Ambassadors Tour UM Life Science & Technology Park

The group of 34 diplomats explored economic and trade opportunities in Miami as part of a U.S. State Department program.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

MIAMI, Fla. (January 15, 2014) — From the sixth floor of R+D Building One, the group of ambassadors to the United States took in panoramic views of Miami’s ever-expanding skyline. But this was no sightseeing tour or pleasure outing.

Their visit began on the top floor of the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park structure for a good reason: to get an overall view of a city where academic research and development is expanding and universities are becoming drivers of urban economic growth.

Smart universities are aware of such a trend, and realize the value of not only technology but also faculty members who generate new ideas, Tom Osha, managing director of innovation and economic development at Norfolk, Virginia-based Wexford Equities, which manages and operates R&D Building One, told the diplomats.

Representing nations from Albania to Zambia, the 34 ambassadors explored economic partnerships and trade opportunities in Miami from January 13 to 15 as part of the U.S. State Department’s Experience America program, kicking off their visit with a dinner at UM President Donna E. Shalala’s residence on Sunday and then touring different sites such as the UM Life Science & Technology Park on Tuesday.

During their one-hour stay at R+D Building One, the ambassadors learned about U Innovation, the home of technology advancement at the University of Miami that recently marked a milestone with the first public offering by a company to evolve from its mission to bring life-enhancing discoveries made by UM researchers to the marketplace. Norma Sue Kenyon, the Miller School of Medicine’s chief innovation officer and UM’s vice provost for innovation, told the group that 11 out of 19 UM startups that have worked with U Innovation’s Coulter Center for Translational Research have received $43 million in investment support.

Then it was on to the third floor for a look at the Miami Innovation Center, where the group learned about some of the tech, life science, and biotech firms based there. Among them: Specialty Telehealth Services, a global telecommunications company that offers telehealth support to medical personnel in remote and mobile environments through a 24-hour response center. The State Department and Ryder Trauma Center are among those it serves.

"An eye opener" is how Ritva Koukku-Ronde, ambassador of Finland, described the visit to the technology park.

Ambassador of Latvia Andris Razans, on his first Experience America trip, called the tour "educational," noting that R+D Building One could serve as a model for his country in the future. “Although Miami is well known as a tourist destination in Europe, it’s worthwhile to pay attention more and more when it comes to business, educational, and innovation opportunities,” he said. “There’s a need for more startups in Latvia. And that’s one of the primary reasons I’m here.”

During the Sunday dinner at the eco-friendly Ibis House at Smathers Four Fillies Farm, President Shalala discussed a variety of topics, telling the ambassadors, along with one deputy chief of mission from South Sudan, that UM, while still a young institution, offers its students an “enormous range of academics.”

“They come to Miami for the diversity,” she said.

With several deans and top administrators in attendance, Shalala also recognized some of UM’s successes, from its career entrepreneurship center, The Launch Pad, to its world-class medical school.

The diplomats also visited a telehealth center at Miami Children’s Hospital, the NAP of the Americas data center, and the International Hurricane Research Center’s Wall of Wind at Florida International University.

“Promoting new economic partnerships is a major priority of this Experience America trip. Collectively, these ambassadors represent nearly half a billion people living in more than three-dozen countries around the world,” said Jason Rahlan, spokesman for the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol, which oversees and leads the Experience America. “This program gives them an opportunity to engage with prominent business leaders, local entrepreneurs, and learn about the many benefits of doing business in Miami.”

It was the 13th Experience America trip overall and ninth since the beginning of the Obama administration. Since 2009, ambassadors from more than 100 countries have participated in the program, visiting destinations such as Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, and Austin.

Robert C. Jones Jr. can be contacted at 305-284-1615.


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