Vendor showcase gears up for CURE Commons

Groton — As the bioscience network Connecticut United for Research Excellence starts renovations on a new sci-tech incubator on the campus of Pfizer Inc., entrepreneurs geared up this week by attending a vendor showcase that attracted dozens of companies to the Mystic Marriott.

The Vendor Strategies and CRO Showcase, hosted Tuesday by CURE, the SouthEastern Connecticut Enterprise Region and the Technology Incubation Program at the University of Connecticut, attracted 40 vendors showing off various biotech-related products and services. It also included a panel discussion that focused on issues revolving around marketing services to biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

Stephen MacKenzie, executive director of the regional economic development group SeCTer, said the event showed the coordinated effort between state and local officials that is happening behind the scenes to make sure the CURE Innovation Commons incubator gets off to a smooth start.

"It's one of our key industry clusters," MacKenzie said. "We're bringing together entrepreneurs to show them this is a nice destination."

Kim Kelly, who is running day-to-day operations at the incubator, told entrepreneurs that renovations have finally begun at The Commons after delays caused by last winter's severe weather.

"We now have our own entrance, which is amazing," she said.

As part of the incubator plans, she said, an educational laboratory for middle school and high school students is being created, which will allow young people to hear presentations and speak with working scientists.

"This will be a great asset to the southeastern Connecticut community," Kelly said.

The Commons has been successful at gaining contributions from various sources, with about $500,000 in sponsorships sewn up, she reported. CURE also has won promises from several people to act as mentors or provide pro bono consulting, she said.

A panel discussion following Kelly's report featured George Karam, former sourcing lead at Pfizer Inc. who was in charge of outsourcing some of the company's scientific efforts to contract research organizations. He estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of Pfizer's projects are now managed using outside resources.

In outsourcing to contract research organizations, Karam said the first priority is quality, the second is saving time and the third is reducing cost. Pfizer, which once worked with at least 200  outside research companies, has whittled those numbers down to perhaps a dozen, he said.

"It has been hard to break in unless something new or something different is being done," he said.

Holly Coulter, president of the Guilford-based contract research organization Ce3, said the companies she works with are starting to treat outside organizations like hers as part of a team rather than as a vendor.

"We want to become part of them," she added.

"The push is to make it a partnership," agreed Karam.

But Coulter said Connecticut companies struggle finding talented personnel when places like Massachusetts are such a magnet for scientists.

"The biggest struggle in Connecticut is resources — finding people with the right skill set," Coulter said. "Being able to attract those people to Connecticut is rough."

Karam said Connecticut has only about 10 percent of the contract research organizations that Massachusetts boasts and that Pfizer currently only deals with two state research vendors.

"Hopefully, with the CURE effort, we can improve that," he said.

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

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