If you've wondered about the return on investment that Florida and Palm Beach County made in recruiting the Scripps Research Institute in 2003, I can assure you that momentum in the life sciences industry is going strong.
At a meeting of south Florida life science stakeholders sponsored by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County in March, I was one of about 250 attendees who heard about the latest developments in the industry.
Palm Beach BDB President Kelly Smallridge convened the meeting of leaders in industry, academia, research and government. The format was excellent, moderated by Don Upton, president of Fairfield Index, who understands both economic development and the benefits of biotech success.
It was exciting to see so many experts representing different segments of the industry, reporting on their latest successes and how they all fit in with Palm Beach County's overall economic development agenda. The presenters also did a good job of assessing strengths as well as areas for improvement.
Pete Martinez, co-chair of the BDB's Life Science Steering Group, explained the complexities of developing the research and commercialization process by saying: "We'll have to fly the plane while we're building it." As vice president of business consulting services and senior location executive for IBM South Florida, a company that is involved in many cutting-edge bioscience initiatives, Martinez understands the urgency of developing the research commercialization process.
Sheridan "Sherry" Snyder, the founder of BioCatalyst International who is sometimes referred to as an "expert angel investor," focused on measuring success in terms of real solutions in the marketplace. Snyder's company specializes in guiding researchers from startups into commercial ventures and plans to open a 10-employee office in West Palm Beach. His take on the bottom line: Solving public problems. "Venture capitalists don't want to fund science. VCs want to fund products that meet a market need."
Florida now ranks among Ernst & Young's top 10 biotech states, and that ranking will most likely rise with more activity from Scripps, Burnham Institute for Medical Research in Orlando, Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies now in Fort Pierce but eventually in Port St. Lucie, SRI International in St. Petersburg and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute's new partnership with Merck & Co. in Tampa.
These top-notch companies are making it easier for Florida to recruit top scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs who want to be a part of collaborative efforts with Florida's public universities, community colleges, private universities, hospitals and private-sector companies.
The meeting in Palm Beach County showed that success in the biotech/life sciences sector can be achieved with hard work and focus. Success doesn't come overnight, but the opportunities are expanding all across the state.
As Florida Trend reported in our January Industry Outlook on biotech, Boston-based Richard Ramko of Ernst & Young's Global Biotechnology Center, says that Florida is doing the right thing. "The investment the state has made is just incredible, and it's gotten the attention of other states," he says. "Just be patient. It takes time for these companies to develop. Florida is well-positioned to be a strong player in the biotech sector."