Within the span of less than a week, two diverse events that point to the same possibility: a future of growth for Florida.
On Thursday, April 12, I went to a social gathering sponsored by the Life Sciences Technology Hub (LST-HUB). It was one in a monthly series, held the second Thursday of every month at Waterway Café in Palm Beach Gardens. Just a few days later, on Monday and Tuesday, April 16 and 17, I attended the Palm Beach Strategic Forum, produced by The International Economic Forum of the Americas, held at the Palm Beach Convention Center. The two events couldn’t have been more different in every respect, from location, cost, makeup of the audience, structure of the event and what was appropriate dress. But they both pointed to a similar future: the prospective emergence of new jobs and new wealth in a region that has an urgent need for both.
At the LST-Hub event, people came to meet casually with others playing in the life sciences industry in Florida. They came to have a beer, some pizza and the opportunity to be part of an emerging industry cluster. I met people who came from as far as Miami, but most were from the Palm Beach area and other closer-in areas. They came without agenda to an event without a structure. The cost was free, but there was a jar at the front table where the event sponsors were hoping people would drop-in their contributions to go towards the cost of incorporating the organization and giving it some structure to enable more events serving more people. My guess is that about 70 people showed up – not bad for an event with the most modest promotion for an organization that doesn’t really exist yet. But if you were at the event you would have gotten a very clear message: there is a growing sense of self among those in the life sciences industry. Relationships are being created. Leaders are starting to emerge. Common goals and common problems are being identified and discussed. Confidence that “this may really happen” is starting to firm-up a lot more backbones. A community is being created.
The people who came to the Summit at the Convention Center were handed identification badges as they walked-in, along with brochures about the program, and an agenda for the two-day event that accounted for virtually every minute from early breakfast through end-of-day networking events. Those in the audience paid hundreds of dollars each to attend. There were two days of speeches, panels and presentations from people holding senior positions in global enterprises and governments. The Governor came to speak, and with him came news coverage from TV to print to online. If you wanted to describe something 180° different than the LST HUB beer social, you’d describe the Palm Beach Economic Summit. But, just as you could get a clear message from the LST HUB meeting that a community was emerging, you could get another clear message from the Summit: that Palm Beach/South Florida/Florida was in the process of being taken much more seriously than simply being an economy based on tourism, residential construction and agriculture. There was clearly a sense that the area was taking a new place among the world’s important business locations.
There Is A Terrific Convergence Of Events Happening.
At first blush, the two events are unrelated. But, put them together with other events and you see a clear opportunity. As life science entrepreneurs are coalescing into their own community and others from around the world are beginning to recognize the area as an increasingly important player in the global economy, the region is also boasting a critical mass in life science research facilities such as Scripps and Max Planck, and universities are joining at the hip with organizations that promote shared goals, such as FAU becoming a more active player in Palm Beach economic development. Organizations such as the Employ Florida Banner Center Life Sciences, are moving past their start-up stages and evolving into organizations with sharper senses of vision and the benefit of institutional experience. And, most importantly, there are literally hundreds of entrepreneurial start-ups, many if not most of which will never succeed, going after legendary success. At the same time, as I meet people in other businesses they are more and more buying into the idea that this time a globally important life sciences industry may really emerge in this area, albeit cynicism still remains from past failed starts.
This convergence of events and trends is really important. More has to be added to the stew, such as significantly increased access to start-up angel and venture capital. But there is something much more important than money that is necessary if this area is going to seize an important role in the life sciences industry: it needs to create a context so that all these events that are converging become easy to interpret. Events and trends should no longer be seen as unrelated and episodic. They need to be tied together.
How? Clearly, I have a bias arising from more than 40 years in the communications business: a story can shape reality. This region … this industry … needs a robust comprehensive campaign mentality. It needs to clearly define its goals – establish what it will mean to “win.” It needs a shared story that can drive a self-fulfilling prophecy. And then it needs to get a wide range of organizations, institutions, businesses and individuals, who haven’t worked collaboratively before – and, in many instances, who have worked with overly-parochial and too-competitive attitudes – to begin working in a truly collegial way. They need to coalesce around and support a shared, clearly articulated and actually achievable aspirational vision. In pursuit of that vision, they need to maximize their limited resources as they seek their shared goal. Once there is a serious commitment made to such a campaign, the region and the industry can explode. It will explode. And there will be a new industry and new jobs and new wealth.
Too optimistic? Well, it’s optimistic. But it isn’t “too” optimistic.