Thinking Globally About The Business of Biotech

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What do China, Brazil, India and Africa have in common?  They are all countries where the adoption of Biotechnology has the propensity to  solve many of the challenges that afflict them including disease, poverty, food and fuel.  In fact more than this, China, India and Brazil have already been successful in creating whole industries around Biotechnology and are emerging as leaders in the areas of genomics, vaccine production and agricultural biology.

I have the best job in the world, I spend about 70% of my time traveling around the world talking and learning about genomics different countries.  In addition, I am an alumnus of Singularity University.  This week Kristina Hathaway (@Sytype)  my good friend and veteran in the biotechnology industry,  was hosting a workshop called The Business of Biotech at Singularity University.  She invited me to give a presentation there on “Thinking Globally”.

The goal of my talk was encourage the attendees to think about

  • How can Biotechnology can solve global challenges?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities that exist outside the developed world ?
  • When building a business around Biotech what are the factors to consider for International Markets?
  • How have various countries been successful in building industries around Biotechnology?

Here is a copy of the short slide deck I presented.  The Business of Biotech – Thinking Globally

In the next post – I will share with you a slide deck by Dr Robert Klein who was also presenting at this workshop on The History of Biotechnology.

My Passionate Encounter in Shanghai and a Few of my Other Experiences

As many of you are aware, I have spent most of the last two months living in Shanghai on a special assignment.  As my time here comes to an end and I reflect on my experiences, I wanted to share with you a few the things I learned and experienced.

Bigger, Faster, Better

Because of the sheer number of people here and the extremely low cost of labor, extraordinary things can be accomplished in record amounts of time here.  My boss, a frequent traveler to shanghai, was with me on this trip.  As we walked around the sprawling metropolis that is Shanghai, with its huge luxury brands occupying huge spaces in prime real estate, he said, ‘it’s amazing that 9 months ago when I was here – most of this was a building site – it didn’t exist…’

This year Shanghai was the host for the world expo and all the infrastructure, retail, transport links, leisure and entertainment facilities were literally built over the last 2 years and to the highest possible standards. Just incredible!

In the world of genomics my other example of this is an institute called BGI.  This institute sequences human genomes.  They currently own over 150 Sequencers and by the end of 2010 they will be producing more sequence output than the entire rest of the world combined! Yes, China will be the biggest producer of Genome Sequence in the world!

All I want is a Glass of Cold Water

Every time I went to a Chinese restaurant I would go through the same drama.  I would ask for Diet Coke and of course they wouldn’t have it or wouldn’t understand what I wanted.  So then I would ask for water.  In every place I went to, it would be served warm.  I would ask them for cold water and they would apparently pretend not to understand.  One day my colleague from China took me to a restaurant and after going through the usual script ‘diet coke, no? ok ill have water please’ and it being served warm, he told me that they would never serve me cold water even if I asked, because its considered very  rude to give a guest cold water – ‘they don’t want to insult you’ he told me  Apparently if you want to insult someone badly in China – you say ‘I wouldn’t even serve him cold water!’

Rich Man, Poor Man

One day, I was asked to go and meet with a Professor in a local hospital in Shanghai.  When we got to the hospital it was one of the biggest displays of chaos I had experienced outside of Cairo when they have won the football.  It was hot and humid, patients everywhere, thousands of them, many of them in beds in the corridors and hallways. Their bedding didn’t look that clean and there didn’t seem to be any sort of order.  When we got to the elevator, we stood in line for about ten minutes.  My Chinese colleague looked at me apologetically and said – ‘you know there are never enough resources in China… ‘

Periodically as people got in and out of the elevators, fights would break out, when people couldn’t squeeze in, about who should get out and wait for the next ride.  They would shout at each other and hold the whole elevator up for over 5 minutes at a time.  I was starting to feel faint from the heat and humidity. Eventually we got our turn and went upstairs to the 22nd floor (although I nearly died on the way up because there is no concept of personal space and I’m not used to having elbows jammed in my ribs!)

The elevator opened to an air conditioned, well organized, quiet floor and we were led to the Professors office. His office was huge, and had the latest scientific journals and books all over it.  Through our meeting it transpired that this professor was going to do some of the most cutting edge genomics research in China.  In this chaotic and crazy hospital!

The Professor was wearing over 20,000 USD worth of accessories, Gucci Shoes, Rolex Watch, Mont Blanc Pen and Wallet and an Hermes Belt.  (I’m a diva I have to notice these things!)

What struck me about this was the vast contrast from the poverty and chaos I had seen a few floors below.  When we came to leave, I headed toward the elevator, dreading the  experience, he said ‘no no you can’t use that elevator’ he made a quick phone call, and before we knew it, a secret empty air conditioned private elevator opened just for us. This experience highlighted the pyramid distribution of wealth in China, millions of people in poverty on the bottom floor of the pyramid (or hospital in this case) and A few super rich at the top, with very special privileges.

The Artificial Baby Makers

Fertility appears to big issue in china and this is exemplified by the size of the IVF market.  Apparently (according to the local paper) there are over 200 IVF clinics throughout china on average conducting 7000 IVF’s per year and currently demand is exceeding supply.  That’s a whole lot of infertility and a huge number of future IVF children.  Family is important to the Chinese and it’s your offspring that take care of you when you get old here, IVF is not only to give you an experience of parenthood and family it’s also an investment in your retirement plan.

The Most Sophisticated Consumer in the World

On my last night here, being a chocoholic, I accidently found myself in the Godiva Café. After ordering the milk chocolate praline hot chocolate and their classic flourless chocolate cake, the owner of the establishment, Franco, came and struck up a conversation with me.  He told me that this was THE ONLY Godiva café in the world and that the luxury brand had decided to open up their first café in Shanghai as the consumers in Shanghai are currently perceived to be the most sophisticated and with the most amount of disposable income for indulgences.

I’m telling you people the Godiva café was pure indulgence. Franco then bought out a flight of chocolate for me to sample all spiced with different types of pepper, Szechwan, green peppercorn and cayenne and accompanied with a desert Muscat that perfectly complimented the chocolate. Diva was in heaven!

He also informed me that when it comes to chocolate the Japanese are the number 2 consumer in the world and the next Godiva café would be in Tokyo.

And finally….

The Passionate Encounter

I know you are all dying to know about the passionate encounter, well –  it’s the most incredible cocktail made of passion fruit that can be found at my favorite bar – Glamour Bar! I’m sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting something a little juicer but it really is very good!

The bar is this fabulous opulent, trendy place filled with sexy expats – when you are inside you forget that you are in China.  The passionate encounter started off an evening for me that turned into an 8 hour party with a fellow expat I met there so I will always remember it fondly…

China is Richer Than You Think; Decadance Kills Depression.

Yesterday as I wondering around Haui Hai road in the Luwan district I was stunned by the displays of affluence in a country that the Western world classifies as ‘An Emerging Market

Some of my observations:

  • EVERY major luxury brand is represented here from all around the globe; I have seen some of the most EXCLUSIVE brands from Europe, the US, Asia and the Middle East here. Many of the stores have multiple sites across Shanghai so they aren’t just concentrated in the tourist areas. They occupy huge spaces of real estate; Cartier and Tiffany are the largest stores I have seen to date.
  • The ethnicity of the primary consumers at the stores appears (to my untrained eye) to be Chinese, I’m not sure if they are from Shanghai or Chinese tourists from other major cities.
  • BMW, Mercedes and Audi’s are plentiful in the streets of Shanghai; I even saw one of the very newly launched Electric Jaguar’s, a couple of Astin Martins and a few Bentleys too.
  • BMW, Mercedes and Audi all had sales growth of between 35-77% in 2009 (Even during a global recession)
  • China is BMW’s 4th largest market after Germany, UK and the US
  • Several Stores sell evening gowns which start at $50,000 and up, it makes me wonder what sort of events the Chinese elite attend to wear dresses of such cost.
  • 7 out of 10 Chinese women are carrying a designer handbag from a luxury brand (Yes I did sit down and count how many out of 100 women were carrying a brand I recognized)  This spans all age ranges, grandmothers and schoolgirls alike were all included in the count.
  • Diamonds are a plenty here – every few stores on Haui Hai road is a jeweler. One necklace I saw (Picture below) is the Equivalent of $260,000 USD.  (Yes I do want it!)
  • There is even a market for luxury products for children: A seven story department store sells nothing but Barbie products, every Barbie ever made, with all the accessories, clothes, housing, office furniture and spas that Barbie or her owner could ever wish for.
  • Luxury living is all the rage here. There are a plethora of high rises which contain luxury apartments with services and amenities which include pools, gyms, cleaning services, food services, laundry services and concierge services.

Today I came across an article in Newsweek entitled “China is Richer than you think” This article went a long way to explaining how Chinese consumers can afford all these Gucci bags, BMW’s and glitzy apartments.  The article discusses the results of a recent study sponsored by Credit Suisse to understand if the super inflated Chinese real estate costs are about to cause a crash in the real estate market

Some of the shocking facts from the study

  • China’s richest 10% of the population had a whopping $20,500 of disposable income in 2008
  • Disposable income across the entire economy is 90% higher than government reports
  • Chinese households hide $1.4 trillion, equivalent to 30% of China’s GDP
  • Grey income – bribes, gifts and undeclared earnings play a major role in the incomes of the elite and are not even accounted for in the surveys.

All I can say to the Western world is that China is not an “Emerging Market’ it has already “Emerged”

There is a very famous nightclub here called DKD which very aptly stands for Decadence Kills Depression – the name epitomizes all that I have seen in Shanghai this week. If DKD opens another branch, maybe they can call it CKC – Capitalism Kills Communism?

One of the largest Cartier stores I have seen

Window to the 7 floor Barbie store

$260,000 USD Diamond necklace that I want someone to buy me 🙂

Evening dresses that start at $50,000 USD

Diva goes to Shanghai, Day 1

I’m in Shanghai on a special assignment for a month, and today is the first day of my Shanghai adventures. I arrive at the gorgeous serviced apartment which happens to overlook very glamorous but busy Haui Hai Road , reminiscent of Knightsbridge in london.  The view from my window is Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Cartier – Diva likes being surrounded by designer fabulosity!

I discover that neither facebook or twitter can be accessed from my computer, apparently the Chinese government dislikes them even more than they dislike google (which is accessible)  In an effort to defeat jet lag, I go for a stroll down Haui Hai Road.  Shanghai appears to be a bustling metropolis with multicultural flair, I see locals and tourists in almost equal numbers here.  The youth of Shanghai are beautiful, fashionable, social and super trendy.  They also appear to have lots of disposable income, many are carrying shopping bags from Gucci, Coach and Ermenegildo Zegna.

The city is an interesting mix of both quaintness and modernization with its sky scrapers and tea rooms, designer stores and small local stalls, people – old and traditional as well as young and affluent, you cant help but be reminded of China’s history and its emerging power and wealth.

The smell of fried rice wafts through the air and as usual, the foodie in me is in search of authentic local cuisine.  I find a restaurant called Fu Lin Xaun which is occupied primarily with locals, which i take to be a sign of the quality and authenticity of the food. Navigating the menu was an interesting experience. Ok maybe it was a little too authentic for me, the scary dishes included,

  • Roast chicken served with its head ( I cant look the animal I will eat in the eye!)
  • Ox intestines with ginger and scallions (YUKKKKKK, even ginger and spring onions cant disguise how bad this sounds)
  • Chopped fish head with black bean sauce (really?)
  • Goose head with Ox tripe in herbal sauce and many more equally stomach churning dishes (combining two gross things together in herbal sauce doesn’t make them better!)
  • Ambiguous dishes that claimed to be beef (I wasn’t taking the risk!)

I’m usually very adventurous with food but tonight, intimidated by the menu, I decide to keep it simple and go for dim sum and noodles.  Plain noodles with beansprouts and onions, perfectly stir fried and seasoned, steamed shrimp dumplings with delicious minced shrimp bbq pork in sweet puff pastry that smells like desert and melts in your mouth – All were super yumm!  Sometimes simplicity is best especially after 13 hour flight and no sleep for 2 days.

Looking forward to tomorrow when I go to work in our office and start learning first hand about the genomics landscape here in China.