Robert Green, president of Integrated Biomolecule Corp. in Oro Valley, says the key to his success has been building businesses based on solid fundamentals.
It's a formula that has produced a five-fold increase in annual revenues in just the past four years for the company, a provider of organic chemistry services to pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement companies. In this worldwide market of $19 billion, Green sees his company's potential for growth as "limitless."
In January, the company moved from cramped quarters in the University of Arizona's Science and Technology Park at 9030 S. Rita Road where it occupied about 5,300 square feet to a new 18,000 square-foot building on two acres at 2005 E. Innovation Park Drive.
The building features state-of-the-art laboratories and clean room, along with computer-controlled environmental, fire suppression and security systems, a laboratory information system and robotics.
At the time of its move to Oro Valley, after eight years in the technology park, the company had seven employees, but just recently an 11th employee was hired and the company is looking to fill two more openings. Even with the additions, though, there's little likelihood of overcrowding since only slightly more than two-thirds of the space in the new building is currently being occupied, with the balance available for even further expansion without incurring increased construction costs in the future.
And it's all come about somewhat accidentally, what Green refers to as serendipity, the seeming gift for finding good things accidentally.
After graduating from City University of New York and then the Fordham University School of Law in 1977, Green went to work for a major New York City law firm in its merger and acquisitions division. While there, he was given the opportunity to work for one of the law firm's clients and learn how to run a business himself, fulfilling personal goals of attaining legal experience and running his own business.
During that time with the investment management company, Green ran several successful businesses, but the turning point in his life may have come with an assignment in 1989 to oversee an insolvent biotech company in Tucson.
The company was scheduled to close its doors when Green offered to give it one more try to make a go of it, Green said. That turned out not to be possible, but Green, despite having little knowledge of the biotech industry, was able to build the firm back up to the point where it could be packaged and sold to a larger biotech company by showing that, if run right, the insolvent company could once again become profitable.
The experience convinced Green he could run a biotech business himself, and in 1992, he and his wife, Jill founded a company called Applitech, which stood for Applied Technology, selling chemicals out of their garage that had already been made and other chemicals specially made for Applitech.
"I knew where they went wrong and I figured I could do it right," he said. "The basic thing is you don't overextend yourself, you don't build facilities you can't support, you don't buy equipment you can't fully utilize. Those are the things that should follow the growth of the business."
Within two years the company had reached the point where it could afford to begin making the chemicals itself and that's when the Greens and the UA's Technology Park embarked on a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. The key to the deal for Green was that the park's facilities included critical laboratory space.
"We could never have afforded building laboratory space on our own," Green said. "If the UA hadn't given us the laboratory space there would never have been an Integrated Biomolecule Corp.," the new name assumed when Applitech moved into the park.
"The first years were extremely difficult," Green said. "There were two occasions when I came home with grave doubts as to whether we were going to make it, but each time I had those doubts something good happened shortly thereafter."
Integrated Biomolecule functions as two operating divisions. IBC Organics conducts research and development for the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industry in the very early stages of developing drugs and diagnostic products. The other, IBC Labs, has become one of the world's foremost analytical labs, specializing in testing elements associated with nutritional supplements and vitamins.
How the pharmaceutical side works, Green explained, is that a pharmaceutical company comes to Integrated Biomolecule with a request to make a certain compound. Often, the compound is either scientifically impossible to make or so expensive to produce that it could never be successful in the marketplace.
"That's when our development skills come into play," he said. "We look at what they've come up with and we figure out how they can get to where they want to go in an efficient and economical way. We'll take the compound and suggest perhaps if you change this, change that, you'll still get there. The pharmaceutical company owns the compound, we work on the development of it and the synthesis of it, so we can start producing small amounts for the purpose of future testing."
Among the several compounds Integrated Biomolecule is working on now is an anti-cancer drug that is showing great promise, Green said.
On the analytical laboratory side, raw materials in nutritional supplements and vitamins intended for future marketing are checked for quality and proper apportionment of ingredients. The company serves hundreds of clients in this area, including some of the largest in the industry. Green wouldn't name names.
"We actually do things quite uniquely and that's our claim to fame," Green said. "Most companies, as with most people, take on new projects and do them the same way they did the last ones. We always take a fresh look and try to come up with unique solutions that are better than the ways they've been done in the past. It's one of the reasons we're so successful."
The company also boasts of a two to three business day turnaround on lab analyses, compared with a national average of 10 days, a result many labs with up to 40 people are unable to match, Green said.
The decision to move from the UA's Technology Park was forced by the need for more lab space. Rather than build the labs in a leased facility, it was decided to build them in a facility the company would own.
The company's arrival in Oro Valley came about when Green and his wife were on their way to a family get together and decided to take a look at Ventana Medical Systems' new facility in Oro Valley. On arriving at the site, "the two of us looked at one another and said this is the place," he said.
"We saw the lot in the morning and by that afternoon Oro Valley officials were calling me about my interest in the land and asking what they could do to have me come there. I was pretty impressed."
Among the downsides to biotech growth in the area, Green said, is that it's limited by the number of companies located here so it can be difficult to attract people from out of state because if the job doesn't work out, the person is forced to move again, unlike San Diego, for example, where the likelihood of finding another job without moving is much greater. Other obstacles include a lack of venture capital, inadequate laboratory facilities and business tax disadvantages for expanding companies.
"On the plus side, it's a great place to live, the cost of living is reasonable, the weather is great and it's a pretty exciting place to be for someone in biotech. It's an up and coming area and people are willing to take the chance."
When Green, vice chair of Arizona's Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, the group overseeing the state's long-term biosciences strategy, talks about his workers, he talks in terms of family and taking care of family.
"Once you join the company you become a member of the family," Green said. "The company long ago recognized that its success is directly attributable to the people who work there and this is never forgotten."
The new building, as an example, was built with staff in mind, he said. The office features a 28-foot-high elliptical ceiling with floor to ceiling glass facing the Catalina Mountains. Labs have the unusual feature of windows to enjoy the views and since the climate allows workers to be outdoors most of the year, the building has two large patios facing the mountain and a kitchen was included so chemists, who make great chefs, can share their specialties. Even the music playing when a caller is placed on hold is selected by staff members on a rotating basis.
Not long ago, Green even purchased 21 $800 chairs in a line that is the epitome for biotech workers at an Enron auction for a fraction of the cost to add to employee comfort.
For most lawyers, making a switch to running a biotech company can be difficult because lawyers worry a lot, Green said. "Lawyers tend to look at all the things that can go wrong in order to protect their clients. But if you're in business, you've got to look at all the things that can go right and manage those aspects that could go wrong.
"My key to success in biotechnology has been to surround myself with experts in biotechnology who are smarter than I am."
Biotech roadmap addresses paths to future growth
The 40-plus member Arizona Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee on which Integrated Biomolecule Corp. President Robert Green sits as vice chairman is an outgrowth of a Flinn Foundation-financed study of the strengths and weaknesses in the infrastructure of the state's biotech industry and the beginning of a 10-year plan to develop improvements in that infrastructure. The study, completed last year by the Battelle Memorial Institute recommended Arizona take advantage of its scientific strengths in bioengineering, cancer research and neurological sciences and in the economic development area address problems related to capital formation, entrepreneurial assistance and facilities construction. Three bills supported by the Governor's Council for Innovation and Technology, the Roadmap Steering Committee capital work group and others, but stalled previously in the state Senate, came up again the week of April 12.
One would create a private-sector pool of capital up to $500 million directly and leveraging another $250 million to nurture Arizona's high-wage technology sectors. No direct state funds are involved. Incentives (contingent tax credits) may be used only if the fund's returns fall short of a minimum level. The Arizona Capital Investment Board would oversee the fund's management. Several states have similar programs but none use tax credits.
A second bill would establish a Small Business Opportunity Program, expanding early investment in small businesses. This program's tax credits encourage early investment. Eligible investments qualify for a 30 percent tax credit spread over three years, or 35 percent for investments in biosciences in rural Arizona. This program would be capped at $20 million over five years.
The bill's backers say it would help overcome the access to capital barrier companies face and eliminate the competitive disadvantage in bringing technologies to market.
For more information on the Roadmap Steering Committee check the www.Flinn.org Web site.