Read the full article from Nick Williams at Milwaukee Business Journal here! 

BioForward’s CEO rallying Wisconsin health tech community behind state bill. Here’s why

“We can establish programs that would further our industry and shape our economy,” said BioForward CEO Lisa Johnson.

Wisconsin’s health tech industry is moving forward in terms of growth and innovation. The problem, however, is there isn’t enough funding at the moment to further the expanding bioscience ecosystem here.

Lisa Johnson, CEO of BioForward, the state’s member-based advocacy group for biosciences, is hoping that will change through the passing of state legislation.

Johnson, who became the organization’s CEO in 2015, is busy making noise in the health tech community to raise support around a state bill, that if passed, could put dollars into funds and grant programs for the state’s industry.

The Workforce and Innovation Network for Success (WINS) Act, authored by state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) was designed to bring a cluster-based model of economic development to the state and create an innovation fund grown by interest earnings of that fund. The bill died in the state Senate for this legislative session this year, but it was the furthest the bill had ever gone in the six-year process of trying to get it passed, Johnson said.

The fund would provide grants for research and development, matching grants to launch technologies, and challenge grants. The fund would be managed by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board and no more than $50 million could go into the fund in any fiscal year. The fund would also have a cap of $500 million. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. would administer the programs using those funds.

“We can establish programs that would further our industry and shape our economy,” Johnson said.

According to a 2015 report by BioForward, the state’s biosciences industry produces a $27 billion economic output and employs 36,000 people with average wages that are 175 percent higher than the average wage for all other industries here. Still, Wisconsin doesn’t crack the top 10 in terms of U.S. cities with the best life sciences clusters, according to several news outlets, while competing cities Minneapolis and Chicago do.

Johnson presented the importance of the bill Thursday at the offices of Godfrey & Kahn in Milwaukee Thursday night, the first time leaders of the biotechnology industry here have heard the message directly from her. Industry leaders must become more vocal about expressing the need to growth the industry in Wisconsin, Johnson said.

“You can’t complain about needing more talent and support and then don’t do anything,” she said.

Along with her presentation, Thursday’s event included a discussion panel with Ross Bjella, the CEO of Alithias Inc.; James Dias, founder and CEO of Wellbe Inc.; and Dale Mittelstaedt, president of Red Arrow Labs, who talked about the impact the WINS Act could have on their businesses.