CHICAGO — When a woman approached Steven Martinez at the OKBio booth on the floor of the 2013 BIO International show seeking information about cancer research in Oklahoma, he knew the key person to whom she needed to be connected: Dr. Courtney Houchen.
Houchen is chief of the gastroenterology division at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. He was at the BIO show this week as CEO of Oklahoma City-based CARE Biotechnology, which he founded in 2010 to advance a promising treatment for pancreatic cancer.
“I knew she needed to talk to Dr. Houchen because I knew what he was working on,” said Martinez, client service and program manager with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
“And now they've set up a meeting to talk, so I'm hoping there is something they can do, some sort of partnership they can develop that will make his company successful.”
The chance meeting and a potential partnership is the ideal connection startups are seeking when they sign up to participate in the Oklahoma effort.
Martinez was able to point the visitor to Houchen because the two have worked together through the Oklahoma Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Collaborative Resources program. Martinez directs the collaborative program with Rick Rainey, a venture adviser with Oklahoma City's i2E Inc.
The collaborative resources program supports state-based small businesses wanting to compete for federal grants through the Small Business Innovation Research and related Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The collaborative gives companies such as CARE Biotechnology access to proposal preparation, expert coaching and mentoring, proposal writing workshops, peer review and other services to improve the chances of submitting a successful funding application.
With such assistance, CARE Biotechnology has submitted three SBIR proposals and one federal contract proposal.
“One of the SBIRs we filed looks like it will be funded,” Houchen said.
The expertise brought to the grant process by the Oklahoma SBIR Collaborative Resources program helps even veterans of grant applications in dealing with details, Houchen said. “They have been very, very good at that, which has allowed us to submit so many grants so fast,” he said.
COARE met several potential partners at the BIO show, one of whom suggested the company open a satellite office in Germany.
The bottom line for a company such as COARE Biotechnology or Moleculera Labs, Sensulin or any of the Oklahoma ventures participating in the OKBio effort is that it opens the door for potential investment capital, said i2E's Rainey.
“Oklahoma companies have a very hard time finding the capital resources to bring their therapeutics to market, so partnering with a large pharmaceutical company is critical,” Rainey said. “That's why these companies attend this conference, because all big pharmaceutical companies and therapeutic companies are here and looking for those partnerships.”
At a glance
The BIO International exhibition in Chicago closed at noon Thursday, and the number of Oklahomans staffing the OKBio exhibit had dwindled from about 70 to roughly a dozen by closing time.
Traffic was especially light during Thursday's two-hour closing session, but it was noticeably lighter over the entire four days than in previous BIO shows, said James Johnson, site location manager for the Oklahoma Commerce Department.
“Traffic has been down this year, but what I noticed in talking to a number of the attendees, especially those individuals with our companies, the quality of their contacts has been greater and more specifically targeted than it has been in the past” Johnson said. “If you want to judge one over the other, I would judge quality over quantity of the traffic.”