Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bioscience View from Southwestern Virginia

There are challenges to developing good lifescience companies anywhere, but they can be reasonably overcome if the basic building blocks are good: good science and good people. Southwestern Virginia is beginning to distinguish itself with an ability to grow and support bioscience in this area.

Several factors play into this ability. First and foremost is a community desire to be successful. Residents of regions such as Hampton Roads or Northern Virginia which is already growing at a good clip don't wake up in the morning with economic development on their minds. In this area, however, leaders from the Roanoke Valley, New River Valley, and surrounding jurisdictions share a common desire to help businesses grow locally and often come together to provide the resources for them to do so.

Recently that desire for economic development has resulted in an increased availability of capital. Lack of money is often bemoaned as a reason why more early stage companies do not grow. In Southwestern Virginia, however, there are active angel and VC networks that seek to get the best and brightest opportunities funded. The Roanoke-Blacksburg Angel Network and the $12 M NewVa fund are two examples of organizations focused on all businesses, including lifescience, and which actively review and invest in small and growing companies.

This area is also fortunate to have as its economic and intellectual pillars the Carilion Health System and Virginia Tech. These two employment and development leaders are key to many of the bioscience and growth initiatives in the region. Virginia Tech, in addtion to being a nationally recognized research university, had the foresight to establish the VT Corporate Research Center which today houses more than 100 companies and 1800 employees in growing technology and life science companies. Carilion, in addition to being a $1.2 B healthcare system with ten hospitals, actively supports growing medical companies, established the Carilion Biomedical Institute, and created Riverside Center in downtown Roanoke as a new 27 acre village for biomedical and business growth within an already successful city.

These factors have helped create a growing stream of lifescience focused companies in this region and an ability to fund and grow many more. For every Luna Innovations, TechLab, Intrexon, and American Biosystems already established here, there are many more small companies just forming and looking for the opportunities that will help them grow into a next generation of successful biotech companies.

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