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Conference Zeroes in on Homegrown Innovation - 20th Life Science & Venture Conference Full of High-Tech Insights

Wisconsin has a problem, albeit a good one: pulling the state’s world-class health care technology industry into a cohesive system that can power itself well into the future.

The 20th Annual Wisconsin Life Science and Venture Conference, held today and Wednesday at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center, will give participants a detailed view of many facets of the state’s burgeoning life sciences industry. The Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Biotechnology Association pulled together an event that not only looks at topics such as drug development and agricultural biotech in the state, but also will allow numerous companies to make their case for funding; give participants a chance to hear about research and tech transfer; and peer into the mind set of some the state’s biggest capital investors and research entities.

As the state’s life science industry booms, it makes sense for the key players to work together to build on each other’s success, according to one conference panelist.

“I think they are getting more attention,” said Medical College of Wisconsin Director Dr. Joseph Hill of the state’s life sciences organizations. “What the universities have committed to do is try to keep more and more of these innovations home, perhaps even try to pool certain kinds of technologies.”

That kind of strategy may allow UW-Madison and the MCW, for instance, to combine work on a certain technology that spawns a whole new competitive company, Hill said.
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In point of fact, research from those two institutions is key to driving whatever life science industry Wisconsin hopes to build.

“We look worldwide [for intellectual property], but we look very hard at those two entities,” said another panelist, Dr. Martin Rosenberg, Chief Scientific Officer at Madison-based Promega. “We maintain as much interaction with [UW-Madison] as possible in trying to look at what comes through there. Because of the proximity, we certainly look for things that come out of there that fit our business plan.”

But what exactly makes for a company that can draw the money necessary for success?

While Rosenberg is on the buyer side of the intellectual property equation, Gordon Pan and his associates at Baird Venture Partners are on the funding side. Pan, another panelist, said his company—the venture capital affiliate of the state’s largest full-service financial company—looks to invest in companies that have a demonstrable chance for success. In other words, companies that already have customers, a product that fills a hole in the market, and the management team to make it happen.

Baird already has invested in two Madison-area companies, NimbleGen and TomoTherapy, that it believes fit the bill.

“We think they both have potentially revolutionary technology with a defensible IP position,” said Pan, who heads of the life sciences portion of Baird’s VC efforts. “They demonstrated good market traction by the time we invested in them.

“We don’t want to invest in great technologies looking for a market,” Pan quipped. “The point is, our capital is really designed to scale the infrastructure of the business.”

The Life Science and Venture Conference runs through Wednesday afternoon.

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Lincoln Brunner is a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at lincoln@wistechnology.com.

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