17 Jul Let's Get Serious
Those who attended the BIO2003 Conference in Washington D.C. two weeks ago no doubt had an eye opening experience. First, it was attended by over 16,000 people from around the world and second, because it was filled with dignitaries such as President Bush, Secretary Tommy Thompson and our own Governor Jim Doyle. More importantly though, the conference showcased the efforts of research scientist and bio-engineers in thousands of organizations who are competing in the economic race to win a share of the rapidly expanding market for new biotech products resulting from breakthrough discoveries in modern life science research.
Despite the involvement of Governor Doyle and his staff, the Wisconsin presence at the conference was small by comparison. It was quite clear to all with eyes to see that other states, many of them Midwest states like Michigan and Iowa, have made substantially greater financial commitments to life science research and technology development. While Wisconsin politics was mired in seamy public displays of gerrymandering, legislative corruption, fiscal irresponsibility and personal scandals, other states were enacting legislation to support aggressive new programs aimed at capturing one or more of the key segments of the emerging life science industry. Whatever early lead we may have had is now being challenged. The remarkable thing, however, isn’t so much that we have lost our lead, but that so few people seem to care. Most of the citizens of our state are totally unaware of the rapid changes that are accruing in this crucial area of Wisconsin’s economy.
It is time to get serious. It is time to stop obsessing about the continual decline in traditional manufacturing jobs—there is nothing we can do about! It’s time to refocus our eyes on industries with inherent, long-term growth. Unfortunately, many people in Wisconsin lack the eyes to see these opportunities, even though they are in plain view. Even as they worry about the loss of manufacturing jobs and the inexorable shift of the economy toward low-wage, service jobs, many people fail to see the opportunities in healthcare and life science, information and data management, digital media and design, streaming video and workforce education, energy management and wireless data networking to name a few of the leading growth industries. And those who claim to see these opportunities aren’t motivated to act, preferring instead to debate the “whys and wherefores”, thereby avoiding the more important issues of who, where, when and how–for which they might be held accountable.
In the hopes of helping those who are interested in these matters to see the opportunities more clearly, I have agreed to write for the Technology Network a series of articles that will focus on the business, financial and cultural changes that must be made if we hope to create a high-tech, knowledge-based economy in Wisconsin. I don’t claim to a top expert on these matters but from my perch as a venture capitalist trying to make successful investments in the state, I think I have a very good sense of what works and what doesn’t at ground level—where successful new businesses are created and prosper. I hope you will find these articles insightful and interesting.
John Byrnes is Executive Managing Director of Mason Wells, a leading Midwest private equity and venture capital firm headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. John is a regular columnist for the Wisconsin Technology Network and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org