by +Mike Poller – - Life Sciences South Florida is a collaboration between education, scientific and economic development communities working together to boost South Florida’s life science ecosystems. LSSF was born out of frustration from two vetoes of funding for a proposed I-95 Life Sciences Corridor. “We’re in the business of building bridges, not building walls” said FIU president Mark Rosenberg. That’s how the Three Presidents, UM President Donna Shalala, Rosenberg and Beacon Council President Frank Nero started describing their vision for biotech in the afternoon talk on Tuesday.

“We’ve got $1 billion in Florida healthcare increase coming at us if ‘Obamacare’ is not repealed” said Shalala. “It’s going to change everything from delivery and procedures to medical devices. South Florida is better positioned to take advantage of this increase because we are nimble” she said.

“FIU and UM are successful in attracting and training talent” and that’s crucial says Nero. “The first question anybody thinking of moving a company down here asks is about the quality of our workforce.”

Economic development needs “to keep the private investment flowing into the area so we can combat brain drain.” While the state spends millions promoting tourism, there is no effort to promote South Florida as “more than just sun and fun” laments Nero.

When asked about the current situation on campus, Shalala responded “half of our students are in STEM curriculum.” FIU is “the largest producer of minority STEM graduates in the country” said Rosenberg. But keeping the pipeline full can be a problem. Although FIU offers dual enrollment with many of Miami Dade public schools “we can only offer 9 STEM courses because proper facilities simply do not exist in the high schools” says Rosenberg. The upcoming bond issue could begin to address this problem.

Looking forward “we need to focus on sustainable commercialization. Pharma and medical devices are our areas of emphasis” said Nero. “Genetics, stem cells, personalization, cancer and diabetes are the hot areas” said Shalala. ”

So what’s the big challenge for LSSF members? “The region needs its research universities to attract and retain entrepreneurs” said Shalala. “The business community needs to increase their expectations of what higher education can do about our common interest: workforce development” echoed Rosenberg. “The real challenge for all of us is ‘suspending disbelief’ that we can not get to the next level” he said.

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