Leveraging Technology to Build Community: Biotech Meetup

A few years ago I was on the board of the biotech association in Wisconsin, now called BioForward. I joined for a variety of reasons but one of my “causes” was trying to reach deeper into organizations – to build value beyond the top layers that seemed to populate much of the activity.

As we tried various programs, it became clear that drawing people into events can be a real challenge. You are working on predicting topics of interest, finding engaging speakers or developing content and selecting a convenient time and location.

Late last year, I was looking into tools to coordinate meetings for some of my existing groups and found Meetup, which is a platform to organize local groups. Anyone can see the events but the only barrier to entry for group members is signing up for an account. Searching by topics and geography, I came across the Madison Health Tech Meetup. The group is run by two local entrepreneurs Jonathan Baran from HealthFinch and Dan Wilson from Moxe Health. The group started in April 2012 and they have done networking events, speakers, panels, co-working events and a volunteer day.

I’ve enjoyed learning more about health tech and I wondered whether the format would be useful for a broader group. Can a Biotech in Wisconsin Meetup group catalyze people to come together around areas of interest and prompt champions to identify topics and speakers? I’m looking forward to our first event on Tuesday March 19 to discuss just that. The only barriers to participation: signing up for a Meetup account to RSVP and getting there on the 19th.

To prompt some discussion, I’ve been putting together some topics I would be interested in learning more about on a local level. Some of the straightforward examples are new developments in quality or regulatory science. I’ve been thinking a lot about intersections lately and here are some things I’m interested in learning.

Science + Engineering

Sector67 is a Makerspace in Madison that provides members from the community with access to tools and classes. There are a variety of tools at Sector 67 but the two that come to mind quickly related to biotech are 3D printing and electronics. In a recent blog post, the Sector 67 team talked about working with some of the teams in the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Engineering Innovation Days teams. The two projects that caught my eye were a high density photoreactor (novel algae production method) and an in-line mixing device for industrial applications. Connecting scientists and engineers has led to a variety of biotech companies in Madison, including Semba Biosciences and their Octave liquid chromatography system.

Science + Communication

Madison has a strong tradition in the communications, including science communications. Bora Zivkovic, Blogs Editor at Scientific American, wrote last year about the strength of the UW Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, including a graduate turned professor Deborah Blum. She is a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer, has authored books including The Poisoner’s Handbook and writes a PLOS blog called Speakeasy. The UW Madison also has a Department of Life Sciences Communication. When the academic resources are combined with the communication skills of the biotech professionals in the area are combined, science communication should be an area of interest to many in the community.

One path could be to look at ScienceOnline, described as: Conversation, Community, & Connections at the Intersection of Science & the Web. San Diego recently started a project to build a satellite of ScienceOnline San Diego.

Science & Technology

The Madison Health Tech group is taking on the medical applications of technology, building on a strong and growing tech sector in Madison. However, there are a variety of other ways that technology interfaces with biotechnology. Two interesting examples from one of the largest biotech companies in Madison are the Promega application and Terso Solutions. Promega developed a highly rated life sciences app that has protocols, calculators, restriction enzyme tools and a variety of other tools. A subsidiary of Promega called Terso Solutions was formed based on an automated inventory management system based on RFID. Bringing together people interested in science and technology could lead to new products, collaborations between existing companies or new ventures.



  1. How Do You Build Networks When You Can’t Say Anything? | The Next Element - September 16, 2013

    […] March, I told you about a community building experiment, the Biotech in Wisconsin Meetup group. One of my main goals was to reach deeper into […]

  2. 2013 in the Rearview | The Next Element - January 10, 2014

    […] Leveraging Technology to Build Community: Biotech Meetup March […]

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