The Indiana Economic Development Corp. spent the last six months preparing for the May 6-9 Biotechnology Industry Organization convention, the life sciences industry's biggest annual event.
Now that it's finished, the hard part begins.
"You build the relationship and you get the contacts," said Indiana Secretary of Commerce Nathan Feltman. "But then you've got to aggressively follow up to get them here in Indiana."
More than 20,000 of the life sciences sector's movers and shakers converged in Boston for the BIO show. Led by Gov. Mitch Daniels, Indiana's delegation attempted to make the most of the networking opportunity. That meant every waking hour of the three days was meticulously planned.
In addition to IEDC, Indiana's team included dozens of representatives from BioCrossroads, the Indy Partnership, the Indiana Health Industry Forum, every one of its research universities and all its most prominent life sciences firms. Standing out from the crowd was a challenge, since BIO attracts life sciences leaders from around the globe.
To set Indiana apart, IEDC began by hosting an "Indiana Comeback" lunch for 120 hand-selected former Hoosiers who have found prominent life sciences industry roles elsewhere.
The idea was to explain what Indiana has cooking in biotech-and why ex-pat executives ought to consider moving their companies here.
Next came a marathon series of oneon-one meetings meant to generate even more leads. Indiana officials pitched the state to research scientists, venture capitalists and the management of growing life sciences firms. They boasted about the fact that Indiana has one of the largest concentrations of life sciences talent in the nation and emphasized what the state can do for biotech enterprises.
Meanwhile, on the convention floor, Indiana had multiple trade booths handing out information and matchbox-size race cars. Daniels and the Indiana team wrapped it up with a dinner they hosted.
"This is very much a networked industry and business," said BioCrossroads CEO David Johnson. "And a huge portion of that network was there. It was good to see Indiana play such a prominent role."
There's more to it than simple elbowrubbing. Feltman said IEDC will follow up by sending thank-you notes to everyone members of its delegation met. More important, Feltman said, the delegation was careful to gather at least one followup item from every one of its new contacts. In the coming weeks, there will be another flurry of activity as Indiana's life sciences leaders reach their leads again to suggest specific people and firms here that can provide them assistance.
Local firms also attended with explicit goals in mind. O. Reed Tarwater, senior regulatory consultant for the Carmelbased Anson Group, said he nearly ran out of business cards at the convention.
He identified several potential clients. But he spent much of his time in talks with another life sciences firm whose services Anson Group wants to contract.
"I met 26,000 of my new best friends," he said. "It was absolutely huge."
Chad Barden, CEO of the fast-growing Lafayette-based medical device company Quadraspec Inc., had sent information about his company in advance to 4,000 prospective customers.
At the BIO show, he said, his main mission was to follow up. He demonstrated Quadraspec's device and managed to ink a couple of sales deals.
Like the rest of Indiana's delegation, he said, he was happy to explain to others what makes his home state a special place for life sciences businesses. Even so, it was difficult not to recognize BIO's scale-and the obvious enormity of Indiana's competition.
For example, Indiana just renewed its 21st Century Research and Technology Fund with $70 million for the next two years. That's great, Barden said. But Massachusetts just made a similar announcement-worth $1 billion.
"We're doing a lot of the right things," he said. "But we need to do it bigger and better than the rest of them if we're going to catch up."