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WisBusiness: Wisconsin Triples Investment in Annual Biotech Expo

By Brian E. Clark

Wisconsin’s academic and commercial biotech community plans to pull out the stops for BIO 2006, which will run from April 9-12 in Chicago. The budget to showcase the Badger State’s biotechnology prowess has risen to nearly $270,000 this year – nearly three times what was spent last year at BIO 2005 in Philadelphia.

“This is the perfect opportunity to tell our story and make connections,” said Charlie Hoslet, managing director of the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations.

“It is never going to get any closer,” he said. “This is the single largest and most important gathering of biotech and life science industries. All the players will be there."

The event is expected to attract nearly 20,000 people from around the nation and 60 countries. It also will draw numerous companies, major universities and international financiers looking to invest in start-up firms.

“In the past, we weren’t able to do as much as we’d have liked because of funding restraints,” Hoslet said. “But this year, we’re going all out – thanks in part to a special $35,000 grant from the UW Foundation.”

Hoslet said the university alone will spend $100,000 on its 400-square-foot share of the 1,600-square-foot Wisconsin “island” on the McCormick Place tradeshow floor. In 2005, the university’s budget was just $10,000.

UW-Madison also will sponsor an alumni reception during the event that should draw hundreds of UW-Madison graduates, many of whom are now movers and shakers in the biotech world – either with companies or universities.

Gov. Jim Doyle, the heads of Wisconsin biotech companies, university leaders and scientific luminaries such as Dr. James Thomson – who first isolated and reproduced human embryonic stem cells – are all expected to attend the reception.

“We want to reacquaint them with all the resources that we have here,” said Hoslet, noting that his office will represent 40 different campus units, including the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, WiCell and the University Research Park.

“In the Midwest, Madison is the epicenter of biotechnology and research,” he said. “All the other states and regions are going to be there with their best game, so we have to do the same.

“If we weren’t going there in force, it would be a huge mistake,” he said.

Jan Alf, who is coordinating the Wisconsin effort for Forward Wisconsin, a branch of the state Commerce Department, said more than 45 companies have committed to attending the conference – up from 17 last year.

She said some of those firms will make presentations at the WisconsinBioTheater that will be part of the Wisconsin pavilion.

“What we are doing this time around will have a whole different feel than in years past,” she said. “This is Wisconsin’s shot to tell our biotech story and we’re going to do it right.”

Pepi Randolph, head of Forward Wisconsin, said BIO 2006 is important because it holds the potential of bringing new businesses and jobs to this state.

“We want to bring a critical mass to this event,” he said. “In addition to UW-Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Marshfield Clinic and others will be there, too.

“BIO 2006 will give us all a change to create relationships that could pay off for the state down the road,” he said.

Tom Still, president of Wisconsin Technology Council, said company presentations and talks by scientists at the biotheater will be recorded on and Web cast so people can see it live.

Still downplayed suggestions that last year’s Wisconsin presence was underwhelming.

“I think there is always some pavilion envy,” said Still. “That’s only natural. Some states have chosen to invest more in these kinds of up-front presentations in the past.

“What’s important, though, is that we’ll have an excellent showing and effort this year,” he said.

Jim Leonhart, executive director of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, said companies that attend the show are hoping to connect with investors.

“They need to be recognized to grow, and that takes money,” said Leonhart. “There are lots of venture capitalists who come here every year for a new look.”

Wisconsin companies are also hoping to partner with bigger firms with more resources, he said.

“In addition to showing the world what we have, there will be a lot of one-to-one meetings going on,” he said. “That’s an important part of this for our members.”

Last year, Leonhart said his association spent about $30,000 in Philadelphia. That figure has increased by nearly 50 percent this year.

“We’ll be a lot closer to first class this time,” he said. “The theater concept is a big advance. Our presence was softer in Philadelphia, so we are ramping it up.”

Mark Underwood, president of Madison-based Quincy Bioscience, said his drug development company went to Philadelphia last year and will go to Chicago in April.

“It was a worthwhile trip because I got into several long, face-to-face conversations with potential investors,” he said.

“We’ll be doing the same thing in Chicago,” he said, noting that four company representatives will go this year, up from just himself in 2005. “And we’ll also do a presentation on the 11th at the Wisconsin pavilion.

“It’s great that this will be in Chicago,” he added. “But we would go if it were it were in Miami, or even Timbuktu.”

Dr. Gabriela Cezar, a UW-Madison stem cell scientist, said the university and its partners began planning for BIO 2006 five months ago.

Though there will be academic presentations, Cezar said this event is anything but a “straightforward” scientific gathering.

“I’ll be presenting a poster on stem cell research going on in my lab,” she said, who left Pfizer last year to teach and do research at UW-Madison, where she earned her PhD. “But this is the most important conference in the world for biotech ventures.”

She said the gathering will cover a wide range of subjects, dealing with just about anything that is biotech-driven and has a target in the marketplace.

“There is a lot of potential here for the commercialization of technology,” said Cezar, who will be at the conference all four days.

“That’s one of the reasons why it is important for the university.

“There will be many potential business partners who are scanning the landscape for technology licensing and opportunities. I’m thrilled to have the chance to tell them about what we are doing in Wisconsin.”

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