By Caitlyn Finnegan
From the steadily expanding core of Progress Corporate Park in Alachua, home to nationally recognized biotechnology companies like RTI Biologics and Nanotherapeutics, there are views of country roads and sprawling fields of green pasture – not always the first thing that comes to mind when discussing breakthrough biomedical discoveries and research.
But the small-town charm and continuous flow of innovation is exactly what continues to draw companies and investor interest to the area, and fuels bioscience association BioFlorida to celebrate the model of collaboration that has been established from years of growth.
Now in its tenth year, BioFlorida’s Celebration of Biotechnology has turned into a mecca of networking and window shopping for the latest technology and research products hitting the markets. Stephanie Warrington, chair of the Northeast Chapter of BioFlorida, said the event has grown into the second largest bioscience event in the state.
With just 40 people attending the event the first year it was ever held, the celebration’s tents now swell with more than 500 business owners, scientists, vendors and researchers.
“We have the ecosystem in place that can support a new idea and a new company to grow,” Warrington said. “We are doing more to market what we have here and we benefit from being a geographically small area; we can easily connect here in the Gainesville area as well as with nearby cities like Jacksonville.”
Biotechnology, an area of study that helps researchers develop solutions for problems as diverse as cancer detection to countermeasures for bioterrorism, has secured a strong presence in Florida with more than 11 percent of the nation’s biotechnology companies now located in the state. In Alachua, business is booming.
Nanotherapeutics recently inked a deal with the U.S. Department of Defense worth more than $200 million to help develop counter bioterrorism treatments, paired with its plans to build new facilities near Progress Corporate Park. RTI Biologics is expanding with a 41,165-square-foot Logistics and Technology Center in Progress Corporate Park. Also on the table was Syngenta’s acquisition of Pasteuria Bioscience for $113 million and AxoGen securing $20.8 million in financing.
Continuing on its trajectory to international acclaim, the University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotech Incubator was named 2013 International Incubator of the Year by the National Business Incubation Association, and the University of Florida’s Innovation Hub is continuing its efforts to expand the Innovation Square complex by attracting global companies like MindTree and Mobiquity.
Valinda Bronte, a senior sales representative with event sponsor Fisher Scientific, says the event’s focus on celebrating success and industry growth is near and dear to her heart.
“The biotech and life sciences market has grown exponentially in the time I have been here,” Bronte said. “Fifteen years ago it was still emerging, but now there is so much cancer research, diabetes research and all kinds of other research that have caused this explosion of growth.”
Which is exactly how industry associations, the university and other stakeholders hope to keep it.
“My goal is that by the 20th anniversary, Florida will not only be known just for its sun, beaches and oranges but its vibrant life sciences community,” said Nancy Bryan, the newly appointed CEO and president of BioFlorida.
Besides a celebration of success, the value of the event also lies in its ability to showcase up-and-coming technology to help advance the work of regional scientists and researchers.
“There aren’t too many events where everyone is able to get together in one place,” said Maulik Shah, founder of clinical diagnostic company GuidePoint Labs. “The event is great for networking, and on the scientific side, a lot of vendors update their equipment and processes so every time I come there is something new.”
More than 70 vendors attended the event, but event planners say not to count out even more vendors attending in the years to come.