Michigan Showcases Its Bio Savvy

June 11, 2004
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SAN FRANCISCO — The Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s objectives at the BIO 2004 International Convention in San Francisco last week were clear: Promote Michigan’s growing life sciences industry, its research universities, the Van Andel Institute and the Michigan Technology Tri-Corridor.

The MEDC brought along about 20 representatives from Michigan companies and institutions to exhibit as well as talk to convention attendees about Michigan’s life sciences industry and what it has to offer.

The MEDC had a pavilion at the convention to showcase the fact that focus on the life sciences is a significant strategy for the state, said Jeff Mason, MEDC vice president of technology development.

Most Michigan companies were there to network, sell their services or market their organization or product, or drum up venture capital for their growing companies, said MEDC spokesman Paul Krepps.

Each company, institution or organization brought its own promotional materials to the event, while the MEDC passed out information on the Technology Tri-Corridor and the Life Sciences Corridor and the successful initiatives that have come out of those programs.

An estimated 18,000 biotechnology scientists, executives and government officials attended the 11th annual BIO International Convention from June 6-9.

The MEDC has been a regular at the event since 1999, the year it started really pitching the state’s life sciences industry.

A few years earlier people didn’t think about Michigan in terms of the life sciences, Mason recalled, but he thinks that today there’s a better understanding of Michigan’s growing role in the industry.

Nearly a third of those attending the event were international delegates, he noted.

Delegates from the West Michigan area included the Core Technology Alliance, Van Andel Institute, The Right Place Inc. and four Kalamazoo bioscience companies.

There also was “a wide range” of venture capitalists there to talk to companies about potential investment opportunities, Mason observed.

For the fifth consecutive year The Right Place attended the event to support the state’s delegation, to make connections and find resources for Michigan companies, as well as to learn more about the industry, said Ray De Winkle, vice president.

“Part of this is simply an awareness-building campaign that Michigan is and intends to continue to be a player in the life sciences industry,” he said. “It is the largest single international gathering for this industry and it continues to grow.

“The clear message I heard this morning was that the United States is by far and away the leading nation when it comes to this industry, and, clearly, other nations are coming on strong and investing significantly here.

“We are here as a part of the Michigan delegation, and I will be as helpful to someone who’s inquiring about a company in Ann Arbor or Detroit as I will be to someone who’s interested in the Van Andel Institute or the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative.”

De Winkle recalled that five years ago, changes within Michigan’s manufacturing sector — combined with the genesis of the Van Andel Institute — became a catalyst for the economic development organization to go after the life sciences sector.

“Without the presence of something like the Van Andel Institute, we’d have a very short story to tell. Because of that catalyst, we’ve now founded The West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative.”

The initiative is a partnership of Grand Valley State University, Right Place Inc., the VAI, Grand Rapids Community College and the city of Grand Rapids. It serves as a hub for technology and product development assistance for West Michigan.

A representative from the MEDC’s global business unit spent the four days of the convention trying to attract new life sciences businesses, talking with companies about opening offices in Michigan or establishing relationships with existing Michigan life sciences companies.

Mason said the discussions centered on the assets Michigan has to support life sciences, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, such as the Core Technology Alliance and Michigan’s research institutions and universities.

“I think the companies that are out here are looking at creating some strategic alliances and partnerships that will lead pretty quickly to the purchase of goods and services,” he said.

Three days into the convention Mason was feeling pretty confident about the headway the MEDC and its partners at the event were making.

“It’s not as if you come to these conventions and generally walk away with a company that’s going to make an investment next week,” he said, “but certainly in the past we’ve made some relationships that ultimately led to increased business and that produced results for the state of Michigan.

“Hopefully, we’ll come back with some potential leads in terms of companies that might be considering expansion into Michigan.”

The MEDC also announced last week that the Technology Tri-Corridor competition has been narrowed to 53 finalists vying for a share of $24 million in funding.

The Technology Tri-Corridor targets job creation in the high growth, high opportunity industry sectors of the life sciences, homeland security and advanced automotive technology.

Members of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences reviewed 131 proposals before reducing the field to 53. According to the MEDC, more than half of the finalists are working in homeland security or developing technology with anti-terrorism applications.

Finalists from Kent County are the Van Andel Research Institute, Global Enterprise for Water Technology and Hot Metal Gas Forming Inc.

The finalists are now participating in formal interviews that will serve as the basis for funding recommendations to the Tri-Corridor Steering Committee.

The awards are expected to be announced later this month.

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