In our efforts to link the scientific work in our laboratories with people who can turn it to commercial use, we realized that we need a partner to work in the middle, cultivating connections and helping to make deals. To help fill that need, the Marine Bio-Technologies Center of Innovation was created to serve a “nexus” between marine scientists and potential biomarine business partners up and down the North Carolina coast.
MBCOI is an independent nonprofit organization and was begun with an inception grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center. Its headquarters are right here in the CREST Research Park, and branch offices are in Morehead City and Research Triangle Park. MBCOI’s staff works closely with marine biologists across the UNC system, including UNCW, and at other major research institutions such as Duke and Wake Forest universities. This regional focus is deliberate, as a primary goal is to develop North Carolina’s economy and to help link regional players to partners anywhere else in the world.
The center’s CEO, Deb Mosca, Ph.D., said its mission includes exclusive partnerships to provide its stakeholders with access to novel technologies. To that end, it works very closely with UNCW researchers at MARBIONC, and with the startup businesses that also occupy the CREST Research Park. The center has already forged partnerships with organizations across the United States, as well as in other countries, including Canada, Ireland and Scotland.
One of MBCOI’s prime assets is a database of available marine-related technologies, both academic and private. This inventory includes intellectual capital, such as ongoing research and the expertise of scientists and engineers; and intellectual property, such as patents and proprietary processes. To assemble the database, MBCOI identified about 250 scientists at North Carolina colleges and universities who are undertaking marine-related research, and has conducted interviews with more than 150 of them so far.
“By conducting personal interviews, MBCOI is able to gather more in -epth understanding of the researcher’s expertise,” Mosca said. This inventory proved its worth recently when a large corporation based in the European Union was looking for available technologies that might be ready for commercial development.
“We interrogated our database,” Mosca said, and sent back a summary of a dozen possibilities. “They were impressed,” she said, and ended up issuing several contracts to MBCOI to access one of the technologies available only through MBCOI’s exclusive partnerships with North Carolina enterprises. In another case, a corporation hired MBCOI to serve as a project manager for the technical-evaluation phase of its proprietary material. “We don’t own any of these technologies,” Mosca explained. But when helping to broker such agreements, MBCOI can get a commission or, in this case, “do a straight service deal,” which provides its revenue.
That’s the long-term goal: by continuing to foster commercially viable partnerships, MBCOI can become a self-supporting entity, no longer requiring such outside support as the initial grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center.
In its business development role, MBCOI has already worked closely with several startup enterprises, helping them develop business plans and to make connections with investors.
An essential piece of the science-to-commerce puzzle is what’s called “technology translation,” by which basic research is turned into marketable products and services. That’s often a difficult, complex job, and it’s a central focus of MBCOI’s mission. Beyond helping to broker the deals, it also helps individual players, whether scientists or small entrepreneurs, acquire technical resources they couldn’t get on their own. A third essential, but often overlooked, step is to design formal processes by which the development work is both planned and evaluated on a business-like basis.
Two other key jobs are to help find funding – through grants, contracts or both – and marketing.
MBCOI does these jobs through its extensive network of contacts, including government agencies, foundations, corporations and universities. The marketing effort includes working through the media, but also putting scientists together with investors and entrepreneurs at conferences and trade shows.
A major recent accomplishment was to bring the 2015 BioMarine Business Convention to Wilmington last October. This important international gathering had been scheduled to meet somewhere in the United States, but organizers had initially focused on better-known sites on the East Coast such as Boston or Maryland. MBCOI, with its partner, the southeastern office of the N.C. Biotechnology Center, were able to make the case for North Carolina as an important center of both marine science and marine business, and for Wilmington as a great place to hold a convention.
This wasn’t a typical gathering of scientists. It was more of a convention for executives, the sorts of people who can make deals, and make them on the spot, without having to check back with the home office for approval.
During the convention, many of these high-powered delegates from around the world toured local facilities, including MARBIONC. What may have been the convention’s most important aspect were so-called Investment Pitch sessions. Of the 15 companies that presented their business models to the assembled executives, five were North Carolina-based biomarine businesses. Many of those attending these presentations were investors from Europe, who otherwise might never have encountered some of these small companies. In a similar but lower-profile process, the convention resulted in 285 requests for “one-on-one partnering” meetings involving nearly 100 delegates from all over the world.
The essential steps that MBCOI took in this process, Mosca explained it, were first to create the networks, then to get the conference here, and finally to point potential partners to the region’s available resources.
Looking to the future, MBCOI is focusing on ways to grow aquaculture-related businesses in North Carolina. One xample is applying biotechnology to improve aquaculture feed so the levels of the desirable omega-3 fatty acids in farmed fish are more comparable to wild-caught fish. But for that improved health benefit to pay off in the marketplace, the industry needs new and better nutrition labeling systems for seafood. “We’re working with several stakeholders to determine the feasibility of an aquaculture center in North Carolina where a lot of these ideas and techniques could come together,” Mosca said.
In another seafood-related outreach, MBCOI is helping a company that has developed new DNA genome-sequencing techniques to find broader applications for its technology. Originally invented to analyze pathogens – and used in homeland-security applications and even to help fight the Ebola epidemic in Africa – these methods are now being applied to vibrio, the micro-organism that can make you sick if you eat a “bad” oyster. The point is to help the seafood industry by making it easier, faster and cheaper to tell those “bad” oysters from the ones that are safe to eat, which is of course important to coastal economies.
MBCOI doesn’t limit its outreach to professionals or entrepreneurs. In the public phase of its work, its staff has spoken about the importance of marine technology and the marine environment talks at public forums such as UNCW’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and the Planet Ocean Seminar Series.
So MBCOI is more than just an important part of the developing cluster of marine-based industries and businesses that call Wilmington, North Carolina home. It’s playing a crucial role in promoting and developing that cluster.
UNCW CREST Research Park is a front-runner in marine biotech research and development. Researchers are exploring the potential of natural products derived from the sea to treat or cure human diseases and meet other important needs.
Discover why rising biotechnology and life sciences groups from all over the country are moving to UNCW CREST Research Park. UNCW CREST Research Park offers top-notch commercial laboratories available for lease at affordable rates, flexible terms, and innovative product development opportunities that are unmatched by any other park. Connect with CREST at [email protected] today.
Christina Haley O'Neal - Jan 17, 2018
Cece Nunn - Jan 17, 2018
Jessica Maurer - Jan 17, 2018
Cece Nunn - Jan 17, 2018
Jessica Maurer - Jan 17, 2018
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