Life science and technology startups may seem like worlds apart when it comes to product development, funding, government regulation, marketing & sales and exit strategy, but a growing focus on intertwining software with science is making those worlds collide in new ways. 

Consider drones and agriculture. Fitness trackers and healthcare providers. Clinical trials and software to manage them. Internet-connected scientific instruments and data analytics. Not to mention the various software platforms life science companies need for collaboration, human resources, accounting, relationship management and more.
More than perhaps any other event in the region, the CED Life Science Conference attempts to gather scientists, pharmaceutical companies, device innovators, agriculture startups and the software companies and investors that service them all in one building for two days. The hope is to connect the most promising companies with investors, partners, clients or acquirers and to inspire and educate new entrepreneurs by showcasing the pathways of experienced ones. 
Considering data from last week’s CED Innovators Report, which shows almost equal amounts of the state’s nearly $1.2 billion in venture capital going to life science and technology companies last year, it’s clear both industries are contributing to our innovation economy. CED is all about finding the connections between them. 
In prep for next week’s event, we dove into the conference agenda to spotlight the best opportunities for convergence of industries, but also to educate our tech-oriented readers about the innovators in the community they might not interact with day-to-day. As a heads up for those who’d like to attend the conference, Thursday is the last day for discounted pricing too. 
Here are some of the speakers and presentations we’re anticipating:

An AgTech workshop

This promises to be a high-powered panel including local leaders from national news-making startups Hi-Fidelity Genetics, a data and stats company for optimizing plant breeding; AgBiomewhich raised nearly $35 million last year to bring products like a natural fungicide to market; and Benson Hill Biosystems, a venture-backed developer of products that make crops more productive. They’ll be joined by the investment manager at Syngenta Ventures, an AgBiome investor, and the licensing head at Bayer CropScience for a discussion on how to attract the “big six” corporate leaders in their industry. 
AgBiome’s chief scientific officer told the News & Observer last year that RTP is “the Silicon Valley for agriculture” innovation of his company’s kind. Considering that climate change continues to threaten a global food shortage, and that AgTech is drawing in more venture capital than clean tech and FinTech globally, this is a fascinating group to learn from. 
Even if you’re not building an AgTech startup, you can probably glean some tips for attracting the attention of big players in your industry. 

High-profile local leaders in an intimate setting

If you are building a life science or AgTech company, you’ll probably be inspired by the stories shared during an NC State Alumni Association sponsored-panel featuring founders or executives of BioResource International, Xanofi, Aseptia and Agile Sciences. 
Other compelling local presenters include Duke University Trustee Bill Hawkins, who spent decades leading medical device companies before becoming a venture capitalist, director and advisor in the field; Prabha Fernandes, the founder of Chapel Hill-based antibiotic innovator Cempra Inc., who has led several pharmaceutical companies over her career; Cindy Whitehead, who famously lobbied the FDA to get Sprout Pharmaceuticals’ “female Viagra” to market and promptly sold her company for $1 billion; and Carrie Cox, who raised $150 million from family offices around the world last year to fund her startup Humacyte, which hopes to bring bioengineered blood vessel technology to market.
Duke Professor Charles Gersbach will talk about efforts by his molecular and gene engineering lab to correct mutated genes in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, work that earned him attention from The New York Times late last year. And Duke University alumnus Jeffrey Pollard is back at the conference for a second time to talk about his work as director of medical affairs at the Silicon Valley gene-testing startup 23AndMe. 

The conference ends with what promises to be an inspiring moment by Duke Professor of Medicine and 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Robert Lefkowitz.

Inspiring, life-altering startups

A whole crew of pharmaceutical companies are presenting drugs or therapies that treat cystic fibrosis and lung diseases, addictions and movement disorders, migraines, glaucoma and prostate and breast cancers. One recently received FDA approval for clinical trials that begin the important work of treating Alzheimers disease patients.
Then there are the device and diagnostic companies providing new ways to operate or detect and diagnose diseases. Showcasing new devices and technologies are local companies Camras Vision with its device for treating glaucoma, Physcient, inventor of smart surgical instruments, BioFluidica, which promises more accurate diagnosis for six types of cancer, stroke and infectious diseases, and radiation therapy innovator CivaTech Oncology

Startups from around the state include cancer diagnostics company OncoTAb of Charlotte, ophthalmic device innovator Surgilum of Wilmington and KeRanetics, a Winston-Salem startup that is seeking FDA approval to begin manufacturing keratin gels and putties that can be used to treat thermal burns or promote bone, muscle and nerve regeneration.

Finally, Precision BioSciences, despite its involvement in some litigious patent disputes, is bringing new gene-editing technology to market. With nearly $26 million in funding raised last year, this Durham company is providing its technology to a variety of biotechnology partners while developing its own products and considering non-life science markets like energy and industrial materials. 

VC experts and investors

A couple of panels will appeal to folks looking for partnership opportunities or venture capital deals. A Tuesday afternoon session is focused on unique funding models and partnerships and features licensing and partnership executives from Merck and Pfizer, along with Stephen Bloch, a general partner with Canaan Partners and Jimmy Rosen, a UNC grad and former Intersouth Partners director who now handles venture capital investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Both investors are interesting because they represent organizations or firms that also invest in other sectors. 

Wednesday morning’s keynote on the state of venture capital investment will be given by Bobby Franklin, CEO and president of the National Venture Capital Association, and then he’ll moderate a panel of investors from Silicon Valley-headquartered Sofinnova Ventures, San Francisco-based Versant Ventures and Baltimore’s Rock Springs Capital on the specifics of the healthcare and life science funding environment. 
During a sit-down final lunch, pharma exec turned venture capitalist Fred Eshelman will be presented with the CED Life Science Leadership Award for his contributions to the state’s life science community. Eshelman is celebrated for having donated the largest single gift in UNC history late in 2014—$100 million to establish an innovation institute at his namesake college, the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. 
It’s safe to assume he’ll talk about the innovation he’s seen over his decades in the pharmaceutical industry, along with health and science-related breakthroughs he hopes to see—and fund—at UNC and around the state.
But Eshelman isn’t just serving as an example of leadership in pharma. With investments in companies like 3D printing technology startup Carbon3D and Medikidz, which shares health information to families in comic format, it’s clear he understands that innovation also happens when tech and life science are combined.