The South Carolina life sciences industry is on the rise but needs more capital investment, improved education on all levels and the support of the political establishment to grow among stiff competition from neighboring states in the Southeast.
That was the message at the first joint SCBIO-SCMedTech conference held in downtown Charleston this week.
The state has solid infrastructure with research institutions like the Medical University of South Carolina and Clemson, and there are entrepreneurs looking to take new technology to market and existing companies interested in expansion possibilities here.
But there have been consistent checks to progress, according to speakers and attendees at the Creating Wow! Conference, held Wednesday and Thursday at the Mills House Hotel and Hibernian Hall.
Ed Snape, a senior advisor at the Nexus Group, a venture capital firm with a North Charleston office, said "there are deals" to be made. But "there's not enough money," Snape said. "There's not enough intelligent money."
Belimed, a global infection control company whose North American headquarters is on Clements Ferry Road, would like to bring more jobs to the area, but CEO Joe McDonald said workforce training is a stumbling block.
"It's where do these skilled laborers come from," he said, referring to conversations with his board in Switzerland, where apprenticeships are more common.
South Carolina Research Authority CEO Bill Mahoney said he frequently gets the same question from scientists considering South Carolina.
" 'Where is my kid going to go to school?' " Mahoney said he's asked. "We have to have a better answer for that."
Mahoney said he might have some answers to the funding problem, if he can get support from state government. He wants to raise the cap on the SCRA's Industry Partners Fund, which invests in start-ups; establish a Stage 2 fund for follow-on investment; and convince the state pension fund to invest in SCRA-endorsed biotech ventures.
Ed Yokley, an organic chemist who runs StormRider Technologies Inc. in Anderson, said a lot of the themes discussed at the conference were long-standing issues but that he was heartened by the conversation.
"I think we just need to continue to go forward and not do it on an episode-by-episode basis," he said.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.