Biotech-related International Events and Missions: Getting the Most out of Your Participation

First in a Series

Joanne Gucwa


The ancient Greek observation that “Nature abhors a vacuum” could apply to our millennia-old tradition of gathering together in marketplaces and forums. Despite the great popularity of social and business networking sites and even virtual trade shows on the Internet, geography and personal, “real world” contact apparently still matters, given that several thousand biotech events, large and small, are held worldwide each year.

You may have made the decision to travel to one of these biotech events in another city or take part in an international biotech mission. Even if your participation is partially subsidized, it’s still a substantial investment so it makes sense to spend your time wisely. The best way to do that is to plan ahead – as far ahead as you can. This opening article explains why advance preparation is so important for leveraging your limited time at the event and the steps you should take before the event, relating to understanding your internal capabilities.

In companion articles, we will explore additional steps you should take before the event and present tips to best leverage your time during the event and follow-up activities you can do after the event to maximize the value of your participation.


Understanding your position in the global marketplace.
The Internet truly has leveled the playing field, allowing large and small companies opportunities to reach more business partners and customers, far beyond what was considered to be possible to do just a few years ago. This extended reach requires more preparation on your part than in the past, as customers, partners and resources you will meet can become extremely knowledgeable about your competitors and other available technology with just a few mouse clicks.

While outsourcing continues to grow, the trend toward downsizing means that people you will meet have very limited time and expect your message to be highly focused on their needs and the specific benefits you offer them. Your initial objectives will influence the kinds of people you will plan to meet. Setting realistic objectives, however, is not a one-time event but rather a cyclic process that refines your initial objectives as you increase your knowledge of your markets and how your position aligns with the needs of your market. We speak from personal experience and, just as nature abhors a vacuum, we’ve seen objectives set in the vacuum that excludes the external marketplace that either get modified or lead to wasted time and money, and – sadly -- failure.

The diagram below illustrates the three important systems that determine your position in the global marketplace: internal, external and a combination of internal and external. The star represents the internal system, which is your company’s experience and expertise. The circles represent the external system, which is the market itself (your prospective customers and business partners, your competition, legislative/regulatory issues and the direction that technology is taking. The combination internal and external system is where your expertise overlaps with the needs of the marketplace and your unique competitive advantage.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

INTERNAL: Experience and Expertise. You need not even have an established company in order to explore the biotech marketplace. On the other end of the size scale, you may be a very large, multinational company looking to in-license technology, find a contract research service or even to buy a small company. It’s been said that you need to know where you are if you are planning a route to get from one place to another. Setting objectives is defining where you want to go (which, as we noted above, may change as you develop new knowledge and insights). So, where are you personally or where is your company now, and where do you want to go?

We identify seven levels of experience along the continuum of presence in the global marketplace. While these levels don’t define discrete business or other milestones, they have been found to be helpful in identifying market and partnering opportunities that may otherwise be overlooked.

  1. Pre-start-up. You may be someone who is thinking about negotiating a licensing agreement for a university’s technology in order to commercialize it. Or you may have made a discovery that you believe has value for you or a separate entity to develop. Trade shows and technical conferences are a good place if your objective is to determine interest in your technology, get an idea about the size of the market or assess the level of your potential competition.
  2. Start-up. Your company is completely new or may have been established a year or two ago and your objective now may be to seek funding, employees, service providers such as accountants or an important piece of technology that you do not possess internally.
  3. Established, but pre-sales. You may be “bootstrapping” your company’s operations by funding it yourself or with several other partners. Your needs and objectives are probably similar to the start-up company.
  4. Some domestic sales and/or partnerships. As you seek to fulfill your objective of supplementing your domestic sales or business relationships by expanding internationally, you need to keep in mind that your company’s name, reputation or technology may not be known to many of your potential customers or partners. Often, the quickest and most effective access to the people you want to meet will be through introductions by consultants, licensing or legal professionals, or even companies with allied (not competing) technologies.
  5. Some international sales or partnerships. You’ve tested doing business internationally, had some success and now realize that you’ve just touched the surface of the vast global market that awaits your technology. Your objective may be to continue expanding your presence and sales in the countries you are already marketing to, or perhaps to branch out to other countries. In either case, the state of your domestic and international patent, trade secret or other intellectual property protection will be an important factor.
  6. Growing international sales or partnerships. You’re technology is known and accepted in a number of international markets. Your objective may be to establish or increase the size of your facilities and hire more local employees.
  7. Well-established global presence. Your objective may be finding a way to improve productivity in your global operations, introduce new products or technologies, find the best talented people to hire wherever they may be currently residing and working, or acquire technology through licensing or purchase of a company.

In the next article, we will explore some things you should understand about the marketplace before you travel to a biotech event.


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