Biotech gives the state good reason to cheer
December 19, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Next year will be the
year of biotech in Chicago. In less than four months BIO2006,
the global biotech industry conference, arrives at McCormick Place.
Local business leaders, academics and government officials believethe
show, which runs April 9-12, will spark a new era in economic
on our base of commercial goliaths such as Abbott and Baxter and
the R&D that grows in labs at the University of Illinois,
IIT, University of Chicago, Northwestern and Argonne, they hope
Illinois will spawn a new generation of entrepreneurial biotech
pharmaceutical products and medical devices, organizers of BIO2006
tout Chicago's deep organic roots in agriculture, food processing
and environmental science. They say that industry breadth could
push Illinois into the forefront of this growth industry.
more reason the future looks bright in Illinois biotech. Like
Silicon Valley, the kids are getting engaged.
A pep rally
for BIO2006 a few days back took place in a lecture hall, not
a gymnasium, at the University of Chicago's Gleacher Center. No
cheerleaders or brass bands, just plenty of bearded scientists,
Brooks Brothers-clad business executives and government officials.
Instead of coaches and athletes, they listened to tech vets from
Philadelphia, Toronto and San Diego -- prosperous past hosts of
the BIO show -- who shared their secrets for success.
were brewing in the back row. There was no illicit alcohol, yet
spirits were high. Amidst the grey hairs were some kids; real
kids -- 16- and 17-year-olds -- who belong at real pep rallies.
The kids were all lit up. It was the rumble of ideas and possibilities
that turned them on.
The 11 teens
were from IMSA, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in
Aurora. They're among our most gifted math and science students.
They came to hear and critique the proceedings.
the kids? "Biotech is a young industry," said Ray Briscuso
Jr., a consultant and BIO2006 organizer. "The technology
is amazing today. Tomorrow it is going to be astonishing. The
future is in these students' hands."
of Chicago's Bob Rosenberg, organizer of the rally, aims to create
life-changing events. "The legacy of BIO2006 is defining
biotech in Illinois," Rosenberg said. "Not only for
old folks -- it's about getting the kids excited and in contact
with today's brilliant minds and industry leaders."
The kids thought
the rally was cool, and they want to participate as equals in
the BIO2006 show.
from a farming family, and the technology is welcome." said
IMSA junior Everett Brokaw, who's from Monmouth.
know there was an industry in Peoria," said junior Stephanie
Chang, who was pumped to hear of biotech's potential in her home
Oak Park junior
Ehiwe Akhigbe wants local high school students to notice BIO2006.
"I don't know that much about biotechnology, but it was interesting,"
Forrest Iandola said he thought the presenters stumbled. He wants
to promote Illinois biotech. "Give us more opportunities
to develop and market the show," Iandola said.
junior Caleb Wang was all energy. "It's happening so fast
in Chicago," said Wang, who wants to connect Chicago bioscience
junior Young Hong Ip already does biomedical research at IIT.
Ip says we need more investment and business partnerships. "You
have all this university research but nobody is bringing it to
the public," Ip lamented.
principal Hector Munoz said he knows the kids from Silicon Prairie
can be great innovators. "They haven't been beaten up,"
he said. "They think they can make a difference -- and they
coordinator Michelle Kolar, "They are eager to get involved
in the community."
concluded, "There might be a superstar waiting to form a
new company right there in the back row." Silicon Valley's
not the only place where kids can rule in tech.
American has honored two Illinois scientists. Northwestern University's
Samuel Stump and University of Illinois' John A. Rogers made the
SA 50, a list of the year's top science and tech contributors.
California placed nine scientists on the list.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.