Breaking Through: More than a Conference
Two full days.
Two days filled with conversations. Reuniting with old friends. Making new ones. Listening to thought leaders, company pitches and predictions of the next scientific breakthroughs.
The annual CED Life Science Conference had all of that. And after two full days of networking, we all went back to our offices to catch up on the work that we had missed in those two full days.
But we have conferences like this so that we can keep up-to-date, refresh our connections and our brains. So that all of that learning isn't lost, we did a quick survey of the NCBiotech team that attended NCBiotech.
So what were their takeaways?
Our president and CEO, Doug Edgeton, always enjoys hearing the many new ideas floating around. He shared a few of his observations with the sponsoring organizations' boards at lunch on Tuesday. Even if you're not on that list, you can check out his list here.
It's no secret that the conference is the place to be to interact with the state's life science leaders. And the partnering system is a way to find exactly the right people to talk to. Jamie Martin on our business and technology development team reported that the number of one-on-one meetings easily eclipsed 300 and was well on the way to 400. That's twice as many meetings as last year.
And the type of meetings has gone beyond companies looking for partners, said Bill Bullock, senior vice president for economic development. He reported several meetings with companies -national and international - looking to locate in North Carolina.
"The conference is becoming a good venue to attract companies looking at North Carolina," Bullock said. "It seemed like there were more companies than in the past."
Company presentations are one of the recent features added to the conference. Far from being a Shark Tank-style pitch, these companies lay out their technology quickly to a curious audience, hoping to attract the attention of an investor.
For Business and Technology Development VP Joe Nixon, those presentations were the highlight.
“I was proud that ten of our loan portfolio companies were selected for Showcase presentations at the conference," Nixon said. "Another eight were highlighted in the Innovation Room.
"We are pleased to partner with CED to support the growth of these innovative life science companies in North Carolina.”
Coming from the leader of the team who coaches many of these small companies in presentation style, that's a real compliment.
For Mary Beth Thomas, VP of the Centers of Innovation program and our in-house Bio Defense guru, seeing KeraNetics present on the main stage was a proud moment. KeraNetics is a portfolio company that works in the Bio Defense space.
"They are a great example of a company that is successfully balancing developing innovative therapeutic solutions that will meet the needs for military, national security and civilians," Thomas said.
"They've been able to leverage significant, non-dilutive awards from federal agencies alongside private capital at an impressive 1:1 ratio. And now, on the cusp of FDA approval for their product, they have market opportunities for both civilian and military uses - opening multiple doors to future revenues for them."
It's a North Carolina success story in the making, one helped along by two different loans and other support from the Biotech Center.
This is the part where I get to brag a little bit. It's great when you're feverishly typing notes of a speaker's talk, and suddenly you hear "with thanks to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center."
And each time, you look up at the speaker, and you hear her or him a little differently. And you sit a little straighter. Because you remember that that's why you get up and come to work every day.
But given the rapidity of the acronyms and scientific terms coming from the speaker, you come back to the present and keep typing. Because tomorrow, there will be another researcher, another technology, another company to help along the path from idea to market.
"The conference reminds me of the pace at which our industry moves, and the necessity for NCBiotech to continue to move at the same pace to remain current and relevant," Bullock said.
Kudos are in order to the program committee here. For when the closing lunch and keynote arrives, it's really easy to duck out early and return to the office. But the lunch session has become the highlight of the CED conference.
It includes the annual Life Science Award, this year presented to PPD founder and entrepreneur Fred Eshelman. He spoke briefly, but didn't miss the opportunity to recognize the source of the ideas and talent that fuels the state's life science industry. That stuck with Susan Lankford in our Science and Technology Development Program.
"I liked Dr. Eshelman's words of wisdom about the importance of supporting funding for our universities," she said.
Though one of the speakers that held everyone's attention hasn't attended college - yet. She's Katherine Yang from the North Carolina School of Science and Math, who has done the initial work to identify a compound that may help treat breast and prostate cancers. Every year, most of us feel outsmarted by a teenager.
The parade of scientific prowess was capped by Nobel laureate Robert Lefkowitz. After all of the future thinking, experiment explaining and investment validating, the last thing we expected was humor. But a light talk was exactly what Lefkowitz delivered, and it made the highlight list of several on the NCBiotech team.
"I thought his delivery with humor was phenomenal, considering the significance of the event and honor bestowed upon him, while still providing the details of the ceremony," said Mark Phillips, VP of statewide operations and executive director of the Eastern Office.
I think we can all agree on that statement.