Thursday, February 24, 2011

I(T) opening opportunity?


 The year was 2005, and I wasn’t yet aware that Ohio had a statewide bioscience association. A meeting I attended that year opened my eyes to a world of biomedical opportunities in our state, many of which have been capitalized upon. But six years later, at least one large opening still seems to be ours for the taking.

Co-sponsored by BioOhio, BioEnterprise and NEOSA, that meeting brought together almost 300 professionals who were eager to learn about IT opportunities in the biomedical industry, especially those brought on by HIPAA and other new regulations. I can clearly recall the energy – in the presentations, in the Q&A and in the networking session that followed. It’s interesting how one session can open eyes to new business and new connections.

Last night Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the commercialization outpost of the Clinic, presented a workshop on “Creating a Start-up Company.” And six years later, my eyes have been re-opened to the opportunity of commercializing Information Technology for use both in lab and clinical settings. Even though last night’s session was not focused on IT (an early workshop in this 9-part “Inventors’ Forum” series did that – see the full workshop list here), speaker after speaker inevitably worked into their presentation messages like these:
  •  early IT companies are getting biomedical funding.
  •  less capital is needed for IT venture deals.
  •  IT biomedical companies are likely to benefit from healthcare reform initiatives.
  •  Funding for compounds and pharma is almost impossible right now – the easiest path to the money is though projects that are led by IT.
  • It's not unusual for IT biomedical start-ups to secure $2 million in funding and then generate sales of $8-10 million in two or three years; those numbers are usually flip-flopped with most other bio start-ups ($10 million in funding/$2 million in sales) - and that's considered acceptable.  
So, sketch out an IT concept on a napkin, secure easy money, cash out handsomely? Hardly - success is not guaranteed to any start-up company. In fact, one of the great lines from a presenter was the admonition that it will likely take even the most skilled start-up team three companies and 15 years to finally write their success story. So the path isn’t smooth – but staying on sidelines isn’t quite a success strategy, is it?

The workshop session brought together a combination of business leaders, biomedical leaders (clinical, research, entrepreneurial), and legal (IP, commercialization) talent. Three of the six panelists were from outside the region and/or those not formally associated with Cleveland Clinic. Besides the undercurrent of enthusiasm for IT funding, these panelists repeated over and again that Cleveland already has in place the open and integrated resources needed to foster bioscience start-ups in ways that surpass Boston or San Francisco.

So, are we up to seriously exploring the opportunity to open the world’s eyes to Cleveland as the center of biomedical IT innovation?