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Investing in Biotech is Essential to Our Future

Investing in Biotech is Essential to Our Future

An open letter by David Day, Assistant VP and Director, UF Office of Technology Licensing and Patti Breedlove, UF Sid Martin Biotech Incubator Director

Here we are at the culmination of an “overnight success” 18 years in the making. UF’s Sid Martin Biotech Incubator received its third “best in the world” award in the past five months. Why all of these awards? The results.

In a six-month span last year, the incubator’s graduates raised over $400 million in investments and contracts. Our 50 or so area biomedical companies employ about 4000. Almost all of the leadership and technologies of these companies have spun out of UF. They are around our region – at Progress Park in Alachua, behind the 34th street post office, in the Innovation Hub, out in Jonesville…and on it goes.

Celebrate! It is a great thing! And more is to come. With the University of Florida striving mightily to reach “Top 10” status, a growing research engine will produce more discoveries, our local entrepreneurs will start new companies, and the growth will continue.

While we are not Orlando we have done well.  We were recently recognized as the #1 Up and Coming town in the U.S.  But we can do more. It is time-consuming for investors to visit us. Our management pool is smaller than the technology opportunities produced by UF. And do not let us forget that the management is crucial, they are the rainmakers – the “rain” being other peoples’ money from other regions of the country.

We have had big successes. RTI Surgical is a great example of a business spun out of UF that has sales of about $200 million a year, employs hundreds locally and is now acquiring other companies from Germany to Texas.

But we reach greater heights.   Right now we have two companies forming in faraway major technology hubs, each closing in on venture funding rounds in the multiple tens of millions of dollars. This is happening because the management for those companies is there.  How do we capture these additional startups and that money here? Just as we have successfully recruited companies from India and Boston to locate here, we should dedicate time, energy, and financial resources to landing more management talent to supplement our already existing outstanding talent who can bring our community additional tens of millions of dollars and the jobs that go with them.

We have helped nearly 140 new companies start over the past dozen years.  As these companies are now reaching the next level of growth we need to work very hard to retain those companies and their employees.

Money is always an issue.  Investment capital is required to make all of this happen; both the seed capital to found startups and the venture capital to grow those startups into full-fledged companies. With a lot of support from UF, local angel investors and the state of Florida we are growing a comprehensive funding system that ranges from seed capital through the venture B round.

We were told on a San Francisco visit with venture capitalists a number of years ago that if we wanted to significantly increase their investments in our companies we had to INVEST IN OURSELVES. They urged us to create local venture funds upon whom they could rely on for good judgment thereby stimulating their co-investment dollars.

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We have since begun that. We now are home to two life science venture funds: one out of San Francisco and one out of Boston. This is remarkable! These funds continue to raise money and we can help ourselves by investing in them. In turn, they will invest in us.

With President Machen’s leadership, we have secured a statewide program of seed funding for startups that requires private investor match. This program is stimulating $4-5 of private investment for every $1 of public money. It is in the best interest of our community and the State of Florida for this seed funding program to continue to be funded by the state.

We have come a long way.  We can go much further.  With all of us working together we can continue to create a better tomorrow that will grow more good jobs locally, retain  some of those 10,000 graduates who leave our community annually, and support  products being brought to the market that improve the human condition – that will make the world a better place.

Thank you for all you have done, and especially thank you for all you will do tomorrow and into the future.

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