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EDITORIAL: BioCrossroads an example of vision at work

February 18, 2012

BioCrossroads, the 10-year-old quest to turn life sciences into a vehicle for entrepreneurism and economic development in Indiana, is hard to describe as an unqualified success, but only because so much work remains to be done.

And because many of the assets most commonly associated with the industry have been here for decades, the idea of leveraging them to lure venture capital and creativity doesn’t seem especially visionary on the surface. The foundational institutions—Indiana and Purdue universities, Eli Lilly and Co. and Cook Group among them—are hardly new, after all.

But we hate to think what the state’s economic future might be if no one had made a point of putting the state’s life sciences assets to work in a coordinated, strategic way.

It’s hard to argue with the tangible achievements: More than 330 companies launched. The infusion of more than $330 million in venture capital. A tripling of exports. And national acclaim that can spur the sector higher. Various studies and reports have identified Indiana and/or Indianapolis as a hotbed of life sciences. And The Wall Street Journal last year cited Indianapolis as one of the best places for life sciences entrepreneurs.

Facilitating a culture of entrepreneurism here might be the life sciences movement’s biggest achievement. Breaking down silos between institutions and working tirelessly to leverage venture capital money has created an environment where promising companies like Indianapolis-based ImmuneWorks and EndGenitor Technologies can start and thrive.

When BioCrossroads started, there was much heavy lifting to do on the money front. Investment capital for entrepreneurial ventures here was scarce, a problem that was attacked right out of the gate. The founding partners and others raised $73 million to create the Indiana Future Fund and placed the money with venture capital firms that in turn placed bets on promising Hoosier companies. Since then, another $64 million has been raised and the investments have leveraged hundreds of millions from other investors.

Not all the news has been good. The uncertain future of our country’s health care system and slow progress on the scientific front have slowed funding of life sciences businesses nationwide. The recession was a step back for the entire economy. And in Indiana, the more than 8,000 life sciences jobs added over the last 10 years weren’t enough to replace the loss of other jobs. Hoosier incomes, overall, are still headed in the wrong direction.

The champions of our life sciences economy are making the same pleas they did 10 years ago: Indiana needs more investment capital and more promising companies.

It doesn’t strike us as a tired refrain. It comes across instead as a logical course, given the results that BioCrossroads and other life sciences endeavors have produced. The potential that was officially recognized 10 years ago is still there, only now it’s magnified.

It takes more than a decade to transform a culture—and an economy. We have no doubt those who’ve worked so hard to advance the industry to this point will rededicate themselves to building on what they’ve started.

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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