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TWO VIEWS • Chasing misbegotten dreams

by: Courtesy of Perkins and Will, A rendering shows the life sciences building proposed for Portland’s South Waterfront. Lobbyists are asking the Legislature for help in building the $100 million complex.

Peter Korn's article ('Bioscience Bust?' May 14) covered many of the key reasons Portland has failed to become a bioscience success - despite the hype and promises from Oregon Health and Science University.

Portland's bioscience innovation problem is not the lack of a new fancy building - indeed, I believe OHSU has essentially hijacked the sexy 'bioscience' label to get its grandiose real estate aspirations funded.

Joe Cortright is correct: This is more 'snake oil.' Bioscience supporters fooled the Legislature once, and now will try again.

I certainly comprehend that OHSU wants to complete a fancy new campus with all the glamour and glitter by which academics self-measure their prestige. OHSU believes that new enterprise creation, venture capital attraction, small-business job growth and all the economic trappings of modern sci-tech innovation fundamentally depends on academic grandeur - and building fancy buildings is a visible metric of that grandeur.

We need to start a blank paper rethink of the Oregon budget and where best to spend and borrow precious dollars in this catastrophic economy: building a fanciful new research building to chase the National Institutes of Health will-o'-wisp versus addressing primary education, public safety and crumbling services for the needy.

The key to successful academic involvement with startup business is primarily culture, not buildings. The quintessence of entrepreneurial culture has been the Silicon Valley (now fading), Boston Route 128 (faded), with a few spots rising, primarily in India and China.

Portland's biggest 'deficiency' is cultural, not architectural. Portland values livability more than workability, working just enough to live comfortably (like France, Scandinavia, Canada) and not living/existing primarily for their work (like the Silicon Valley, Japan, Wall Street, Shanghai, Bangalore).

John Taylor at National Venture Capital Association had it right: Portland has to stop drinking its own Kool-Aid (spiked by self-interested academics and self-congratulatory Portland business publications) and do some 'serious local analysis' which will shatter many of the comfortable presumptions and unquestioned beliefs.

This analysis should not be led by academics who know nothing about successful startup business, or by local bureaucrats, or politicians or big company people and business development consultants who have never started a company. It needs to be conducted by analyzers who understand venture capital and new enterprise creation and growth, who understand how startups have been done for better or worse elsewhere, understand the ethos of Portland and Oregon, but most of all, understand markets and customers and what it takes to reach them with innovation.

In the end, startup business is about the dogs and not the dog food. You can create the most wonderful dog food, but if the dogs don't like it, you are dead. Most of academic science and technology is all about dog food. Companies are built on sales revenue, not the number of patents, publications and intellectual property generated. If you go to OHSU, you find intellectual 'property' as the academic grail, not an aspiration to truly move the needle on everyday health care.

Bob Lanier is spouting the OHSU party line. The notion that we should lie about our employment categories and figures because all the other states do the same begs the question - who is the audience for these inflated numbers? Exaggeration is politics and self-puffery, not hard-nosed business and real economics. Inflations are published to impress irrelevant people, and frankly are a smokescreen that hide painful reality.

I would take the $100 million and, instead of constructing a new building, recycle/ renovate the many wonderful old buildings around Portland, then put the money into seed funding for startups, and into matching funds for early stage research and development companies, which is what Canada does to nurture research and development. I build companies in Vancouver, British Columbia, for this reason.

Dana Bostrom's view that we 'don't dream big enough' is true - we need to dream well beyond these National Institutes of Health grants, peer adulation, fancy buildings and other delusions and concentrate on innovating for Portland a fresh entrepreneurial culture better suited to the post-meltdown economic decade to come. Primary health care, personal health devices, green energy, efficient recycling, ubiquitous Internet access, individualized education, self-sustainable food production - all are areas where Oregon entrepreneurs can provide leadership, technology innovation and local jobs. One hundred million dollars should seed these, not build another edifice as an altar to the NIH gods.

William New is chairman of Adigy Corp., a physician and venture capitalist, and was bioscience business development manager at OHSU for about a year until his resignation in late 2003.