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Chicago poised to grow biotech, clean tech companies: J.B. Pritzker

JB Pritzker speaks City Club Chicago during public policy luncheMaggiano's 111 W. Grand. Monday February 11 2013. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

JB Pritzker speaks at the City Club of Chicago during a public policy luncheon at Maggiano's 111 W. Grand. Monday, February 11, 2013. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 13, 2013 6:22AM

Chicago will host major biotech, wind and solar conventions this year, which billionaire technology venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker said Monday signifies city leaders’ efforts to spur startup companies in overlooked growth areas such as bio-science and “clean” technology.

The world’s biggest biotech convention, known as BIO, meets April 22-25 at McCormick Place Convention Center.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, as it is formally known, attracts 17,000 attendees and brings an estimated $30 million in spending to the host city, based on its conventions in Chicago in 2010 and in 2006.

BIO will be followed by the WINDPOWER convention on May 5-8 and Solar Power International Oct. 21-24, also at McCormick Place.

Pritzker, the featured speaker at the City Club of Chicago’s Public Policy luncheon, told entrepreneurs, politicians, tech leaders and university medical and innovation officials in the audience that Chicago wants to see more bio-science and clean-tech startups. “Clean tech” refers to products, processes or services that reduce waste and require as few non-renewable resources as possible.

Chicago already has the third-largest bio-science presence in the nation, with Abbott Laboratories, AbbVie, Baxter, Takeda Pharmaceuticals and research hospitals and universities together employing 500,000, Pritzker said.

“But there is almost no early-stage company formation and growth in bio-science,” Pritzker said. “We have the research and the big companies but not institutional mechanisms and funding in place for cutting-edge research in labs and universities.”

A similar growth challenge awaits in clean tech, though Chicago won a huge breakthrough in Argonne National Laboratories’ five-year, $120 million battery-research award from the U.S. Department of Energy, he said.

Pritzker intends to push the bio-science and clean tech growth agenda in his role as co-chair of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT, a committee designed to create jobs and boost investment in digital technology.

Pritzker’s co-chairs on the ChicagoNEXT committee are Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky, Paragon Pharmaceuticals CEO and entrepreneur Jeff Aronin and Incisent Technologies co-founder and CEO Pat Ryan Jr.

Pritzker praised Chicago’s growth of digital startups, noting that it’s taken 15 years for the “essential pieces of a digital startup ecosystem” to come alive in the Windy City.

He cited, besides Groupon, successful businesses such as OpenTable, GrubHub and SurePayroll, as well as a growing group of home-grown digital-tech investors and venture capitalists.

The luncheon drew some of Chicago’s biggest tech influencers: Michael Sacks, mayoral adviser and CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management (and an investor in and board member of Wrapports LLC, which owns the Sun-Times); Matt Moog and Kevin Willer of the 1871 tech hub; Warren Ribley, leader of the Illinois Medical District, and city Chief Information Officer Brett Goldstein.

Pritzker declined to comment on reports that his sister, Chicago hotel mogul Penny Pritzker, will become the next U.S. Commerce Secretary under President Obama.

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