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belated BIO wrap-up

Wednesday 30 June, 2010

I attended the Bio show last month, which returned to Chicago after only 4 years, the fastest it’s ever returned to 1 location.  Despite the changes in the economy since the last time Bio was here, the numbers for this edition were up.  Surprisingly it appears as if the number of exhibitors has increased from 1600 to 1700 & attendees from 16,000 to 17,000.  While the content offered appears to have contracted from 24 Program Tracks down to 17, & 180 breakout sessions to 125, the Business Forums (Fora?) partnering meetings has increased dramatically from 10,000 to 14,000.  I heard Bio will be returning in 3 years to Chicago.  I hope that’s a lucky year for the city.

Four years ago I was blown away by how international this show was.  More than 25 different nations & regions sponsored pavilions, which made it easy to find what was happening on a country-by-country basis, but difficult to find information on specific technologies.  I’m not sure if people are as interested in technologies from particular countries as they are to solutions to their problems, regardless of their origins.  (I’ll comment on why I think the show is organized this way a little later.)  It looks like Chile & United Arab Emirates dropped out while Poland, South Africa, & Thailand  jumped into the fray.  This year, I gathered information from 23 national pavilions.  It seems as if 2 of the national pavilions I visited in 2006 expanded & 1 shrunk.  The Swiss pavilion expanded from 22 to 27, the Austrians from 11 more than doubling to 23.  Iceland dropped out of the Scandinavian Pavilion & other cross border initiatives made it unclear how much that pavilion shrank.  Other than the economic development agencies,  few of the exhibitors from 2006 returned in 2010, but that’s not surprising if they met their objectives 4 years ago.  Poland’s pavilion @  had an interesting promotional twist-they queried attendees about their vision of the future of biotech & made an online video about it.

My $.02-this is a different kind of event for a number of reasons.  It’s biotech, which is an important industry which has a frustratingly long time horizon, which means there are as many government players as there are business participants.  That’s partly why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the number of attendees is 10 X the number of exhibitors.  If each exhibitor gets 10 attendee passes, that explains the correlation.  My impression is this show is much more incestuous than most.  By that I mean, although there were a number of small service provider exhibits,  this is not a trade show where exhibitors hawk their wares to passersby.  Rather it’s a gathering where government officials from American states & foreign countries try to entice their counterparts to come to their geography & set up shop.   I’m sure there are some attendees who are not exhibitors, but this is as much or more an exhibitor-to-exhibitor show as it is exhibitor-to-attendee show.  I’m not criticizing, simply noting that it’s different from most events of this type.  In some ways it might be a new model for trade shows, because the old model is not working any more.

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