Steve Burrill, the biotech prognosticator/meeting impresario/speaker/writer/banker/investor, likes to say he’s “geographically agnostic.” To me, that sounds like one way of saying he hunts for the best biotech investing opportunities in the world. It also essentially means he could care less about the chamber-style boosterism and sentimentality that sometimes clouds the judgment of well-intended folks who just want to support local business and stir local economic growth.
As Burrill told me this week, talking on his mobile phone during a taxi ride in London: “Our paycheck comes from building great companies.” He added: “You can build a powerful company anywhere.”
The good news here is that Burrill and his team of conference organizers in San Francisco see a reason to pour some of their time and energy into hunting for biotech ideas in the Northwest. It’s the second year in a row that Burrill has agreed to leverage his Rolodex to help attract investors, and dealmakers from around the world to the annual Life Science Innovation Northwest conference organized by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.
Burrill will once again give one of his fast-paced, information-packed keynote talks at the conference, which is scheduled for March 2-3 here in Seattle. Just like last year, Burrill said he wants to be connected in Seattle because of its strength as the IT hub that gave rise to Microsoft and Amazon, not so much as the engine for new biotech drug development. Infotech will be vitally important as the world moves to more personalized medicine, and predictive diagnostics, he says.
“We’re moving to spit on your BlackBerry world,” Burrill says, referring to one idea for how a biological sample might get placed on a DNA chip, and transmitted to your doctor to provide real-time health information. The idea is tantalizing, because, Burrill says, “people all over the world have access to the mobile technology.”
It would be easy for Burrill to be like many high-profile biotech investors in the Bay Area, and essentially ignore the Northwest. The latest bit of regional disrespect I saw was in a survey of 93 C-level biotech executives in California who were asked about what they considered the most attractive markets for biotech outside of the Golden State. Washington state was ranked No. 6, behind Greater Boston, North Carolina, Minneapolis-St. Paul, the always formidable “Other,” and the Washington D.C. area. So to get Burrill and other investors or entrepreneurs in his social circles to pay any attention at all to the Northwest is something of a feat.
That’s not really news to the folks at WBBA—it’s partly why they are pushing so hard to raise national awareness about the Northwest and to practically herd in top-tier biotechies with an electric cattle prod.
Of course, one talk from Burrill isn’t enough to achieve critical mass for an investing conference this many miles away from the leading U.S. nodes of power and money. So Jim Greenwood, the president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization and a former member of Congress, will be on hand to give another keynote, presumably about how some of new healthcare policies coming out of the other Washington will affect biotech business models in this Washington.
I personally look forward to being there digging up news and feature stories, and networking as always. Much of the actual program is still being sorted out, but you can get a glimpse at part of the schedule by clicking here. See you there on March 2-3.
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