofuels and biobased products industry.


Bill shared it all with the audience and participants in France, giving them a road map for potential opportunities and pitfalls – political and practical, scientific lessons learned to date in new crops, funding, and strategies for bringing together farmers and potential industrial assets.


Make no mistake, what is happening in Memphis and with our AgBio partners in West Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi, is far from a finished product.  But, our work-in-progress is further along than in most parts of the world, and our vision is second to none in terms of long-term potential impact.  Those in Champagne-Ardenne and its neighboring Lorraine, Franche-Comte, Bourgogne and Ile-de-France can learn a lot from us.


So, next time you pass by Agricenter International and see a new crop growing, or watch a farmer in the fields, or when you hear someone mention the sweet sorghum processing facility at the Agricenter, consider that what is happening isn’t just about us in Memphis, it is about potential for around the world.  That’s what the leaders at Pommery Vineyard did.  I’m certain they tasted a little champagne as well.

Entrepreneurial Success Accelerates the Creative Class in Memphis

October 1, 2012

As you read this blog entry, deep in the heart of the Memphis Bioworks offices, five “companies to be” are deep in preparations to take the next step toward commercialization and ultimately, they hope, business success. 

The five companies have very different products – a device that uses bionanotechnology for rapid diagnosis of bacterial infection, an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional foam patient positioners used in surgeries, a surgical device to more effectively treat corneal abrasions through the use of nanotechnology, a minimally invasive treatment to address feminine stress urinary incontinence, and a modular surgical tray and method for the reprocessing of sterile surgical instruments. 

While they have different products in the development stage, they share a recent background and experience, and a spirit of creativity and discovery.  All five of the companies participated in the nation’s first-ever medical device accelerator called ZeroTo510, a program launched and operated by Memphis Bioworks Foundation as an initiative of the Greater Memphis Accelerator Consortium, a Startup Tennessee affiliate program funded by the State of Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commission.

When this cohort accelerator program began in May of this year, the goal was that up to three of six participating entrepreneurial teams, selected through an international application process, would begin the program with a medical device business concept and emerge from the 12-week program ready for additional funding.  National models had indicated that even one success should be considered a victory for ZeroTo510.  But, an interesting thing happened during the 12 weeks.  Because the participants shared similar goals – achieving the Food and Drug Administration’s 510(k) pre-market notification filing as critical to their go-to-market strategy – and because they found themselves in a community deep with medical device experience and mentors, a unique learning and developing environment grew.  Experts taught valuable lessons, best practices passed seamlessly across desks, and the entrepreneurs learned from each other within a highly creative environment, pushed each other and celebrated in each other’s milestones.

If you look at measures of success for cohort accelerator programs in the biosciences across the country, you will see just how extraordinary an advancement rate of five out of six is.  Four of these five have been awarded continuing funding of $100,000 through ZeroTo510.  It is a very impressive next step.  As Jan Bouten, a partner at pre-seed, seed and early-stage investor Innova (advisor and contributor to ZeroTo510) explained, “For each of these companies, this next phase in their development is a major accomplishment, but the vast stretch of the road to success still lies ahead.  We expect each of the four companies receiving the additional $100,000 investment to use that money to further prove a concept or reach a level where they are ready to really begin building a business.  That is the ultimate measure of success – a viable business with employees and a strong future, growing in Memphis and making a lasting impact.”

The kind of success Jan describes will only serve to strengthen Memphis’ position as a center of excellence in the medical device sector.

Most impressive, and something an accelerator program in any business category across the country would envy, is that one company from ZeroTo510, Restore Medical Solutions, advanced  immediately to a full round (Series A) of venture capital funding.  These entrepreneurs who moved from Atlanta to Memphis to participate in the program, and their modular surgical tray and method for the reprocessing of sterile surgical instruments, were seen as ready to advance by not only the ZeroTo510 team, but by an impressive roster of experienced investors as well.

Memphis has a long heritage in medical device corporate success and entrepreneurial drive and creativity. 

The success of ZeroTo510 will only make that heritage stronger.  National visibility for Memphis and Tennessee as a community that can and does invest in, develop and grow new bioscience business will pay dividends long into the future.  Dividends in terms of jobs, economic vitality and an entrepreneurial spirit that says to young scientists – a strategic segment of the creative class Memphis seeks to attract – “This is the place to be.  This is where I can be a success.”


Building the Entrepreneurial Landscape

August 24, 2012

Bioworks recently hosted Brad Smith, the interim director of Launch Tennessee. Brad was here for a quarterly review of the Greater Memphis Accelerator Consortium’s activities and an overview of the progress made in building the entrepreneurial landscape in Memphis. We had the opportunity to discuss more ways in which Memphis can partner and engage in the newly established Launch Tennessee initiative. And, since Brad was joined by Michael Burcham, president and CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, we also discussed best practices from around the state that can be potentially implemented in Memphis.

We heard how, throughout the state of Tennessee, leaders from business, government, economic development and education are joining together in their communities to focus on encouraging and enabling innovation. It has become abundantly clear that economic growth and overall community success are going to be dependent on successful innovation, particularly technology and bioscience innovation.

The Launch Tennessee initiative’s strategic plan outlines a five-year focus to make Tennessee a national innovation leader. Smith shared the state’s goal to become number one in the Southeast for high-quality job growth through a coordinated focus on entrepreneurship, commercialization, capital and outreach.

All of this builds from Governor Bill Haslam’s INCITE program that was unveiled at the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC) Annual Conference this spring. INCITE is an acronym for Innovation, Commercialization, Investment, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

As I read all of this, listen to presentations, and as Memphis Bioworks interacts and engages at various levels, I can’t help but be proud of Memphis. The words, phrases and concepts being outlined should be quite familiar to Memphians. These are the areas of emphasis and foundations of programs that many in our community have been embracing for years.

This kind of leadership and program success can be found throughout the Memphis community. The Greater Memphis Accelerator Consortium, for example, consists of a collaboration of regional organizations jump-starting entrepreneurship in the Greater Memphis area through the operation of accelerators and a mentor network. Specifically, medical device acceleration through the ZeroTo510 program being led by Memphis Bioworks is nearing the first phase of its successful launch, with six strong companies on their way to FDA 510(k) filings. At the same time, the 90-day boot camp of the Seed Hatchery innovation accelerator is helping entrepreneurs validate their ideas, refine their business models and get ready to launch their businesses.

Or, looking back to 2009, Innova, a pre-seed, seed and early stage investor launched by Bioworks and focused on starting and funding high-growth companies in the biosciences, technology and agbio fields across the state of Tennessee, was awarded TNInvestco status and $20 million in tax credits by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. These successful initiatives show that Memphis has been a community actively involved in just the kinds of programs and partnerships on which Launch Tennessee is focused.

Tennessee’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship is clear through its Launch Tennessee initiative. Memphis is being looked to, from throughout the state, as a positive example of a community that “gets it” and is doing something about it. And, while we have our strengths, we can also learn from others in Tennessee and nationally. Bioworks is excited to work with Launch Tennessee as a strategic partner to help us all realize our mutual goals and entrepreneurial business potential.


Commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative America

July 3, 2012

In early June, I had the privilege of attending the Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America) 2012 meeting in Chicago.  I was there to represent the Memphis Bioworks AgBioworks Regional Initiative as one of the programs being recognized for its innovation and goals in terms of job creation and a combination of economic and environmental sustainability.

 CGI America meets once a year to recognize innovative programs that are designed to address economic recovery initiatives.  An impressive group of nearly 1,000 people from government, business and civic minded organizations learned what was happening on projects across the country and to gather ideas to take home to their own communities.  Memphis Bioworks Foundation was there at the invitation of the Delta Regional Authority (DRA).  The Authority was officially showcasing its support and partnership with us for the roll out of the AgBioworks Regional Initiative, a model rural and urban entrepreneurial job creation incubator in the Memphis and surrounding Mississippi Delta region. In its endorsement at the two day event, DRA sited the Initiatives’ potential role in the emerging bioeconomy by adaptively reusing existing manufacturing assets and reconnecting these assets with agricultural production capacity in the rural communities. The job creation program takes advantage of the untapped biomass and industrial assets in the region, to make the Delta region the “green chemistry and advanced biofuels” hub of North America.

 This was excellent timing for the Initiative to receive this kind of national attention, as several new elements are now in place.  With four funded staff positions, including a Director located in Memphis, and Project Coordinators in Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, the Initiative has expanded services to 48 counties across Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee through regional collaboration with local universities, chambers of commerce, and private agri-business ventures. This multi-state, rural and urban connectivity to land and programs increases the competitiveness of Memphis as a hub.  There currently are has two primary focus areas – processing trials and crop trials.

 At a rural sweet sorghum biorefinery located at Agricenter International in Memphis, processing trials are being conducted in partnership with Memphis-based BioDimensions Delta BioRenewables and German Farms of Whiteville, TN.  In addition, the AgBioworks Regional Initiative has secured commitments from private venture partner BioDimensions and other private and university partners to plant more than 600 acres of renewable industrial oilseeds and sugar crops for the coming crop year 2012-2013.  You have probably heard me discuss BioDimensions before as they were instrumental in launching our AgBioworks program at Memphis Bioworks and were one of the start-up companies operating in our Bioworks Incubator.  They have now “graduated” thanks to recent equity investment and have moved to our shared crop development center at Agricenter International.

 Production of renewable biomass feedstocks for green chemicals and biofuels will be an important economic driver for the DRA’s geographic footprint across the Delta. Energy independence is a critical national priority, and our initiative seeks to strategically position our regional agricultural, manufacturing and logistical assets in a leadership role for the inevitable growth of the bioeconomy.

 I think it is important for people throughout the Memphis and Delta Region to know that work being done and commitments being made here are among the best in the nation. The program book for the CGI America conference stated that in just one year the CGI America participants have made more than 100 Commitments to Action valued at some $11.8 billion with the job creation potential of more than 150,000 jobs.  Of the 100 plus commitments, only five were highlighted in the program.  One of those five was the AgBioworks Regional Initiative.  At Memphis Bioworks, we appreciate the DRA’s continued support of this vision for a new regional bioeconomy.

 To learn more about the Delta Regional Authority’s commitment and its support of the Memphis Bioworks initiative, click here.


Scientific Collaboration is Infectious

May 19, 2012

Memphis is currently in the midst of one of its most important tourism months of the year. For most people, May in Memphis means music, barbecue, cultural events and a sunset symphony. What is often overlooked is that the Memphis in May International Festival is also about business exchange. It is in this category that Memphis Bioworks Foundation is proud to again play a leadership role.

This year, our Business Association sponsored, in conjunction with Memphis In May, the Greater Memphis Chamber and DDN, a very special breakfast reception and lecture by one of the most recognized and respected scientists from the Philippines. Dr. Jaime Montoya, MD, MSc, is Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development and Professor in Infectious Disease at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine.

As a recognized public health expert and a leader in public, private collaboration in the biosciences certified by the Royal College of Physicians, London, U.K. and the Philippine Board of Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease, Dr. Montoya is a perfect match for our Memphis community in its international outreach and scientific exchange. While his breakfast address focused on his experience in growing bioscience businesses and collaboration, his international expertise in infectious disease proved to be of particular interest to our local community. Infectious disease is one of the medical arenas in which Memphis is making a meaningful and lasting scientific mark. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is recognized for its work in infectious disease research on many levels. Its department of infectious diseases studies devastating infectious diseases of childhood through a comprehensive approach including basic scientific research, translational trials and bedside care. From novel vaccine approaches for parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza viruses and pneumococcus, to immune response studies, to work in HIV/AIDS and its impact on children, research at the hospital is having a global impact.

Just down the street on the UT-Baptist Research Park campus being developed by Memphis Bioworks is the Regional Biocontainment Lab. Operated by the University of Tennessee’s Health Science Center (UTHSC), the lab is a critical part of the national efforts to prepare for and mitigate the risk of biocontaminants including infectious diseases. And, growing out of research at the university level are startup organizations like Dr. Jim Dale’s early stage vaccine development company Vaxent, which is progressing toward commercialization of its

Group A streptococcus vaccine. Strep-A, as it is known, is the primary cause of pharyngitis or “strep throat” in children, as well as other diseases such as rheumatic fever that have devastating impacts around the world.

During his time in Memphis, Dr. Montoya was able to address the breakfast gathering and several other functions. He also met with Dr. Dale and two leaders in infectious disease research from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Elaine Tuomanen, MD, Chair, Department of Infectious Diseases, and Miguela Caniza, MD, Infectious Diseases Program Director – International Outreach who oversees an initiative for St. Jude in the Philippines. I have no doubt that Dr. Montoya and his fellow doctors from Memphis had much in common and will develop scientific bonds that last well beyond the festivals of May. 

In reading through the website for The Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, phrases like “provide leadership in health research,” “advocate and support a health research culture,” and “mobilize and complement health research resources to generate knowledge, technologies and innovations” all stand out to me. Those are goals Memphis Bioworks and our local partner organizations share. Each year, our international exchange during the month of May reinforces to me that we are not alone in what we are doing here in Memphis. There are similar efforts and similar goals being expressed in communities of all kinds and cultures around the world. The more we join together to enhance our communities’ efforts and strengths, the more impact we can have on the world we share. 

Last year, we built scientific bonds with organizations in Belgium. This year it is the Philippines. That is what Memphis in May is all about – taking Memphis to the world and bringing the world to Memphis – scientifically speaking that is.

Making an Impression in Washington – Strong Cities

April 27, 2012

I recently was privileged to be one of the Memphis attendees at a meeting for the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (SC2) at the White House. The meeting featured representatives from all six of the cities engaged in the initiative, with a panel of mayors from those communities. The meeting was positioned as an opportunity to report and share ideas on the progress being made in critical categories. 

For Memphis, SC2 is working with the City on programs and initiatives to create safe and vibrant neighborhoods, grow prosperity and opportunity for all, invest in young people, advance a culture of excellence in government, and strengthen federal partnerships – a holistic approach for the planning and development of human resources and physical infrastructure.

From my perspective, this was a great opportunity to hear how our progress compared with others and to, like others, get and share ideas. The panel was moderated by United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, co-chair of SC2. The discussion was thought-provoking, and we were just about to enter a question-and-answer phase when we were all surprised by a guest appearance.

It was a profound moment for me and our delegation when President Barack Obama joined the meeting. Though not formally listed on the agenda, the President arrived to make a very special announcement. 

The President took the podium to deliver an Executive Order establishing a special Council for Strong Cities and Strong Communities, a formal step that strengthens the administration’s commitment to the effort. But, what was most impressive to me about the President’s brief address was how much the President knew about our activities in Memphis and the respect he demonstrated for Mayor Wharton. From his comments, it was clear to me that he has confidence that Memphis can and will be an example for other cities through the SC2 initiative.

In the SC2 Overview, the purpose of the federal team is described as fourfold:

1) Improve the way the federal government does business: the team is helping the City and its stakeholders to cut through red tape, understand regulations and program requirements, and navigate the maze of the federal bureaucracy.

2) Provide assistance and support: the team is working on priority projects identified by the Mayor, lending expertise, manpower, and a new perspective to issues the City faces.

3) Partner for growth: the team is helping to connect the City to best practices from across the country, bringing Memphis into the national conversation about urban policy. The team is also working to support relationship-building between the City and local stakeholders. 

4) Shine a spotlight on what works: the team is helping to celebrate the good things already underway in Memphis and is sharing with policymakers at the highest levels of government the innovations happening here. 

The SC2 team has a detailed workplan and meets weekly to report on progress and engage with more than 100 stakeholders. In short, the federal government has stepped forward to act as a connector, an enabler and a third-party observer for strategic thinking.

Our President has made Memphis a priority, and our city leaders have taken that responsibility and challenge to heart. When you are sitting in a room and the President of the United States walks in, and it is obvious he knows your city leaders and your city’s challenges and opportunities, you can’t help but feel good about where we are now and our potential for the future.


Calling Medical Device Entrepreneurs from Around the World

March 11, 2012

One of the most important aspects of bioscience business development success for a community, and one of the often-repeated mantras of Memphis Bioworks, is the concept of building from your positions of strength.

In Memphis, two undisputed and historical positions of strength have been the leadership we demonstrate in the field of medical devices and musculoskeletal issues, and our long-standing leadership in entrepreneurism and innovation.

As a part of the Greater Memphis Accelerator Consortium, Memphis Bioworks and Innova have launched a new program uniquely focused on speed-to-market for medical device entrepreneurs. It is called ZeroTo510.

Beginning in mid-February and extending through April 5, the word is being spread around the world that Memphis is looking for the very best entrepreneurs with the very best medical device ideas and innovations to come to Memphis and capitalize on a unique opportunity to take their ideas to market.

Here is how it works: Through a competitive application process, six companies will be selected to matriculate through an intensive, mentor-driven, 12-week program of instruction and hands-on activities designed to guide the entrepreneur through the Food and Drug Administration’s 510(k) pre-market notification filing process. This is no easy task. In fact, we know of no other accelerator with such a mission. In addition, each company chosen for the program will receive $50,000 in seed capital from co-investors Innova and MB Venture Partners to help jump-start their finances.  The goal of ZeroTo510 is to help medical device entrepreneurs navigate the start-up process, refine business models and achieve the FDA 510(K) filing.

Typically, it can take years for ideas to pass through regulatory hurdles, especially when entrepreneurs don’t have the experience, unique skills, knowledge or the right mentoring environment. This accelerator program will provide those resources.

While competition for participation in the program is open internationally, companies selected must be Memphis-based or willing to relocate to Memphis for the duration of the program. We are confident those who relocate here will soon learn that Memphis is the right environment to launch and grow a medical device company, and we expect them to quickly develop connections here. In other words, applicants from outside of Memphis will soon know what Memphis-based entrepreneurs already understand – the resources and talent available to them here is unique and unprecedented in the medical device industry.

At the end of the 12-week program, the participants will pitch to a group of investors. The investors will select up to three finalists, who will receive as much as $100,000 in additional capital infusion and the opportunity to further develop their business and then present at the 10th Musculoskeletal New Ventures Conference in Memphis this October.

The board of directors for ZeroTo510 was selected to give each participant immediate high-level expert exposure. They are: Ken Woody, president and partner of Innova; Gary Stevenson, co-founder of MB Venture Partners; Dr. Steve Charles, vitreoretinal surgeon and inventor; Brian Austin, founder and chief executive officer of ExtraOrtho; Dr. Kevin Foley, neurosurgeon and inventor; and Jack Blair, former president of Smith&Nephew.

By the end of the 12-week program, participants will have learned from and interacted with a wide selection of thought leaders and industry experts. They will have covered topics such as company formation, market sizing, product definition, business models, competitive analysis, manufacturing operations, pricing strategies, sales strategies, people management, raising capital, intellectual property, FDA approvals, international markets and reimbursement. Beyond these topics, extensive mentoring and one-to-one education and coaching will help take participants to the level necessary to succeed in the medical device industry.

We are proud that officials with the State of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development have told us that ZeroTo510 is exactly the type of program they had in mind with the creation of StartupTN, and that, in their view; Memphis continues to demonstrate best practices in entrepreneurism.

We take that praise very seriously as both a compliment and a challenge to continue to do things to make our city, our state and our industry proud.

None of us know what ZeroTo510 will ultimately bring us as far as talent and scientific advancement. What we do know is that this kind of program reinforces Memphis’ place on the bioscience map, and that we intend to be a leader in both business development and innovation.

Applications for the program are due by April 5. The program will begin on May 12. Information on applying and the ZeroTo510 program is available at

Setting the Foundation for Bioscience Business Development

February 26, 2012

I have to say, it is great to see cranes, cement trucks and construction on the UT-Baptist Research Park. The great recession that brought about the national quagmire in the banking and commercial real-estate sectors, made it very difficult for the construction industry in Memphis. Perhaps a symbol of a return to normalcy, a lot of media attention has been paid to the Memphis Specialized Laboratory now under construction on the site. While the coverage has been good, nothing has really taken a complete look at what this facility can mean long-term to the Memphis bioscience landscape.

First a few facts about what is being built. Construction of the $22 million, 26,000-square-foot Memphis Specialized Laboratory facility is made possible through a combination of public and private funding, including a State of Tennessee grant, Federal New Market Tax Credits, local bank financing, philanthropy, and land on the research park. Completion of the facility is targeted for spring 2013. Actual construction of the building is expected to be completed at the end of 2012. It will open for business after completing the FDA certification and conditioning. When completed, the facility will feature 18 labs specially-designed for the testing and commercialization work that companies need to do to get products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It will be the only commercial Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) specialty lab facility in Memphis and the region.

To some, this may sound like just another science lab. For the industry, this facility is about making it faster and easier for products in the lab to make it through to the marketplace and the bedside. That makes Memphis a destination for research, for product development, for companies, and for talent. This facility can be a critical component to attract and retain nationally recognized researchers and companies interested in moving products efficiently from the lab, through regulatory agencies, to the market. It is also an operating business, with near 30 employees at maturity.

This lab will become a foundational resource for the local bioscience business and entrepreneurial communities. Much of the local product development and research that will take place in the lab will expedite and localize the path to FDA approval for local companies with new products in development, primarily for orthopedics, vaccine research and development, and pharmacology research. Most companies do not have the resources or the internal demand to justify their own laboratory of this caliber and specialization, so they send their work elsewhere. Our initial focus is to develop the capabilities within the laboratory to retain a portion of the estimated $3-$5 million in annual research spending that goes outside the region in order to complete FDA-required laboratory studies by Memphis area companies.

Beyond existing businesses, we have commercializable research that spins out from both the excellent clinical care community, and the Universities. They too need a facility where their potential new products can be tested, proven, and the commercialization process can be supported. This facility contributes to a total entrepreneurial ecosystem consisting of existing industry and lab scientists, early-stage capital, mentoring and accelerators, the Regional Biocontainment Lab and the UT Pharmacy School next door, and the resources of the Memphis Bioworks Incubator – effectively creating a complete suite of biomedical new business offerings. A more convenient and more complete path to FDA approval for local initiatives will save time and save lives.

The Memphis Specialized Laboratory will also be a model of “green construction” and a showcase for energy sustainability. The facility will incorporate several energy saving and environmentally sensitive features and is designed to be LEED-certified with natural ventilation, open space, and quality environments inside and out. It will minimize site impact through storm water design, heat island mitigation and light pollution reduction. The signature feature of the Research Park will be the Specialized Laboratory’s green roof – a roof that is actually covered with grass, landscaping and walkways, and built at a grade in which it serves as a large, open, multipurpose space that will be a central focal point for all the additional campus buildings. The green roof will be a visible and prominent feature of the architecture, and environmental performance will be a key driver of the architectural form. The entire Research Park is being designed as a progressive showcase for Memphis, and this facility is a big part of that goal.

With every new facility, every new idea emerging from our research labs, every new connection between our bioscience institutions, every new job created, and every new investment, the Memphis bioscience development and entrepreneurial opportunities grow. Perhaps more than any other facility in the community, the Memphis Specialized lab will have an impact at every level.


Celebrating 10 Years of Bioworks

December 25, 2011

Ten years ago, as I looked forward to the new year, I was just beginning what has been the most rewarding, challenging and engaging phase of my career. Just a few months before, I was an executive with International Paper and Pitt Hyde asked a very direct question. He simply asked if I wanted to work with paper for the rest of my career, or if I wanted to make a meaningful impact on our community. With all due respect to International Paper and the important role they play in global business, I was intrigued by what Pitt had to say.

Soon, I found myself sharing an office with executives at Baptist in the shadow of a soon-to-be unoccupied hospital. My job, as it was presented to me, was to develop an organization that would establish the Memphis region as an international center for the development and commercialization of biotechnologies. The good news was that I had the support of many public and private organizations and leaders across our community. The bad news was Memphis Bioworks was going to be the focus of great expectations by these same leaders.

Memphis Bioworks is now 10 years old. We have repurposed the physicians’ office building donated by Baptist into an active business office and bioscience incubator. The unoccupied hospital is gone and in its place is a new Pharmacy building for UT Health Science Center, one of only 13 Regional Biocontainment Labs in the country, an under construction specialized laboratory designed for the testing and potential commercialization work that companies need to do to get products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a revitalized and cohesively branded Medical Center community.

But bricks and mortar, shovels and signage tell only the surface of the story. My associates and I have been privileged to lead, partner and collaborate with so many excellent public and private organizations and talented individuals. This milestone offers an appropriate opportunity to step back and see how much change has taken place in our community over the last decade.

As I think about what has changed, I am immediately drawn to the three legs of the bioscience stool that we first established in our goals. They are Infrastructure, Entrepreneurship and Education (now referred to as workforce development). It is in these three areas, along with the overarching category of Leadership, that our success and progress can best be measured. On our website, we list some 28 specific accomplishments over the 10 years. You can view that list here:

But, for the purpose of this column, I want to highlight just a few thoughts.

I believe the environment for translational research, commercialization and bringing a bioscience idea to market has never been better in our community. This in not just due to our work, but to the collaboration of so many people in incubation, university research, seed and venture capital, and facilities and education. Together we are able to support unprecedented levels of idea generation, investment and business development.

I believe the opportunities for people to take advantage of training and education for the new bioscience economy are stronger now than ever before in our community. From our science and engineering focused charter school, to university programs, to technical skills training across the region, we are helping people prepare for meaningful long-term employment.

I believe we have built the infrastructure and collaborative environment that will allow us to play a global leadership role in the emerging “sustainable economy” – industrial biotechnology and the green bioeconomy built on bioagriculture.

I believe the collaboration and communication across all levels of bioscience in our community has never been stronger.

I believe we are only beginning to feel the impact of our growing biologistics expertise in a world that is moving more and more towards personalized medicine.

Ten years is not a long time when it comes to building a community’s strengths and reputation. I am privileged to have been able to play a part in setting the foundation and framework that we will all continue to build on at Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

As we look toward 2012 and the next decade of our community’s bioscience future, I am glad I selected “impact’ over “paper” ten years ago.

Celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week

November 22, 2011

By Dr. Steve Bares and Dr. Steve Schwab

This is Global Entrepreneurship Week. In celebration of the rising level of entrepreneurship in our community, Dr. Steve Schwab, chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, and I submitted a guest editorial to the Commercial Appeal. As my BioBiz blog this month, I thought it was appropriate to share the editorial as it ran in the Commercial Appeal on November 17:

“Countries across six continents come together to celebrate an initiative to inspire young people to embrace innovation, imagination and creativity. To think big. To turn their ideas into reality. To make their mark.”

That’s the way participants describe the purpose of Global Entrepreneurship Week, a worldwide observance that began Monday.

As we read words and phrases like “innovation,” “imagination,” “think big,” “turn ideas into reality” and “make their mark,” it is hard to imagine a community that serves as a better example of that spirit than Memphis. If you have read the newspaper over the last few weeks, you have seen story after story suggesting that Memphis is on the precipice of making some very important impacts on the worlds of bioscience and health. There has been coverage of companies coming to market, of research progressing out of the lab, of dollars flowing into our community and of jobs being created.

It was nearly 30 years ago that research on the rubella virus at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis led to the development of a novel test to detect rubella virus-specific antibodies. From that research Viral Antigens Inc., was founded. Fast forward another decade and look at GTx, a local biopharmaceutical company also born of research within the walls of UTHSC. Today, Viral Antigens, as part of Meridian Life Sciences, is a trusted supplier of complex biological materials to the medical diagnostics industry, and GTx is growing ever nearer to bringing several products to market for cancer treatment, cancer supportive care and other serious medical conditions.

These are remarkable stories of success. And what makes them unique is that they, for the most part, came to life before Memphis had built its current infrastructure of collaborative research, investment and incubation. To say that today’s researchers and entrepreneurs have it made, compared with the experiences of Dr. Preston Dorsett (of Viral Antigens/Meridian Life Sciences) and Dr. Mitch Steiner (of GTx), is a little simplistic. But the fact is, we have come a very long way since the days — 30, 20 or even just 10 years ago — when the resources we have today were not in place.

Since Memphis Bioworks Foundation was formed 10 years ago, the focus on creating infrastructure, collaboration, technology transfer, investment and incubation has resulted in a proliferation of scientists and researchers able to incubate their discoveries and take them to market.

Looking just at the Memphis Bioworks partnership with UTHSC tells a strong story about the state of entrepreneurship in our community. Today, there are more than a dozen companies in or recently “graduated” from the Bioworks Incubator that originated in the labs at UTHSC. They have generated millions of dollars in public and private investment and have the potential for the creation of hundreds of new jobs in the near future. The variety is amazing.

Computable Genomix has pioneered a unique approach to mining MEDLINE abstracts, enabling quick and efficient identification of existing and novel gene relationships related to biological clinical research questions.

Med Communications Inc., has emerged as a leading medical communications service provider, helping translate the science of drugs into information about their treatments.

CirQuest Labs is an innovative drug-development services company that evolved from more than 20 years of laboratory experience and now offers a range of preclinical and clinical development services to companies worldwide.

There are many others. Two have recently garnered international attention. Vaxent, an early stage vaccine development company, is on the path toward commercialization for a vaccine for group A streptococcus (Strep-A). Developed over 25 years of laboratory research at UTHSC, Vaxent could have a significant impact on the incidence of strep throat and more serious, invasive infections like rheumatic fever around the world.

And, most recently, RxBio, a start-up pharmaceutical company, has been awarded a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) contract valued at up to $24 million ($15 million in the base contract; $9 million in options) over the next two years. Its signature drug, Rx100, a potent radiomitigant countermeasure drug that may protect against the potentially lethal effects from radiation exposure, is the result of pioneering collaboration among three UTHSC scientists. Receipt of the BARDA contract will allow RxBio to immediately expand the company from two to 20 employees in Memphis.

Nearly everything we have mentioned is rooted in the collaboration between the UT Health Science Center and Memphis Bioworks. The list of amazing research and the commercialization of potential companies growing here is even larger when other university, clinical treatment and medical device companies are included.

Across the globe, entrepreneurship is being recognized this week. Memphians should know that we are near the top of the list when it comes to reasons to celebrate.