Scientific discoveries and new developments are taking place everyday in Alachua County. What used to be known as a sleepy farm town is quickly becoming home to successful biotech firms and some of the brights researchers in the country. Nick Banks discusses the parallels between Alachua of the past and the future.
By Nick Banks for Business in the Heart of Florida
Recently, I was invited to participate in a brainstorming session to help think of some creative ways Progress Corporate Park in Alachua could be marketed. The meeting took place at Alachua’s City Hall in the City Manager’s office and there were several stakeholders present from Progress Park, including Patti Breedlove, director of the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator, as well as leaders from companies like AxoGen, Nanotherapeutics, and Banyan Biomarkers. At the meeting, Adam Boukari, the assistant City Manager, gave us an historical overview of Alachua and specifically the community’s roots (pun intended) in agriculture. The community still has deep ties to agriculture but has also emerged as a world renowned hub for biomedical research, invention and production.
The representatives from the biomed companies then went on to briefly discuss the evolution of their companies. Many were spawned from research or intellectual property originated from the University of Florida. They often began with just one or two people in a small lab. Almost all of the companies have had a presence at the Sid Martin Incubator and many still do. These companies were all cultivated from almost nothing into the companies they are today. Many of the companies in Progress Corporate Park are now doing business all over the globe. RTI, for example, began as a small company like this and now has about 1,000 employees doing business all over the world.
Hearing the history of Alachua alongside the history of these companies brought to mind some obvious parallels between growing crops and growing companies. Progress Corporate Park grows companies in much the same way that farmers in the area grow crops like blueberries or strawberries.
The seed in the case of the biomed company is the idea. This is where it starts. To flourish and grow, a seed must be planted in the fertile soil. For the biomed company, that fertile soil is provided in places like Progress Corporate Park. Access to shared equipment, testing labs, collaboration with other scientists and plentiful, talented labor pools are all part of the fertile soil provided. Water and fertilizer are used to nourish and grow crops. The nourishment the companies receive is in the form of funding from investors, contacts from private companies or from governmental agencies. We see cross pollination when companies join forces or create partnerships.
I’m not a farmer or a scientist, but I do remember a couple of things from biology class. Sunshine is an absolutely essential ingredient to allow plants and crops to grow. Without light, plants die. What is the sunshine and life we can provide for our biomed community? I think the more we can all do to shed light upon the amazing things that are happening right here in our community, the more interest we will see from companies and talented individuals from the outside. That sunshine will draw them here and allow us to shine even brighter.
I’ve been in several meetings with CEOs visiting from out of town and have seen the reaction they have when they learn about all the mind-boggling innovation being created right here in our community. We have wonderful resources here and have so much to offer. We have all the necessary ingredients to create, nurture, develop and mature an ever-growing crop of amazing biomed companies.