Archive for the ‘Bioscience’ Category

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.

 

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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: 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.

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.

Memphis Role in Personalized Medicine

October 11, 2011

I was recently doing an interview with Delta Sky magazine, which is covering business and tourism in Memphis for an upcoming issue. One of the topics we discussed was the growth of biomedical business in our community. That discussion soon led to a discussion of personalized medicine and this community’s competitive advantage over other areas.

 

I believe Memphis has strength in the three elements that are required for leadership in this arena. They are:

1) An active and aggressive medical research community. No doubt about that with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the researchers at our universities and the research being conducted at our medical device companies.

2) An environment that encourages, enables and supports entrepreneurs and new company development, particularly tech transfer from research to market. My last BioBiz posting examined that in detail.

3) The logistics and biologistics infrastructure and experience that allows trusted, environmentally protected, and trackable overnight delivery, all with the latest available cutoffs possible. Here is where we shine brighter than any other community in the world, thanks to FedEx, the distribution investments of our medical device companies and our airport.

 

So what do we mean by personalized medicine? In today’s world of medicine, when most people see a doctor, a diagnosis is made and a medicine is prescribed. If I have the same illness, I will likely get the same treatment. In most cases it works pretty well; better with some than others. The trouble is, although the illness or symptoms are the same, we are each very different individuals. We react differently to every stimulus, good or bad, because we have different metabolisms, different health histories and genetic differences of all kinds.

 

In tomorrow’s world of medicine, you will see a doctor, a diagnosis will be made and every aspect of your treatment will be customized to exactly who you are, right down to a specific gene variation. That is Personalized Medicine.

 

In the laboratories and research centers, in the clinical trials, in the distribution centers across our metro area, the steps toward the future – a future of personalized medicine – are being taken. While individual genetic and treatment breakthroughs are poised to take place in laboratories across our city, our greatest competitive advantage will be in our ability to receive materials, turn around treatments and ship the results faster and with a greater degree of reliability than anyone else. Someday in the future, the roads leading to and from our airport could be lined with some of the most sophisticated labs in the world, doing just that. A medical-based Aerotropolis.

 

While on a case-by-case basis, the overall community impacts are small, in the macro sense, the success of the initiatives taking place in Memphis will have a big impact on our local economy and on the overall financial status of health care.

 

If you are interested in a great overview of the state of personalized medicine in Memphis, take a look at the most recent Bioworks Magazine at http://www.memphisbioworks.org/documents/BioworksFall2011.pdf or pick up a copy of the Sept./Oct. Memphis Business Quarterly, with the Bioworks Magazine insert.

 

You will be impressed at all that is happening here.

Attracting Venture Capital in Memphis

September 15, 2011

Dr. Jerry Caulder, the managing director of Finistere Ventures, a leading life science venture capital firm based in San Diego, has an unparalleled record of success in the life sciences industry. Many people refer to him as the “father of agricultural biotechnology,” so it was an honor to welcome him recently in the Memphis Bioworks Conference Center.

The crowd, hosted by the Memphis Bioworks Business Association in conjunction with the Mid-South Biobased Trade Association, was treated to a level of insight and honesty that few other professionals could offer. He began his career at Monsanto, where he held numerous management positions, including responsibility for overseeing Monsanto’s early venture investments and also the launch of new agricultural products globally. From there he launched a start-up plant sciences company that had a successful IPO and was ultimately acquired by Dow Agro Science. His most recent success was as the Chairman of Athenix, Inc., a venture backed plant sciences company located in Research Triangle Park, NC, and sold to Bayer Crop Science.

Dr. Caulder made it clear that new CEOs of companies being launched need a thick skin, lots of tenacity, and a dedication to money raising, in addition to a great idea or a revolutionary new product or process. He also is living proof that it can be done both from personal experience and his investments in many start-ups.

The timing for our local entrepreneurs to hear from someone of Dr. Caulder’s stature was perfect, because the venture environment here is gaining national awareness. Recently, The Wall Street Journal published its latest map showing “The United States of Venture Capital.” Memphis is one of the dots on that map, which depicts the distribution of venture capital funding across the nation in the first six months of 2011.

While Memphis’ inclusion may not seem like much to some people, it is actually a strong indication that all the work being done in our community to promote entrepreneurism and new business development is paying off. Five years ago, Memphis didn’t appear on national maps of venture capital deals. While the dot on this particular map is due specifically to $3.2 million raised for two deals done by Innova, it could just as easily have come from a number of other sources.

Many people and organizations in our community have played a role in achieving a dot on that map. Over the last five years, we have worked together to create an ecosystem that is now paying dividends in terms of national attention and local entrepreneurial success. Let’s look at the landscape.

Access to capital is a key measure of a region’s potential. Innova is one of three organizations that have taken the lead in this area, along with MB Ventures and SSM Partners. Each targets segments of the biosciences or technology. And then rounding out the venture story is our active “angel investment” community. Angels bring extra value and leverage to the table. Typically, Innova’s deals, for example, involve an angel investment of two to three times the amount invested by Innova.

But it takes more than money to build an ecosystem for new company development. It also takes ideas, collaboration, mentoring, incubating and technology transfer. Today in Memphis, we have a vibrant collection of new business incubators serving a wide variety of categories. They offer not only space, but mentorship, connections, training and access to the marketplace that would not otherwise be possible for many businesses.

Feeding the incubation and tech-transfer pipeline is research taking place in laboratories across our community, at the university level and at major employers in the medical device, technology and clinical care fields. In addition to this there is considerable activity being led by Memphis Agbioworks to bring new plant technology and know-how to our region with the goal of using renewable resources to make products that are now made with petroleum. This, as identified in a 2009 Battelle study, is a great way to take advantage of the area’s know-how in farming, industry and logistics, to the benefit of the rural mid-south and the idled urban manufacturing centers.

So many individuals — venture capitalists, mentors, researchers and supporters — and their respective organizations and initiatives have worked tirelessly to ensure that the Memphis heritage for creativity and business development continues. Collectively, we have created an environment in which new business can thrive. That new business is the future of our local economy.

Appearing on The Wall Street Journal map is a milestone that Memphis should take pride in, something we can expand upon with guidance of experts like Dr. Caulder.

A Smart Green Strategy is an Effective Economic Strategy

August 9, 2011

You can’t pick up a publication these days without seeing some reference to “green jobs” – who has them, what they do, what regions are taking a leadership role, etc.  That kind of attention on the green economy is certainly good, but so many of the studies and articles seem to miss the point because they approach green for “green’s sake.”

Two recent reports from the U.S Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration are good examples of taking a stab at measuring “green” business activity by counting the number of “green jobs” in Tennessee.  I don’t take issue with the reports or the coverage, because in a pure numbers measurement things are what they are.  What I do call into question is whether we are counting the right things.  To play off a popular political rallying cry … It’s the Economy, Stupid.  Seems to me we would be much better off focusing on some things that have real, immediate financially measurable impact that helps the economy by both reducing energy use and saving money.

A recent article in Newsweek outlines former President Clinton’s jobs blueprint.  In that blueprint, you will find a number of practical suggestions and observations that are first economically focused, and secondarily (though not coincidentally) environmentally focused.  The conclusion is that there are lots of jobs in energy, but many of those are in using less of it in our everyday practices, rather than in a strict entrepreneurial focus on new discovery.

The initiatives cited include such things as working with efficiency of radiators to prevent heat escape, rebuilding chillers to improve cooling efficiency, refurbishing the insulation on windows, installing sensors on lighting and air flow to limit waste, and establishing energy benchmarks for tenants.  Those five things alone, when done on the Empire State Building in New York, brought $4.4 million in annual positive savings, and created more than 250 jobs along the way.

Imagine if that kind of approach were used in Memphis on every public building?  There are hundreds of them.  If each one underwent an Empire State Building-like retrofitting, we would save millions and put many people to work doing the tasks, but more importantly they would learn the skills that then transfer out into the private sector as well.  That is a Smart Green Strategy.

Some companies in Memphis are already playing a leading role in the retrofit/smart energy usage state of economic development.  Take a look at the Medtronic logistics and distribution campus.  From state-of-the-art low energy conveyer systems, to efficient sterilization processes, to its commitment to green power consumption – this facility is filled with employees making a green impact.  Take a look at FedEx’s EarthSmart initiatives, global fleet enhancements for fuel efficient planes, movement to hybrid and electric vehicles, and more than a decade of dedication to packaging from recycled materials. Look at the well-articulated, companywide initiatives aimed at reducing waste and increasing efficiency at Acreedo Health Group or Buckeye Technologies.

From each of these initiatives we see financial savings on one end, and skills and job creation on the other.  From that foundation, entrepreneurship will bloom.

At Memphis Bioworks we are taking a leadership role in green jobs training, bringing together educational institutions, unions and businesses to ensure our workforce changes with the demands of a green economy.  This training is in partnership with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Green Jobs Training Program for funding and the Memphis Workforce Investment Network for local placement. Some of these jobs might not be sexy from a “green economy” standpoint, but they are plenty valuable from a practical, functional and economic impact perspective.

While building a Smart Green Strategy around efficiency and further developing our existing business assets is a great place to start, we also cannot lose sight of other long-term opportunity that builds on our unique natural regional attributes.  Nothing I have discussed even touches on the AgBioworks® initiatives, which are the purest form of “green” business you can find.  As I have written about in this forum before, our AgBioworks initiatives in biomass stretch across five states, with Memphis at the heart of the burgeoning bioeconomy utilizing plant-based materials in a wide variety of biobased materials including chemicals, plastics and biofuels.  With the adaptive re-use of our idle industrial assets – repurposing, reutilizing and redeveloping infrastructure in a way that makes Memphis a key player in green industrial jobs – and with a focus on new energy crops across the region that make better use of agricultural resources for our farmers, we create an energy and economic development tool that will be rivaled by regions across the globe.  Our report on green jobs related to agbio can be found at http://www.agbioworks.org/pdfs/greenjobs.pdf.

A Smart Green Strategy is vital for our long-term economic vitality.  Let’s not get hung up on studies and statistics that might or might not be measuring the right things.  Let’s instead take steps today to have an immediate impact on costs, energy and jobs.  This is an area where we can play a leadership role today while laying a foundation for tomorrow.

Learning from International Leaders

June 13, 2011

Make no mistake; the goal for the biosciences in Memphis is national and international leadership.  In particular, it is leadership in the core areas in which we have a strong foundation.  These include biomedical research, orthopedic devices, biologistics and bioagriculture.  In each case, we have a firm foundation and a leadership position already.  It has become abundantly clear over the last few weeks that we are taking the right steps, but also that we have a long way to go if we want to catch and surpass some international leaders.

Memphis Bioworks Foundation has over the last few weeks had the privilege of hosting two international leaders in the development of bioscience clusters.  In May, as a part of the Memphis in May international business exchange, we co-hosted Professor Joseph A. Martial, Chairman of the Board of Directors of GIGA, (Grappe Interdisciplinaire de Géno-protéomique Appliquée), and Doctor of Science, Molecular Biology and the Genetic Engineering Unit at the University of Liège, Sart Tilman, Belgium.  Also, just last week, we co-hosted a special presentation by one of the premier experts on the future of farming in global biobased products and value-added agriculture, Gord Surgeoner, Ph.D., President of Ontario Agri-Food Technologies.

Both of these speakers gave excellent insight into what it takes to create an international cluster.

In the case of Liège, Belgium, they have created an international leadership position in genetics, infectious disease, cancer and neuroscience through a focus on collaboration in research, tech transfer, new business development and training for a cohesive and integrated community and business development operation.

In the case of Ontario Agri-Food Technologies, it is success in linking farming, academic, industry and government sectors to gain access to new technologies, and to develop a local supply chain in order to compete in the global marketplace through new markets for their crops, including non-food/industrial applications.

Three themes came across in both of these success stories.

1.) Nothing happens and no cluster can be achieved unless effective councils/alliances/partnerships are developed where members park egos and self interests at the door for the benefit of the community at large.  In the case of Bioagriculture in particular, that means a focus on both rural and urban needs and benefits.

2) Communities need to be customer-driven.  They will be spinning their wheels if the product or service they are providing does not answer the potential marketplace’s cry for “I Need…” in a way that adds value with no loss of functionality.  That answer often comes from “de-risking” the customers’ reluctance to change.

3) Building the infrastructure requires a vision of the future, not just an understanding of the present.  That requires a view of how your community expands the market for what you are providing, instead of just cannibalizing an existing market.

The good news is that we have a good grasp of all that, and we are taking the appropriate steps.  Both guests made it clear that this all takes time.  Because some communities around the globe are well on their way toward their bioscience business clusters, time is not on our side.  This isn’t meant as a warning, just an observation that the time is now for all parties to come to the table for united efforts.

While I could go into detail in great depth on both of these case studies, I would instead suggest you take a look at their respective websites at www.giga.ulg.ac.be/jcms/c_5015/home and www.oaft.org.

I do want to leave you with a great quote from Dr. Surgeoner on his organization’s vision and progress toward becoming a sustainable bioagriculture center. In discussing how change requires the three elements I described above, he stated:

“The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone, nor will the oil age end because we ran out of oil.”

Progress waits for no one as these two global models show.  They are both lessons for Memphis in best practices as well as competitors in the global bioscience market.  It is time to learn and move forward.

Memphis Stands Tall in Tennessee Innovation

May 11, 2011

For two days last week, the State of Tennessee leadership focused on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation’s (TTDC) 2011 Tennessee NEXT Conference. Billed as the state’s premier event devoted to innovation-based economic development, participants met and heard from more than 40 panelists, presenters and speakers about all that is happening across the state in terms of entrepreneurial economic development.

Memphis Bioworks Business Association was one of the conference sponsors, along with other innovation and incubation organizations from Memphis and across the state. As I reflected on the two days of activities, what stands out most to me is the leadership that our Memphis community is showing in this critical area. Everyone seems to like to look back to Memphis’ past success stories in entrepreneurism – overnight delivery, hotels and hospitality, grocery stores, medical devices, etc. – but, attending this event shows that our entrepreneurial future is just as impressive as our past.

Memphis showcased itself well at the event. While some from across the state try to position the number of Memphis organizations dedicated to innovation and incubation as complex, those who know Memphis realize it is an abundance of talent and initiative that has created our dynamic environment. Whether it is the Memphis Research Consortium, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Emerge Memphis, Launch Memphis, or some other group, there is a place in our community for entrepreneurs to turn. Each group is developing its own space and attracting its own attention. That is good. In the case of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, it is entrepreneurism in cleantech, biosciences, biologistics, technology, industrial biotechnology and rural AgBio space where we have the clear leadership role. For other “ideas,” another local resource may be the best fit.

While the entrepreneurial organizations from Memphis were demonstrating their collective leadership, the entrepreneurial companies were holding their own at the conference as well. Several companies from Memphis won recognition and People’s Choice awards during the two days. These included such a variety of ideas as:

  • Green Turbine (Alternative Energy/Sustainability category), a company focused on a patent pending turbine to harness the energy of the Mississippi River.
  • Work for Pie (Technology/Electronics category), a company that allows software developers and technical content producers to create a showcase for their skills.
  • How’s The Living (Digital Media/Entertainment category), an online community for college students.
  • BioDimensions (Alternative Energy/Sustainability category), a company focused on high-value renewable plant oils for the sustainable chemical and fuel markets.

Governor Haslam has made job creation and job innovation one of the hallmarks of his administration. The governor announced his INCITE plan at the conference, a program focused on the cluster-based entrepreneurship that we have been building since we started. Events like Tennessee NEXT are examples of that focus in action.

As Memphians, events like this are great showcases for the role we are playing and expect to play in our State’s economic future. My challenge to everyone from our community is to use every opportunity to loudly and decisively declare that we – Memphis – intend to be the center of innovation for our great state. We have a lot going on, and we have just touched the surface.

Bioscience is an International Business

April 14, 2011

In today’s economy and today’s business environment, all business advances have an international impact. Every new development, every advancement is embraced across the globe. While that may be very evident in such industries as computer technology, wireless connectivity, and automotive advances, it is perhaps most important in the world of bioscience.

Whether you are talking about bioscience advances in the “green” fields like biomass, solar and wind energy, or new developments in treatment or prevention of disease, virtually every nation is both celebrating other’s successes and striving for their own leadership.

Internationalism is important for every community that wants to survive, and vital to those who expect to thrive. Throughout our community this week, internationalism at its best is being both celebrated and developed.

The event is the Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition. More than 500 leaders in the field of airports and aviation from around the globe are in town for three days of networking and education about the current environment and future of the industry. It is a great honor for Memphis to be able to host this international exhibition.

But, this gathering is about more that airplanes and airports. It is about international business connectivity. And, while the topics of airports and Aerotropolis will be center stage at the event, many peripheral events will also take place.

At Memphis Bioworks, our Bioworks Business Association hosted a luncheon and roundtable discussion on Bioscience Opportunities between Memphis and Paris. Co-hosted by the Invest in France Agency, the Greater Memphis Chamber, and us, with funding from MemphisED, the event explored Synergies with Memphis Medical Center, The Medicen Paris and Memphis Biosciences; discussed developments within the Charles de Gaulle and the Memphis Aerotropolis; and reviewed Battelle Technology Partnership Practice Research on the emerging field of Biologistics (funded by Memphis Bioworks).

Paris strives to be to Europe what Memphis is to the Americas in terms of an Aerotropolis – a community with an airport as its economic hub – and a centerpiece for business development for a continent.

All of us in the biosciences must realize the importance of global connections. We, like any industry can better grow and thrive if we touch more of the world and share more with our global community. In fact, perhaps no other business category has more opportunity to benefit from the “flattening” world than bioscience. Bioscience and distribution logistics really come together in the Aerotropolis concept.

As I said in an earlier contribution to this forum, real growth in the biosciences is dependent on the ability to build a product from local, to regional, to national and ultimately global access. Whether on a research level, from an import/export perspective, or even from a personalized/just-in-time medicine perspective, access to international distribution will be essential.

The opportunity is ours, and meeting with the representative from France who are in town this week is just one step.

Congratulations to Memphis International Airport on their hosting of Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition. I hope that business leaders throughout our community are taking advantage of the opportunity that has flown our way.