STEM Education: Delicious Results

Young Mason Partak, with help from his Mom, Kathy, are using technology in the form of GoFundMe to outfit the kitchen of his elementary school so that kids can learn to cook and students can have hot meals  to  fuel their brains and bodies.  What a great example of STEM education in action. Continue reading

Innovators: Thank a Teacher Today

As innovators, we make progress every day to develop new  technologies and services that will support and sustain life, feed the world, and fuel it.  We develop new apps to connect, to inform and to diagnose.  We’ve build a world beyond what our grandparents or parents ever imagined. What we do matters.  More importantly, this next generation will give life to new innovations, some we can only yet imagine.Continue reading

Picking Winners and Losers

This week, I received an opinion piece via email from a nonprofit institute that claims to “stand on principle, not politics”. 

They were  using the example of Suntech, a solar company that has received business incentives here in Arizona as a prime example of why we should not use government funds to support or invest in specific companies or industries.  The piece ended with the conclusion that  Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin’s bill, H.B. 2646, that would  establish a  fund in which the state “invests” directly in chosen companies was a bad idea.  The writer’s argument against the bill was based on business relocation incentives Arizona  provided to Suntech since that company failed or as the New York Time’s Keith Bradsher proclaimed:  “…was the Icarus of the solar power industry. And, on Wednesday, it fell to earth.”

OK, That Makes Sense… Or Does  It?

The writer’s premise was pretty simple.  Since Arizona invested in a specific company in an emerging technology sector and that company failed, future state investments in specific emerging technology companies should be discouraged.  Government should not pick winners and losers.  Instead, simplify government, create a more business friendly environment, and treat everyone equally so that there is a level playing field and let free market investment forces come into play.  

That sounds really good.  However, there are two problems with that argument. The first is that savvy investors NEVER base or judge an investment portfolio based on a single investment.  Sound portfolios are made up of a cross section of investments with the understanding that some may succeed and others may not.  That is the whole reason we diversify. Second, when you put certain industries side-by-side and look at their risk profiles, the field is not level to start with. Some emerging technologies would never see the light of day simply due to the perception that other less risky investments are a safer bet for investors.

Many emerging technologies, or yet to be discovered future innovations, will not progress purely on free market investment.  Railroads, telecommunications, semiconductors, the internet, and different forms of energy have all benefited from government investments and subsidies in their early years and some still do today.    The basic tenant of that public sector investment is that the future innovation or product meets an unmet need and supports the greater good making it worth forward looking public investment to help move the technology along to the point where the risk profile is acceptable to private sector investors.

Without government investments in basic research, we would not be the nation to first step foot  on the moon, the U.S. would not have become a world leader in semiconductor technology, nor would we have mapped the human genome.  Without further subsidies and support, they rarely move from concept to real world applications.

Innovation does not just happen.  It follows a path from discovery to development to delivery. 

State and federal investments combined with philanthropic support of the discovery phase build and maintain research infrastructure and support new discovery through specific programs.   This work occurs in public institutions like our universities as well as in nonprofit and for- profit businesses of all sizes.

The development phase is where traditionally private investment enters the process.  But development itself can have many phases and risk levels. Some of the industries that have the greatest potential to satisfy unmet needs, like biotechnology and alternative energy, have equally high risk profiles in the early development stages where angels and VC’s fear to tread.  They also, over time can have the greatest payoffs in both societal benefit and economic benefit to the country or state that supports them once they reach the delivery stage and begin to scale.  Great examples of successes include Ventana Medical Systems, Inc., a member of the Roche group that was born here and grew here (today the facility in Oro Valley is home to thousands of employees) and up-and-coming med tech companies like Ulthera in Mesa.

Developing an investment fund, using public dollars or state funded investment incentives, is not the same thing as offering relocation incentives to an outside company  to get them to locate here.  Properly managed investment funds have a criteria to evaluate both risk and reward and, by definition,  diversify their investments to buffer the aggregate risk.  The goal of an investment fund is to build companies that can scale and create jobs.  And when they do, they yield a much higher return on investment than when we “hold onto our wallets” which gets about the same ROI as putting the money under your mattress.

Investors are called to pick winners and losers every day and if the state of Arizona is to continue to  invest in our future, they will have to too.


Looking for the Leaders Who Will Shape our Future

Over the last week, meeting after meeting focused on innovation,  technology, and future directions for growth.  Times of change call for connected and coordinated leadership.  Where will we find ours?

Leadership Way

Last Monday, the week started off with a conference in Tucson where we began with a discussion about Research Universities and the Future of America.  The room was filled with leaders from Arizona’s universities, high tech industry, and government who were there to discuss and to brainstorm new initiatives based on 10 calls for action identified by the National Research Council.

Tuesday, sandwiched between meetings with local CEO’s, brought the opportunity for another leadership meeting where 20 technology and business leaders had an opportunity to meet with with Mary Miller, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance, United States Department of the Treasury and learn what was happening at the Treasury and to ask questions about key impact items ranging from the econ0my to the potential for both the Sequester and th4e Continuing Resolution in March.

Wednesday, stakeholders from across the biotech and health care industries met to work on SB1438 – Arizona’s Biosimilar Bill – while AZBio shared a presentation  with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Energy and Military on Arizona’s Bioscience Industry:  Where we are.  Where we’re going and what it will take to get there.

Thursday AZBio celebrated Rare Disease Day online and  at the State Capital sharing both information and support for patients and their families.  It also marked the beginning of two days in San Diego where we came  together with leaders from state bioscience associations, patient advocacy groups, and industry partners.  Presentations and  discussions enabled us to share ideas and create partnerships where we can work together to move personalized medicine forward faster and get life saving innovations to the patient community.

No Way Out

One theme ran consistently through all of these meetings.  There is no way out of the economic challenges we face if we work within our silos.  Success will come by working together, leveraging relationships, and combining resources to get the job done.

Innovation Highway

Arizona’s health care and bioscience industries are key growth vehicles that  move the state forward along the innovation highway with sustainable economic growth and life saving and life sustaining innovations as the destination.

Like all vehicles, we must consistently add fuel to keep our engines running and make sure that all of our vehicles are properly maintained.  This will require us to provide the support for the infrastructure that past investments have created:  our medical schools, research institutes, and university research programs.  As the same time, research without growth capital to support the commercialization engine will cause our vehicle to stall.  Creating new capital coalitions and infrastructures are our highest priorities and our greatest growth opportunities is Arizona is to compete at the top levels of our industry.

Growth Path

So, as we move along the growth path, who will shape Arizona’s Bioindustry Future?  The answer is: we all have and we all will.  Our opportunity simply accelerates when we come together – Academia, Government, Industry, Investors, and Patient Advocates with a  shared goal and a shared commitment to move things forward…faster. 

Honor Our Innovators and Nominate Them for Our Nation’s Highest Honor

Innovation is a key characteristic of our nation and critical to our current and future global leadership.  These days it is rare to attend a speech or symposium where innovation does not figure prominently in the conversation.   It’s so easy to talk about innovation.  It’s not so easy to actually develop a new product or service, commercialize it and gain the acceptance that defines the transition from invention to innovation.

Recognizing these leaders and honoring their efforts and achievements is the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.Continue reading

Spreading the Word on the SBIR STTR Race to the Finish Line

Few government programs make a bigger impact on keeping the United States at the forefront of innovation and technology of all kinds than the SBIR/STTR program.

A heat in the race for SBIR/STTR reauthorization was including in it in the Continuing Resolution (CR) that funded the Federal Government through December 16th, The Senate has now included the SBIR/STTR reauthorization in the Senate Defense Bill that passed yesterday by a vote of 93-7. The Bill also authorizes money for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Chair, Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, made the following comments following the Senate’s unanimous vote in favor of Amendment 1115 to the National Defense Authorization bill. The amendment would reauthorize the Small Business innovation and Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs for another eight years.Continue reading

The Super Committee could put bioscience industry growth and innovation at risk … hopefully they won’t!

Washington’s support is critical in protecting the only sector that demonstrated job gains, in Arizona and in Tucson in 2010.”

IMG_2008Last week I had the opportunity to share my opinion on some of the key decisions that the Super Committee is grappling with that could have a lasting impact on our community and our state.  Southern Arizona and especially Tucson is leading in bringing life changing innovation to the world.  This is what I shared as seen in  Inside Tucson Business

“Next Wednesday, Nov. 23, is the deadline when the Congressional “super committee” is supposed to present its cohesive cost-savings plan. This 12-member panel, among them Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has been grappling with the monumental task of slashing $1.5 trillion from the federal budget for months.

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Small Business, Innovation, and the Importance of Long Term SBIR and STTR Reauthorization NOW


At times like these, when the need for innovation, is greater than ever, the SBIR and STTR Programs hold the keys to the growth of new and innovative products in the U.S. small business sector.  Funding through SBIR and STTR awards provides critical support for new discoveries in both the small business and university research communities across 11 key Federal Agencies and unlocks the vault to bring out new innovations right here at home.

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Want To Move Forward Faster? Activate The Collaborative Gene

clip_image002Arizona biosciences sector demonstrates how to accelerate innovation and job growth and offers insight on how Washington can keep things moving forward faster by activating its “collaborative gene.”

By Joan Koerber-Walker, President and CEO, AZBio – The Arizona BioIndustry Association and Chairman of CorePurpose, Inc.

These days tales of economic vitality are few and far between making Arizona’s bioscience sector an inspiration to all as the nation focuses on jobs and economic recovery.

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