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Building a strong local economy through biotechnology

by Dennis E. Powell

April/May 2014

Some of the leading – and most lucrative – biotechnology in the world is being developed in a small Florida city with a population of less than 10,000, northwest of Gainesville. The city is Alachua, and it is home to the University of Florida Biotechnology Incubator, the current recipient of NBIA’s Dinah Adkins Incubator of the Year award in the Technology Focus category.

As you might imagine, it didn’t just happen. The incubator has stringent standards for acceptance of clients – and it makes them prove themselves all over again every year. But those who make the grade are handsomely rewarded, through the program’s extensive connections with venture capitalists and international biotech giants.

“We have been very good at selecting the most promising companies,” said Patti Breedlove, director of the incubator. After companies have been chosen, they are not home free, though. “When we review a company and license space to them, the company is given 12 months. At the end of that period, they go before a review committee. They go through the same process they did on entry.” If the company passes muster – as all but a handful have in the incubator’s 19 years of operation – it gets another 12 months, followed by another review.

This way, Breedlove said, “we have the strongest crop of companies in the program.”

Competition for incubator residency is fierce, which might be a surprise in the area, part of the greater Gainesville area whose entire population is only about a quarter million. “It’s only in the last 10 years that the community has learned how to make money from the research” conducted at the University of Florida. Initially, the program focused on companies founded by professors at the university, “but today we take a different approach,” Breedlove said. “Now the accent is on experienced business leadership. The best thing you can do is find experienced business leadership and bring it in, rather than train scientists to be business people.”

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Keywords: Biotechnology incubation, client services, best practices, Incubator management, NBIA programs

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