By Tanya Hume
Imagine a place where biotechnology businesses incubate and small start ups have a chance to conduct research and thrive. This is the San Jose BioCenter, a non profit organization that is a leader in accelerating new life enhancing technologies to the public, and was our first stop of the day. Erika Kula, Director, Business Development, explained this unique model of commercializing innovation with flexible lab space and access to state of the art equipment 24/7. It provides business support and scale advantages, allowing companies to direct money at research rather than equipment. Success stories such as BrighTex Bio-Photonics and Edison Pharmaceuticals were hatched here and the San Jose BioCenter is a true economic development initiative.
We heard from two companies currently residing at the BioCenter. Laxminarayan Bhat, PhD, President and CEO of Reviva Pharmaceuticals, explained that they are in Silicon Valley because of the highly qualified people that can be hired as consultants rather than employees and the ability to leverage the BioCenter facilities, allowing 70% of its funds to be directed at product development and 30% at infrastructure (opposite of their norm). Richard Jorgensen, Vice President, Business Development of Single Cell Technology Inc. is in Silicon Valley for its “smarts and innovation” and hopes to be acquired by a pharmaceutical company. Both guest speakers raised funds through angel investors; this is the recommended vehicle for raising capital in the biotechnology industry.
Our next stop was the IBM Almaden Research Center located in the hills of the Almaden Valley. This was a secluded paradise that sat on 691 acres. The guest speakers were impressive and spoke of education, analytics and simulation of the brain. Carolyn Wallace, Client Relationship Management, talked about the eight research labs around the world and the highly diverse employees representing over 50 countries.
Dr. Jim Spohrer, Director, Global University Programs, spoke of IBM’s Global Universities relation program and “the employee of the future” who should know business, technology, social science and public policy – a T-shaped professional who can communicate with everyone at all levels, but has a deep knowledge in one area. The philosophy is that “you should hire someone better than you.” Another large marketing plan is “Instrumented, Interconnected, Intelligent – Let’s Build a Smarter Planet” where intelligent systems are constructed to reduce waste, expand capabilities and create sustainable innovation.
Dr. Ying Chen introduced patent analytics technology and the concept of explore, understand and analyze. The possibilities using SIMPLE and COBRA for leveraging text and data mining capabilities seem endless.
The IBM values of:
Dedicate to every client’s success;
Innovation that matters for our customers and the world;
Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships;
were actually created from jam sessions involving thousands of IBM employees and using IBM analytics.
John Arthur, Research Scientist, discussed Cognitive Computing and the synapse project where they’re trying to create human behavior by working in virtual environments. Using the BlueGene, in May 2009, they had created the cat scale brain (a tool) and the pure optimism that behavior will be replicated in the next five years was, in itself, inspiring. This level of optimism has been so prevalent in Silicon Valley and the “can do” attitude is contagious.
The final destination was the Sheraton Palo Alto for an Alumni Reception which was hosted by Alain Doucet, Assistant Dean External Relations, Telfer School of Management. There were Alumni from the Telfer School of Management who now work in Silicon Valley, and other distinguished guests. The alumni espoused the pace of SV, the level of collaboration and quick decisions, as key success factors, and part of the draw, to the Valley. Our guest speaker was Chris Albinson, Managing Director, Panorma Capital – a Kingston native who has been in Silicon Valley for a decade. He spoke of failure as “something never to fear, but rather to embrace.” His most important point was that of transparency – the theme that has been developing throughout this trip.
Passion, a high level of curiosity, pride, taking risks and learning from failures, have been direct attributes we’ve seen in working with our entrepreneur in SV and these have also been mirrored in the companies we have had the fortune of being exposed to.