By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2013, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
CHICAGO — Among the first Oklahomans on the 2013 BIO Convention exhibition floor Monday morning was Brien Thorstenberg, director of business with the Muskogee City-County Port Authority.
He’s been here before.
Thorstenberg has worked the Oklahoma BIO booth each year since the 2004 show in San Francisco. He’s greeted visitors and scanned badges on behalf of the OKBio effort while working for economic development organizations in both Muskogee and Ardmore.
Before he greeted his first visitor to the Oklahoma booth at the opening of the 2013 BIO show, Thorstenberg pondered a question that often arises for the group that invests money, time and passion into an annual four-day life sciences trade show.
What is your payoff from this effort?
“You create contacts here,” Thorstenberg said. “If you just send someone an email or phone them, you are going to get blown off. But if you get in a position — be it at our reception or at the trade booth of one of the partnering sessions and talk one on one — they may not have an opportunity now to do business with you, but in three or five years they may.”
There are few overnight returns from meeting potential business partners or investors at a trade show or working to lure a potential employer to Oklahoma, he said.
“This a long-term effort,” he said. “Relationships and credibility cannot be established overnight. We have to come to where they are. They are not in Muskogee. If I wait for them to come see me, I’ll be waiting all my life.”
There is also another oft-repeated theme shared by many in the Oklahoma contingent here of about 70 people: contributing to the state’s BIO effort is for the greater good.
“I am here to support Oklahoma,” said Clayton Duncan, CEO of Oklahoma City’s Accele Biopharma Inc., a venture that invests in and manages life science-based startups. “We’re a small community and we work together, and I think that’s one of our strengths.”
Meetings and networking also played a role in attracting him to the BIO show, Duncan said.
“Part of what we are about is getting biotech companies started in Oklahoma,” he said. “We’ve got three we are working on now, so I’ve got a few meetings with some key people about possibly joining us, investing with us and getting them started.”
There is also value just in having a presence at the BIO show, Duncan said.
“I’ve run into two people here today that I know, one from Merck who I had planned to call, and there he was,” he said. “We sat down and talked for 15 minutes and I got some good ideas on a company we are trying to start out of OMRF (Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation). He’s going to put me in touch with some key researchers in the field.”
As she greeted visitors adjacent to a life-size Kevin Durant cutout at the Oklahoma exhibition booth, Katherine Long of the Ponca City Development Authority talked about the many connections that link the state despite physical distances that separate its regions.
“We do so many partnerships with different entities,” Long said, mentioning both Oklahoma State University and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “It helps us to reach out to companies that have an interest — to talk to people and maybe get our foot in the door.”
Last year, Muskogee’s Thorstenberg highlighted those Oklahoma connections by hosting a dinner at the BIO show in Boston that included guests from Ponca City, Ardmore and Oklahoma City.