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On site at BIO 2003

WASHINGTON - A delegation led by Governor Doyle and organized by Forward Wisconsin traveled to Washington, DC this week for the biotechnology industry’s leading conference with goals to establish new partnerships, attract investment capital, showcase the state’s research and university community and to let others know that Wisconsin has a growing biotechnology community. According to members of the group, the delegation met its objectives in spite of limited conference participation by only nine members of state’s biotech community.

Most national trade shows and conferences have experienced a significant drop in attendance and exhibitors, but the BIO 2003 conference attracted over 16,000 attendees from around the world and sold out all of its exhibition space in the new Washington Convention Center. The conference was able to attract speakers including President Bush, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, FDA Commissioner McClellan, along with veteran ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson, Fox News political analyst Tony Snow and actress Teri Garr, in addition to hundreds of the world’s leading scientists and researchers who were also present to share their knowledge.

Wisconsin Representation
Representing Wisconsin were three Madison-based biotech companies including EraGen Bioscience, Gala Design, and Scientific Protein Labs. Milwaukee companies that participated were Prodesse, Physiogenix and PointOne who shared an exhibit space with Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation and Techstar. The Marshfield Clinic, Medical College of Wisconsin and The University of Wisconsin-Madison were also present. Foley and Lardner, a law firm, did exhibit, but declined to be represented in the Wisconsin pavilion. Notably absent from exhibiting were some of the state’s leading biotech firms: Promega, Nimblegen, PanVera-Invitrogen, as well as GE Medical and Third Wave (both ThirdWave and GE Medical did offer a sponsorship).

James Leonhart, vice president of the Wisconsin Biotechnology Association, (WBA) whose association was as sponsor but who had no visible exhibit presence at the conference, was joined by WBA President, Frank Langley of Pell-Freez, whose company was also a sponsor. The WBA had a goal to gain a better understanding of the depth of science, products, and services from the around the world. Leonhart was overwhelmed by the breadth and size of the conference. “The challenge is to get Wisconsin viewed as a hub of biotechnology as we have all the elements to be top of the pack,” he said. Although Wisconsin had only nine companies participate as compared to Pennsylvania that had 47 companies represented in their state’s pavilion,” Leonhart said, “The size of the conference suggests tremendous opportunities for the industry and Wisconsin companies that should take more advantage of the interest demonstrated. Our life science companies can compete with any technologies I saw here. I hope that at BIO 2004 in San Francisco that we have an opportunity to showcase many more Wisconsin companies and support for the industry.

“It’s encouraging when Canadian companies and their government leaders come to us and say we should be doing more with you,” said Leonhart. At a time when many technology companies are moving development to India, they (India) had a delegation that met with Wisconsin business and political leaders. “When India seeks out Wisconsin for new partnerships and cooperation for exchange of ideas we’re excited. India has invited several Wisconsin companies to Banglore as part of a reciprocal trade mission,” according to Leonhart.
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The Wisconsin Technology Council (WTC) was represented by it’s president, Tom Still, who viewed the conference as an opportunity to showcase Wisconsin as a place to do business in the life sciences. The WTC’s other goals were to touch base with the state’s congressional leaders, as well as federal agencies.

“We saw this trip to Washington as a chance to make contact with Tommy Thompson and members of his staff to update them on the states growing biotechnology efforts,” said Still. “We need to pull together as a Wisconsin Biotech community in order to pull ahead. If every member of our congressional leadership could follow the efforts of Mark Green and Tammy Baldwin we would be a strong technology state,” said Still.

Where are the congressional leaders?
All members of state leadership were invited to attend both the Wisconsin Pavilion and the reception by Governor Doyle, although only Green was present. Representatives Tammy Baldwin and Paul Ryan did meet with Still in separate meetings This contrasts to three appearances by Tommy Thompson who visited the exhibition hall and met with the members of the state’s delegation. Thompson also spent over an hour at the Wisconsin Reception for all conference attendees hosted by Governor Doyle and Commerce Secretary Nettles. Over a thousand people from around the world attended the event.

Governor Doyle was one of only nine Governors who attended the conference. Doyle was not only a cheerleader and motivator for the Wisconsin contingency, he actively participated on the conference exhibit floor and had many significant meetings to recruit business to Wisconsin. Commerce Secretary Nettles spent two days at the conference in back to back meetings to complement the Governor’s presence. There was no presence or participation by Senators Kohl and Feingold and almost none of the state’s representatives support the state’s efforts, although Wisconsin could greatly benefit from their help as the Presidents proposed project Bio Shield is stuck in the Senate. President Bush, in his remarks to industry leaders earlier in the week, encouraged members of the audience to contact their political leaders and encourage them to pass this legislation which will have tremendous financial impact of $6 billion over ten years for the industry and states that have significant biotech initiatives. .

Does Wisconsin’s Biotech Community have Cultural Problems?
“We need to work on our biotechnology business culture and sense of community in ways that can rival other states. We have the science, technology, service industries and infrastructure. The missing link is the communication of ideas,” said Still who was impressed with the level of participation by other states and nations. “This conference was a daily reminder that Wisconsin can’t sit back and think it’s moving ahead unopposed. Our state can compete with anybody, he said.

It can work
Steve Harsy represented the University of Wisconsin-Madison and had a positive experience at the conference. “We have six strong leads, including one from a new medical device company that needs clinical trials and wants to enlist the help of a UW expert in cryosurgery.” Another lead was from a pharmaceutical service provider that is interested in developing test procedures for cardiac side effects of new drugs and needs the help of UW experts. Melanie Platt-Gibson and Scott Reigstad represented Forward Wisconsin, along with board members Holly Reed of SBC and David Cullen of JP Cullen and Sons. The association worked for months to organize Wisconsin’s presence and to solicit the support of the Governor and Commerce Secretary. The organization’s goals according to Platt-Gibson were “to build a platform for growing the state’s biotech companies, products, services, and investments as well as an awareness in order to showcase Wisconsin’s biotech industry. We achieved our goal and will continue to seek quantifiable results. We encourage the participants to talk about the value of their experiences. The Governor has said that he is willing to encourage stronger interest for next year,” she said

Mike Klein is Founder and Editorial Director for the The Wisconsin technolgy Network. Mike can be reached at mike@wistechnology.com

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