Biotech’s international show is good time for state to shine | submitted by Tom Still

The annual biotechnology convention is a time when Wisconsin gets to strut its stuff in front of a global audience.

Fortunately, we have the right stuff to strut.

Held this year in Washington, D.C., this week’s BIO International Convention is where 15,000 or more scientists, business leaders, pharmaceutical companies, and investors come together to talk about the latest industry trends and challenges.

Wisconsin will be among the faces in that crowd through an 800-square-foot pavilion on the floor of the Washington Convention Center. Gov. Scott Walker will be among a dozen state governors in attendance, and more than 40 nations will be represented.

The theme of this year’s BIO convention is “Heal, Fuel, and Feed the World,” and Wisconsin can make the case it has ingredients to help with all three.

Its resources include the abundant natural resources needed to produce bio-products – such as clean water, healthy forests, and productive farms. It also has the research laboratories needed to produce world-class ideas. Wisconsin attracts $1.2 billion in academic research and development grants each year, and the UW-Madison has been ranked among the nation’s top five research universities for 20 years in a row.

Wisconsin has a healthy infrastructure for entrepreneurs, including the largest network of angel investors, pound for pound, of any state in the nation. It has a strong system of investor tax credits, especially for angel investors. A bill that would dramatically expand Wisconsin’s venture capital capacity is pending in the Legislature.

Wisconsin has long been known as a pioneer in technology transfer, with organizations such as the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the UW-Milwaukee Research Foundation and others leading the way. The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and the Morgridge Institute for Research, which began operations this year, are among the world’s premier inter-disciplinary research centers.

Because Wisconsin knows how to translate ideas into commerce, the state is home to more than 600 life sciences companies in sectors such as drug discovery, diagnostics, medical imaging, agricultural biotechnology, biofuels, electro-medical equipment, medical records, genetics, regenerative medicine, and genomics. While many states have larger concentrations in some areas, few states have a life sciences portfolio that is so complete and diverse.

Wisconsin events during the BIO event are designed to help highlight that diversity. Among the three-dozen or so groups represented in the pavilion are companies, universities, and research organizations from across Wisconsin.

Former U.S. ambassadors Mark Green and Tom Loftus, and former Peace Corps official Tony Carroll, will speak during a luncheon focused on Wisconsin’s capacity to help address global health challenges. All three are Wisconsin products with extensive backgrounds in global health issues.

A reception with delegations from Minnesota and the Canadian province of Manitoba will highlight cooperation within the region and beyond. Some 400 people are expected.

Throughout the convention, company leaders from Wisconsin will take part in “bio-partnering” sessions with other firms from across the globe – sort of a high-tech version of speed dating.

When it comes to “healing, fueling, and feeding the world,” Wisconsin researchers, companies, and investors have what it takes. This month’s BIO International Convention is an ideal time to show others that when it comes to biotech, Wisconsin offers a complete package.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. To learn more, visit and

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