Celebrating 10 Years of Bioworks

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: http://www.memphisbioworks.org/newsDet.cfm?newsID=588

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.

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