Friday, May 22, 2009

Notes from BIO: Toast of the Coast--Incubator vs. Pfincubator

While an earlier session on raising capital in trying times was cancelled--as if to say "yes, it really is that bad!"--it was standing room only at yesterday morning's last-day session titled “Early Stage Investment Strategies: If Not Us, Who? If Not Now, When?"

Afterward, we overheard it called by several people in the audience the best of many sessions at this year’s BIO meeting devoted to getting technologies past the infamous valley of death and into the waiting arms of big pharma.

Of course these panelists didn’t exactly solve everyone's dilemmas, but attendees left feeling better after listening to Melinda Richter, Executive Director of the San Jose BioCenter, trade jibes with Mark Benedyk, who heads Pfizer’s La Jolla Pfincubator.

Richter good-naturedly claimed that Benedyk’s incubator companies are indentured while she shops for the best deals for her companies. Benedyk says his companies are grown in a hot house with no worries, while others have to make a go in wild fields.

Richter’s project was initially funded through San Jose’s economic development efforts, initially receiving $5-10 million from the city's redevelopment agency. In three years its fledgling companies from the BioCenter have brought around $3 billion to the area economy, she claimed.

The problem?"Our companies have been very successful at growing very quickly, but then they tend to leave the area," Richter said. "From an incubation perspective, very successful," but from the point of view of the incubator's investor, San Jose, not as successful.

So where are they going? San Jose's biotechs are forced to establish facilities further up the peninsula in the Bay Area – taking jobs and business with them - because the incubator has the only lab space in the San Jose area. --Shirley Haley

image from flickr user caveman 92223 used under a creative commons license

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