Commentary: Capra: The Need for Seed

Article excerpt

Jobs.

When people in this city and state talk about biotech, the conversation almost immediately veers toward jobs. But if you want to talk biotech jobs, the discussion must begin with seed funds.

Biotech seed funds are investor groups that provide early-stage financing to nascent biotech ventures. Without these seed dollars, promising intellectual property simply lays fallow, great ideas that never become anything more.

Not long ago, Oklahoma had a successful seed fund: the Oklahoma Life Sciences Fund. Run by William D. Paiva, OLSF invested $4 million in five homegrown biotech companies. Of those companies, four have gone on to raise considerable venture capital - more than $80 million in total - with most of this money coming from out-of- state sources that had never before invested in Oklahoma.

In other words, for every early-stage dollar invested by OLSF, those companies were able to leverage another $20. And along with those later dollars came growth and jobs - hundreds of them.

The five companies that OLSF helped to get off the ground now employ close to 300 people at an average annual salary of $65,000. That's roughly three times the state average.

The volume and quality of Oklahoma biotech investment opportunities have grown significantly since OLSF was founded. This growth is a product of past successes like Novazyme (now Genzyme) and ForHealth Technologies, enhanced infrastructure, and an ever- growing number of patents issuing from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and other state institutions. …