You might think a small contingent of 35 members of Manitoba's technology sector would get lost in the shuffle of the 17,000 impossibly smart and successful people attending this year's annual international BIO International convention in San Diego.
But in keeping with the province's aspirations of hitting above its weight, Manitoba's delegation has become a regular presence at the major international industry event, showing up in numbers larger even than British Columbia's.
You don't hear about blockbuster deals getting done at BIO or major venture-capital investments, but over the years, Manitoba companies have used the opportunity of having potential partners, investors and collaborators in one place at one time to their advantage.
Gord Froehlich, the CEO of Kane Biotech, swears by the benefits of the conference.
His company has developed an antibiofilm technology that breaks down biofilms to allow antibiotics to kill bacteria.
Kane is a very small company that cannot fund on its own all the development the technology needs for it to become commercialized. So it needs to partner with other larger players who can do some of that work, which then can lead to commercial partnerships in the future.
"We're looking for distributors or companies to license our technology," he said. "We are a small company, but this event gives us the chance to fluff our feathers a bit and talk one on one with business-development people from larger companies who might be looking for a unique technology to fill a particular hole in their own portfolio."
Kane has already commercially released an oral-pet-care formulation of their technology, but Froehlich also knows the technology can be used for wound care, hard-surface disinfection and human oral care.
The progress of development of Kane's technology is an interesting snapshot of the maturation the provincial biotech sector has experienced.
Tracey McConachie, the executive director of the Life Science Association of Manitoba, has been helping startups navigate the massive BIO convention experience for a few years.
"We are starting to see a transition from companies just looking for investment from a research-and-development perspective to companies like Kane Biotech who are looking at commercializing opportunities," she said. "We are moving from early-stage to a more mid-stage sector. That being said, we still also have early-stage companies learning and exploring, preparing for... the next level."
Miraculins Inc. is another young Winnipeg company that's looking to break its medical-device technologies onto the market.
Its officials are not in San Diego because it just got one step closer to finalizing a distribution deal with a company in China for exclusive rights to its non-invasive, diabetes-screening test in China.
Christopher Moreau, Miraculins' president and CEO, has said if it gets completed, it will be a "transformative agreement" for Miraculins.
The company will meet with Chinese officials next month in Winnipeg as the next step in the process that could lead to an initial order worth about $15 million.
As well as seeing some Manitoba companies grow out of their teenage years, the BIO conference gives the province's increasing expertise in composites and bio-composite development and nutraceuticals and functional foods a bigger stage.
Jobs and the Economy Minister Theresa Oswald is particularly keen on some technology being applied to pinto beans that the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network (MARN) is working on that has a likely customer from a Minneapolis healthy-snack-food manufacturer.
"We met with the company and they were saying they were looking everywhere for this kind of ingredient," she said.
The province has put $200,000 into the pinto-bean project and it has also a commitment from the Minneapolis company to locate Canadian production in Winnipeg when the time comes.
Manitoba companies and research institutions have learned the path to commercialization is through leveraging partners and development over time. They've also learned where they need to be to meet those potential partners.