Maryland erected one of the more eye-catching displays at last week’s Biotechnology Industry Organization convention, rolling out a large swath of plush, white carpet under 30 exhibit booths, a small cafe, multiple seating areas and a product showcase.
The setup, which sat adjacent to a well-trafficked exhibit hall entrance, sent a targeted message to attendees: Maryland is a biotechnology anchor, and it’s not to be missed.
Even before the convention arrived in the District for the first time since 2003, the state’s biotech enthusiasts has been plotting how to best use its location to thrust the local industry into the spotlight.
“It allows us to showcase to the world some of the great work that’s going on in this part of the country,” H. Thomas Watkins, the chief executive of Rockville’s Human Genome Sciences, said before the show.
Some attendees were offered a tour on June 27 of the National Institutes of Health, where officials highlighted technology transfer programs and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) urged attendees to start businesses in the area.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) devoted much of his day Tuesday to the event, starting at a breakfast for biotech leaders where the results of a Department of Business and Economic Development study on the life sciences industry were revealed.
One-third of job gains in the state between 2002 and 2010 were in the life sciences sector, O’Malley said. Maryland directly attributes 71,600 jobs to the industry — including private, federal and university workers — at an average annual salary of $91,100.
“All of this confirms our growing leadership as a state,” O’Malley said at the breakfast.
Some noted, however, that the report employed a fairly broad definition of the life sciences industry that includes agriculture and animal health companies, not merely the drug researchers and developers that populate the Interstate 270 corridor.
The reality is that the biotechnology industry has been stifled, particularly in recent years, by a dearth in venture capital dollars. Financiers have shied away from the risky opportunities that biotech presents and what dollars are directed at the industry flow more readily toward life sciences hubs in Boston, San Diego and Silicon Valley.
Those areas have had more success at bringing technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, and as a result are home to many industry heavyweights and larger venture capital ecosystems.
“We’re going to do everything we can to encourage [venture capital] funds to support companies, but you have to have the companies and the talent in the state to attract the VC dollars,” said Steve Silverman, Montgomery County’s director of economic development. “That’s why they have historically invested more in places like Massachusetts and California, because the talent pool and the companies have been there.”
O’Malley and his administration turned to the recently passed InvestMaryland program to address the capital woes, emphasizing that the state will invest at least $70 million of its own funds into emerging tech firms. Officials expect private-sector dollars to follow.
Meanwhile, the Maryland Biotechnology Center doled out $1.8 million in grants to nine firms with market-driven ideas, and Leggett returned to the convention on June 29 to remind attendees that Montgomery passed a biotech tax credit last year to augment a similar program at the state level.