Dr. Caroline Popper is president of two Tampa Bay area biotech companies; internist and pathologist.
Q. You recently completed a study for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce proposing a regional strategy for attracting biotech business. As a newcomer to the area, what do you see as local strengths and weaknesses?
Several things impressed me. The breadth and depth of the medical device cluster for one, with more than 300 companies in Pinellas County. I was unaware of the depth of research of a national caliber at Moffitt Cancer Center. That stands out as an enormous opportunity to proactively find technology and commercialize it. And I visited with engineering and nanotechnology people at the University of South Florida. That's an outstanding opportunity.
Q. After running biotech companies in Baltimore, California and Europe, you are now involved in two startups in the Tampa Bay area. What kind of resources are you finding here?
One of my companies has developed an alternative method of monitoring glucose in diabetics. The other has a wound sealant. I met with people from two local companies, one of whom can mold the plastic for the glucose monitor, the other can help with a complex algorithm. I'm also meeting with a compounder who can compound the wound sealant. I'm convinced the work here will be as good, if not better, than elsewhere.
I did not come here intending to start companies, but I've found the entrepreneurial environment very conducive. There's even investment interest from people who made money in information technology and are now seeking to invest in life sciences.
Q. How can the Tampa Bay area benefit from the presence of Scripps Research Institute in Palm Beach County?
Scripps being in Palm Beach puts Florida on the map, but Tampa can't distinguish itself as the epicenter of good idea generation. We will generate some good ideas out of USF and Moffitt, but Tampa really has a track record of commercializing technology. Much of the innovation comes from elsewhere. So this is the more appropriate approach for Tampa: We have the ability to commercialize rather than generate good ideas.