07 Jun Wisconsin business leads small delegation to international BIO Conference
SAN FRANCISCO – Following on the heals of national press exposure in Forbes magazine and other industry publications that rave about Wisconsin’s growing biotech industry, one would expect the local industry and state would package all these strong indicators of a booming industry, rally the troops in full regalia and have a major presence at the biotech industry’s leading conference being held this week in San Francisco. Limited funding, participation and sponsorship by both the private and public sector raises issues about the states ability to effectively market to the world, an industry that holds great promise for growth and high paid workforce development.
A group of private Wisconsin business and associations have banded together to lead a 75-member collation of biotech executives, business leaders, educational institutions and political leaders to San Francisco to attend BIO 2004, being held June 6 – 10.
Among the 75 delegates to the convention, only one-third actually work at biotech companies. The remaining 50 Wisconsin representatives are from research institutions, and organizations focused on economic development and professional services.
Deron Curlis, partner and technology practice leader with accounting firm Grant Thorton said of his presence at BIO 2004, “Madison is part of a world-class industry in biotechnology and requires world-class infrastructure. Professional services are a big part of that.”
Curlis commented that more representatives of Wisconsin’s biotechnology industry should attend this event to network and generate more opportunities for their businesses.
In February, it was uncertain if the state of Wisconsin would be represented at this year’s international gathering. There was limited interest and limited resources from the state, Forward Wisconsin and private businesses.
“We need to take a step back and figure out what we can do to better understand the needs of our biotech industry and how we better market Wisconsin businesses,” said State Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles, who is leading the state’s delegation. Gov. Doyle was unable to attend this year’s event as he was involved in planning Wisconsin’s activities for the upcoming 86th Annual PGA Championship, to be held in Kohler.
A core group of small companies assisted by the University of Wisconsin’s Office of Corporate Relations, working in tandem with increased funding form Wisconsin’s Department of Commerce, pulled together to marshal the resources needed to have a respectable presence of the conference.
Departing from previous traditional Wisconsin themes that celebrated Wisconsin’s food, beverage and hospitality and featured iconic symbols such as Bucky Badger, this year’s steering committee group created an art gallery theme designed to create a feeling of space openness and quality of life. Bright-red shirts featuring Wisconsin’s name have been replaced by black shirts and pants to make booth workers appear to be working in an art gallery.
Wisconsin’s exhibit pavilion, entitled “Room to Breathe,” emphasizes that Wisconsin is a great place to create, to innovate and to live. Each of the Wisconsin pavilion exhibitors have similarly constructed and colored booth backgrounds (gray), all the carpet is the same color in both the booths and aisle (blue), dividers between the individual booth spaces have been removed and all the exhibitors are displaying large pictures in their booths to carry through the art gallery look.
BIO 2004 is the premier industry trade conference that attracts an international audience of over 16,000 delegates. Many of the exhibiting states and organization have well thought communications, publicity and economic development strategies. Many institutions have speakers on many of the conferences numerous educational seminars.
In spite of all these obstacles, the state was able to assemble 18 companies that are members of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association to exhibit at the conference, even if they only had a small presence. The state’s largest biotech companies contributed a fraction of the dollars spend by much smaller companies such as Eragen Bioscience. Representatives of several other Wisconsin biotechnology companies including ConjuGon and Mirus Bio attended the conference and delivered presentations, but did not exhibit in the Wisconsin Pavilion.
The participation of Wisconsin biotech companies was aided by a grant from the Center for International Business Education and Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business.
The state’s reception which, in the past, has attracted huge crowds of biotech players from around the world will no longer be held due to cost and logistical issues. The UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations is holding a small invitation-only gathering designed to attract Bay Area alumni.
The Wisconsin Technology Council with support from the Department of Commerce and other sponsors has produced a 24-page, magazine-style brochure called “Life Science Wisconsin – The Smart Choice,” that is being distributed at the conference. The brochure summarizes the strength of Wisconsin’s life science industry, the states quality of life and lists numerous resources for business wishing to do business with the state’s industry.
Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, said in his weekly syndicated column, Inside Wisconsin, “The Wisconsin pavilion, to be honest, will be relatively modest compared to most state exhibits in the hall. In fact, some states will spend more on their BIO exhibit than Wisconsin does in an entire year on its major tech development arms. That’s because Wisconsin, for all of its life science attributes, still has a way to go before it catches the big boys.
“While that’s no reason for despair, it’s a reminder that Wisconsin’s recent bragging rights must be placed in perspective. The competition in life sciences is intense, and it is global as well as nationwide. Those states, regions and communities with the right ingredients will prosper; those that lack key elements will fall by the wayside,” Sill said.
“Other states may throw hundreds of millions at building a biotech infrastructure in a few short years, but it’s likely to be those states that already have a strong base – and the commitment to keep it – that will compete. Wisconsin has what it takes to be a leader in the life sciences, if it doesn’t squander what most other states covet,” added Still.