WisBusiness: Biotech group looks to build on success of Act 255 lobbying effort

By Brian E. Clark


Young biotech companies stand to gain significantly from improvements in Act 255 that were contained in Gov. Jim Doyle’s recently passed stimulus package, according to representatives of BioForward. (Bioforward is the new name, adopted last month, for the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association.)

“The reason this happened is because BioForward and 10 other groups worked hard together,” Paul Radspinner, president and CEO of FluGen Inc. said Wednesday.

“When the governor put his stimulus package together, we got everything we wanted,” added Radspinner, a director of BioForward, who noted that his work on Act 255 had led him to become more involved with the association. “This was a big success,” he said.

Radspinner said he hopes the success of his group’s lobbying efforts on Act 255 could be repeated in future legislative efforts both on the state and national levels.

He said BioForward is weighing in on plans now under consideration by Congress to expand and renew the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and its parallel Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program.

Together, these federal programs provide more than $2 billion a year to small companies that are developing leading-edge technologies of interest to federal agencies. He said they provide firms with seed capital of up to $850,000 to develop technologies than can lead to commercial products.

Radspinner said changes in Wisconsin’s in Act 255 beef up credits for angel investors from $5.5 million to $18.25 million and from $6 million to $18.75 million for venture capital investments. It also raises the cap on credits from $1 million to $4 million for a single investor and from $4 million to $8 million the aggregate cap that can be invested in any single business.

Entrepreneurs now will be able to choose any mix of eligible angel and venture capital. The new Act 255 also gives the Department of Commerce more flexibility to respond to uneven demand in angel and venture credits.

In addition, the types of companies that qualify for the credits have been broadened and the program has been extended to 2019. And non-Wisconsin investors who put money into Badger State firms also will be able to sell their credits to Wisconsin residents, which was not allowed previously.

“If you have a good company and a good idea, these improvements could be the difference between someone investing in you or a company in Illinois or another other state,” Radspinner said.

Laura Strong, president of BioForward’s board and CEO/President of Quintessence Biosciences, said the changes will encourage more people to invest in start-ups.

“It should help the economy and it should help members of our association,” she said.

Strong also said her group has enhanced service initiatives to BioForward’s 220-plus members and has launched a new Web site, which includes information on how association members can lobby their elected representatives on state and national issues.

In addition, she said the group is looking for a new executive director to replace Jim Leonhart, who left last month.

Part of the breakfast meeting included a talk by attorney Jordan Lamb, who walked the group through a civics lesson on how a bill becomes a law. She told the group the most effective way to lobby legislators was to meet with them personally to present their case. But she said phone calls and e-mails were also a good idea.

“If you don’t weigh in on legislation that affects you, you are missing a chance to be heard,” she said. “And if all they hear is the other side, that might mean a bill you support fails.”