By Vern Faulkner
Saanich News
March 18, 2003

Put several progressive high-tech companies together under the same roof in a nurturing environment that inspires workers to be the best they can be and the result is a workplace with a heightened sense of community, an "incubation centre" for success. So says Rick Weatherhead, director of business development for Omega Biotech, of the VITP. 

While VITP tenants are eager to outline in detail their individual successes, they are also quick to acknowledge how the tech park's team-like atmosphere encourages innovative. There's a word for the constructive energy that is created through collaboration and united action: synergy. 

"We all talk together, we all work together, we all promote each other," says Weatherhead. 

Robin Poncia of the VITP-based Etraffic Solutions says she didn't fully appreciate how important synergy is to the prosperity of her industry until she recently returned from a federally-assisted trade mission to France and Germany. 

"What I saw that was unique about the tech park is a real partnership mentality," says Poncia. "It's about fostering more business." 

During her European tour, she got the sense that there is more of an emphasis there on building relationships between high-tech companies and academic institutions than on creating viable businesses. 

"There wasn't this component of 'now these people have to make money,'" she reflects. 

Recently, tech park manager Sandy Beaman was escorting a tour group from Iran when he discovered "a huge problem – they don't have enough educators." There simply are not enough instructors in the Middle East nation to create a pool of educated young high-tech workers. 

So Beaman directed the group to the offices of Etraffic, one of the province's leading producers of distance education software and as a result of their chance visit, the Iranian contingent might have overcome a serious obstacle in the growth of high-tech in their own nation. 

There are examples of these sorts of mutually-beneficial partnerships throughout the tech park from the venture capitalists who are right on site to cooperative students from Camosun College who serve four-month terms as front desk security officers and administration assistants for the Corps of Commisionaires. 

Tech park company executives rave about the support provided by the staff of the BCBC, which manages the tech park operations and, in fact, it was just that sort of synergistic-thinking that led the VITP to land its newest tenant, MDS Metro, BC's largest independent community laboratory network. 

Those who are familiar with the tech park's energetic staff can be forgiven if they chuckle when they learn how the plan for an integrated life sciences research partnership was conceived in the back of a bus in San Francisco last fall during a provincially sponsored trade mission to California. 

After seeing for themselves the benefits of marrying biotech companies with educational institutions, Beaman and VITP marketing manager Dale Gann cornered BC Science, Competition and Enterprise Minister Rick Thorpe and Premier Gordon Campbell and asked, "Why not (do the same) here in our own backyard?" 

Beaman went on to pitch the idea to Dr. Don Rix, chair of MDS Metro labs. 

After piquing Rix's interest, the tech park staff facilitated discussions between MDS and the University of Victoria, helping to forge a new private-public research partnership. 

It is part of the VITP's mandate to support such partnerships, but the recent deal brokered between MDS and UVic is clearly the largest in the VITP's brief but remarkable history. 

"They did a hell of a job pulling all of the people together," says Rix, who concedes that now that he has the benefit of hindsight, the partnership makes obvious sense. "Here we have a medical lab that does a lot of medical tests, including tests for cholesterol and here we have proteomics (research) at UVic that studies proteins, including the proteins that alter cholesterol – obviously, there's opportunity for collaboration there." 

The opportunities for further agreements seem endless. Rix points out that both MDS and UVic use mass spectrometers to analyze molecular densities and a Toronto-based company that manufacturers the devices has expressed an interest in having the new VITP partners test its newest models. 

"They're now interested in what's going on and locating a beta site out here on the coast. Why they're here is because the lab is here, proteomics is here, and it makes sense for them to have a beta site for their equipment here – that's a great example of synergy." 

Bob Breen, MDS Metro president and chief operating officer, is also fond of that buzzword. 

"By putting two and three different organizations, individuals, or thinking processes together – the outcome is going to be better than any one of them can come up with on their own," he suggests.