Editor’s note: CharlotteBeat is a regular feature in WRAL Local Tech Wire.
_______________________________________________________________________________________Steven Burke is a man with a mission who’s spreading the word about biotechnology to increase its role in North Carolina’s economy. The senior vice president for corporate affairs for the N.C. Biotechnology Center recently told a group, “Biotech is the most significant technology we have ever developed. It affects the present and will probably affect everything in the future — forever.”

Burke spoke those words to a group of about 25 people in Charlotte last Friday at a meeting of the Bio-informatics Committee of the Centralina Economic Development Commission. The CEDC was formed to develop and implement an economic development strategy for an eight-county region surrounding Charlotte. Staff support is provided by the Centralina Council of Governments.

It was the first of many presentations — as well as one-on-one meetings — that Burke will be making throughout the Charlotte area in the next several months as the center works to open its fifth — and last — regional office in the state. “We are about to have at hand what no other state has — a statewide grid with offices that work in their own areas and with each other to grow biotechnology,” he said. “The consequences will be significant.”

North Carolina has long been a leader in biotechnology, and a KPMG report ranked it the third leading site for the industry in 2004-05. The state’s biotechnology center was formed in 1984 as the world’s first targeted initiative in the area and is supported by the state government (to the tune of $12.1 million last year.) In 2003, the center developed the Project to Strengthen Biotechnology Across North Carolina, which called for creating satellite offices across the state. The first opened in Winston-Salem in June 2003; the second in Asheville in June 2004; and the third and fourth in Wilmington and Greenville last January. (Among the 54 recommendations, the plan’s other top two priorities were targeting bio-manufacturing and creating and attracting start-ups.)

Burke said he hoped to have the Charlotte office operating and a 25-member advisory board in place by the end of 2006. The board and two-person staff will identify and address gaps in strategies and resources; strengthen the biotech community and its leadership; identify strengths in order to build niches; increase opportunities in the industry; encourage partnerships; work with other regional offices; and access the resources of the state biotech center.

“Participants and partnerships are needed — no one single institution can address all the issues involved,” Burke said. “Companies are best grown, not recruited. The idea of snaring companies doesn’t work in this endeavor.”

Burke is now talking to groups and meeting with individuals in several counties about the most appropriate location for the regional office and to gather names of potential advisory board members (who will be named by the center’s board). Generically, he explained, that includes educators, scientists, college administrators, bankers, corporate leaders, mayors and economic development officials. Specifically, that has included Robert Wilhelm, director of the Charlotte Research Institute; Larry Mays, head of UNC Charlottes’ newly created Bio-informatics Center; and officials from the North Carolina Research Campus being developed by David Murdock in Kannapolis on the former Pillowtex plant site.

Retired Charlotte banker Sam Sloan, who has been on the biotech center board for about a decade, will be accompanying Burke on many of his visits to the area. “Charlotte is sitting on a gold mine right now,” Sloan said. “We’ve only just scratched the surface.”

With the expanding activities of the Charlotte Research Institute, the creation of the Bio-informatics Center at UNC Charlotte, and Murdock’s new venture, interest in biotech is on the rise in the area. And local educational institutions are at the forefront, as indicated by the college and universities represented at the CEDC meeting — UNC Charlotte, Central Piedmont Community College, Livingstone College, York Technical College and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

“North Carolina is a national model for educating technology workers,” Burke said.

New Facility Opens

Hybrid Technologies, Inc. has opened a new plant in Mooresville this week, and it is expected to create some 100 jobs in the next two years. The first product will be a high-powered lithium motor for appointment in a lightweight concept vehicle. The goal is to create a car that breaks the current world Land Speed Record for a production hybrid. Hybrid was incorporated in Nevada in 2000 and is a development stage technology company that is developing electric powered vehicles, products, commercial and residential properties.

The facility demonstrates Hybrid’s expertise in converting standard combustion engines to Lithium-powered applications.

5 Ventures Speaker Announced

Kerry Vickar, one of the founders of CorrFlex Graphics — which sold to Sonoco Products for $250 million in late 2004 — will be the keynote speaker at the sixth annual Five Ventures Entrepreneurial Event on Friday, April 6. Sponsored by UNC Charlotte’s ‘s Office of Technology Transfer, the day-long event will feature presentations by five entrepreneurs competing for technical and financial support. Vickar is now involved with his former CorrFlex principals in The VSTH Group, a private equity fund providing traditional investment banking services for smaller companies. For more details, visit: fiveventures.uncc.edu

UNC Charlotte, Tech Team Up

A partnership between UNC Charlotte and Georgia Tech is one of four collegiate partnerships chosen by the Department of Homeland Security to help provide the national agency with scientific guidance for the research and development of tools and methods required to manage and analyze large amounts of data. The partnership will help develop an artificial analytic-reasoning system that can analyze multimedia databases created by the web.

Tips? Story ideas? Send them to beawrites@aol.com