Arizona’s technology community and the Bioscience Roadmap have become driving forces behind the economic success of our state. The industry plays a significant role in almost every sector of the business landscape and the work of its leaders is putting our state on the map as a nationwide contender.
Two industries in which technology and innovation are critical to saving lives are healthcare and bioscience. Our medical technology (MedTech) sector is rising, while the innovation we’re seeing is having a major impact on the growth of Arizona’s bioscience industry. The collaboration of health and technology is also helping our bioscience leaders reach their goal of creating a globally competitive bioscience sector and making Arizona a national authority in select areas of the biosciences by 2025.
In 2002, the Flinn Foundation created the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap, which laid out the primary strategy for turning Arizona into a national powerhouse for bioscience. One of the five overarching goals of the Bioscience Roadmap is to turn our state into an area that breeds bio talent. Two of the key strategies outlined underneath this goal are to greatly improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; and to attract and retain top graduate students, doctoral and post-doctoral candidates, and physician-scientists. Carrying out these strategies has been a joint effort of the technology, bioscience and business sectors.
Over the past five to 10 years, the technology and science communities have advocated a stronger focus on STEM education. Arizona’s academic institutions — especially universities — have invested significant resources into preparing a new generation for STEM careers and that trend is expected to continue. Arizona State University and The University of Arizona have evolved into nationally recognized research institutions. According to the Flinn Foundation, Arizona’s research and development expenditures since 2002 are up 55.1 percent, with the majority of spending coming from university research programs.
Through the Arizona Technology Council’s effort to spearhead or participate in STEM programs like the Arizona SciTech Festival, which is designed to motivate and prepare K-12 students, our academic institutions starting at kindergarten are increasingly addressing the need for a more highly educated workforce. The Arizona Department of Education and programs such as the Arizona STEM Collaborative and the Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence are playing a major part in providing resources to get children interested in and on the path to STEM careers.
Arizona is also home to a number of the nation’s leading MedTech organizations that play a large role in attracting and retaining top talent, because these individuals want to work in a region with world-class innovators in their respective fields. Arizona is host to healthcare organizations like Medtronic, Mayo Clinic, Translational Genomics Research Institute and The University of Arizona. They are leading providers, users and researchers of medical technology and their work helps to grow interest in a broader market of bio talent, as well as tech talent. This is an area where collaboration breeds excitement and growth for both technology and bioscience.
Another main goal laid out by the Bioscience Roadmap is the formation of an entrepreneurial hub in Arizona to ensure a successful future for the bioscience industry. To build this ecosystem and prepare startups to receive funding, the Arizona technology community has nurtured the growth and availability of incubators. One incubator in particular, BioInspire, is wholly dedicated to medical technology startups and has issued $2.4 million in seed funding for early-stage development. Incubators like the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation and others have also helped to produce health-focused startups. In fact, Arizona has a strong portfolio of MedTech companies that have recently received funding, including The Core Institute, Paradigm Diagnostics, Neolight and EpiFinder.
Despite our success in growing startups, there is still a proverbial hurdle we must clear before reaching our full potential. In fact, it is an issue across all technology sectors. Arizona needs to cultivate more angel investment funding for startups, as well as attract additional second- and third-level funding from venture capitalists for growing businesses. This initiative is high on the task list of the Arizona Technology Council’s Public Policy Committee and is one of the last remaining roadblocks to reaching our state’s economic development goals.
In early March, the Arizona Technology Council held its MedTech Conference that brought together physicians, healthcare advocates and innovative companies to discuss the future of healthcare and medical technologies, including the need for more funding for our startups. The speakers also addressed the use of emerging technologies in doctors’ offices, such as virtual reality, apps and software solutions, and 3D printing. The gathering of these individuals reiterated the importance of the collaboration of healthcare and tech in building a great place to work, learn and receive the top medical care with the help of innovative technologies.
The final goal of the Bioscience Roadmap is collaboration, and MedTech has played a big role in marrying our industries. When we align goals of technology and bioscience such as building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, recruiting and retaining talent, and collaborating with established companies and leaders, we realize we are both striving for the same thing: a better future for Arizona economically, socially and culturally.
Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.