Huntsville's biotech institute

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Huntsville is a late entrant to the biotechnology development game, but civic leaders are heading in the right direction. They have a reasonable set of expectations, an early focus on innovation, and a model in San Diego that is guiding their thinking. One strength: the region's base of scientists and engineers in information technology can provide momentum in key areas like bioinformatics. Read more.

Some observers criticize the rush to biotechnology investments. They point out that the large majority of investments will end up in only a handful of places. Few can aspire to be Cambridge or San Francisco. True enough. But that's not the only yardstick by which to measure the strategy.

Here's another way to look at it. Economic development investing is all about S-curves, portfolios, opportunity costs, and managing risks. Civic leaders in Huntsville are right to focus a portion of their economic development resources on businesses that are at an early stage in their technology life cycle. Life science businesses generally fit this characteristic.

The next question to ask is whether Huntsville has or can develop leading edge research and technology. That's an open question, but it's clear that Huntsville's leaders are thinking about their investment in these terms. Indeed, they are speculating --reasonably -- that they may be able to develop a position by combining biotechnology with their current strengths in computational science.

The next issue to explore focuses on innovation networks. Does Huntsville have in place the company structure (including, for example, experienced managers) and the networks (investors and advisors comfortable with the technologies) needed to commercialize these ideas? The answer is probably not, but they are focused on a good model to build these networks: UCSD Connect.

The final question comes down to an evaluation of opportunity costs. Given the range of futures in whch Huntsville can invest, do life sciences present a reasonable set of bets? Quite possibily, especially if Huntsville can leverage the state's major biotech hub in Birmingham.

These are not all the questions to ask, but they frame the investment strategy in a different light than simple comparisons to Cambridge or San Francisco.

posted by Ed Morrison |

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