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Building Social, Investor and Tech Transfer Networks

Building vibrant social networks that link managers and company founders, scientists and inventors, and investors has helped the Bay Area and San Diego biotech clusters succeed, according to a 2009 study titled “The Marketplace for Ideas: Can Los Angeles Build a Successful Biotechnology Cluster?” The Los Angeles region has historically lacked in this area, said the study’s lead author Steven Casper of the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences. But more effort is being put into building this side of the area’s infrastructure, according to local industry professionals. The BioTech Forum and Maverick Angels are two such efforts. And there are well-established technology transfer programs in arm’s reach of local entrepreneurs and scientists. Social networks Intellectual capital is one of the greater San Fernando Valley area’s biggest assets, said Brent Reinke, co-founder of The BioTech Forum, a social networking and educational group for life sciences professionals. Many scientists and entrepreneurs enjoy the quality of life here and don’t want to leave. “I know in order for those individuals to succeed, they need an ecosystem,” said Reinke. “A big way to do that is through creating social networks. The reason we founded the Biotech Forum is to link these people to the broader life sciences community.” The Forum launched shortly before Amgen went through a round of layoffs in 2007 and has about 75-100 active members. The group hosts networking and educational events throughout the year. Reinke is also working to boost the Forum’s website. It has a life science blog, news, and a portal for scientists to post resumes and job openings. He also plans to videotape presentations and events and link streaming video to the web site. Another local resource is the Southern California Biomedical Council (SoCalBio), a trade association for life-science industry in Greater Los Angeles. It also hosts educational and social events for industry professionals throughout the year. Investor networks Thousand Oaks-based Maverick Angels is a network of angel investors that provide funding for early stage companies. Investments, made by individuals or a group of investors, are typically in the $1 million or less category. Locally, the group also has chapters in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. It hosts “Boot Camps” to teach entrepreneurs about the fundamentals of raising start-up capital. And it hosts events where entrepreneurs pitch their concepts to investors. A number of former Amgen scientists and other life sciences professionals are involved with the group, said Reinke who co-founded the Biotech Forum with Maverick Angels founder John Dilts. It gives them an outlet to mentor entrepreneurs and invest in companies that have gone through a vetting process. The group also developed AngelLink – a virtual angel investor network. The online angel investor group allows Maverick members to access high-quality deals filtered by the group’s qualification process. It also encourages a collaborative mind share environment for high-net-worth member investors. Tech Coast Angels is another active group of angel investors in the region. It completed seven new funding deals and 17 follow-on deals in 2009. Companies in entertainment, industrial applications, retail, communications, healthcare, biotechnology and home improvement received the 2009 investment dollars. Technology transfer networks “UCLA is very active in biotechnology and medical devices,” said Emily Waldron Loughran, director of licensing for UCLA’s tech transfer program. “And there has been a lot of recent activity related to start-up companies.” Five years ago, 20 percent of the school’s tech licensing went to start-ups. In fiscal year 2009 that number jumped to 80 percent, said Loughran. And 60-70 percent of the technologies are in the biotech and medical device sectors. Some of the school’s top revenue producing technologies include: a medical coil device for aneurysm treatment; nicotine patch; diagnostic test for gastrointestinal diseases; connective tissue stem cell; and an Embolism Retrieval Device. “We have a strong local presence, but also have licensees all over the country,” said Loughran. “Our hope is that companies stay local.” Caltech has also done a lot of biomedical licensing over the past five years, said Fred Farina, VP for technology transfer at the school. “As a matter of fact, last year every company started was in this area,” he said. In fiscal year 2009, the school issued 61 licenses, 128 patents and worked with 18 start-up companies, said Farina. The start-up companies raised an aggregate of $75 million in funding. Two noteworthy spinouts since the program launched in 1995 are an automated DNA sequencer and a CMOS Imager that has applications in cell phones, cameras and x-ray equipment for life sciences. In the first ten years of the program, 80 funded companies were created with Caltech technology. Half of those companies stayed in the greater Los Angeles area, said Farina “Our basic model is: we have a good relationship with faculty; low bureaucracy in a fast-paced environment; and we find creative ways to make deals happen,” said Farina.

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