Bio by the Bay

A couple of evenings ago I attended a hors d’oeuvres and wine reception for BayBio, a San Francisco Bay Area biotechnology promotion organization. Since biotech is well established around here it’s a little hard to generate a lot of gravity to this sort of thing. The people attending tended to be the ancillary biotech community: IP law firms, small start-ups, consulting firms, marketing firms.

The most interesting thing was…

The most interesting thing was presentation by the head of BIO, the biggest nationwide biotech industry trade organization. Besides lobbying in Washington and in state capitals, the most conspicuous thing they do is an annual industry convention called BIO 200x. BIO 2004 is going to be in San Francisco next June. The trade show is some rough indicator of the interest in—if not success of—the biotechnology industry. In 1988 when they had their first convention they had 1500 attending. In 2002 they had 15,000 and in 2003 in Washington, DC, they had 17,000 including the Pres himself. They’re planning for 20,000 for SF.

The guy had a few other things to say.

  1. CA has more companies and people employed in biotech than the next two states, Mass. and MD, combined. But…across the nation there are dozens of would-be BayBios, i.e., community biotech promotional organizations. More than that, there are many dozens more around the world. The world was dozing as the Silicon Valley became fat on microprocessor technology, but nobody in the world is asleep about the economic potential of biotech.
  2. At BIO 2004 they are expecting trade delegations, recruiters, biotech-center promoters, universities and government representatives from over 100 countries. He said there is a culture to biotechnology, and it is globally-oriented.
  3. Another message: if a region like the Bay Area doesn’t work aggressively to keep the industry, there are many, many others ready to pounce. The industry is fairly fluid and will go wherever the conditions favor it.

It’s hard for me to imagine computer industry leaders headquartered just 20 to 30 miles south of this location looking at their industry even 10 years ago in the same dynamic way. Now they’re trying to figure out how to revitalize Silicon Valley in the face of global competition and worldwide skill redistribution. At least the biotech industry is on notice about these conditions from the get-go.

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