Lessons from Torino? 

B.C. companies see opportunity in Torino

Beijing in 2008 may be even bigger opening for some businesses

Next month’s Torino Olympics may represent the pinnacle of sport for many athletes, but they are also an important opportunity for many B.C. businesses.

Economic Development Minister Colin Hansen officially opened British Columbia-Canada Place in Torino last weekend. The meeting place, in the Piazzale Valdo Fusi in the heart of Torino, is designed to showcase British Columbia, B.C. businesses, and increase foreign investment and trade.

"With British Columbia-Canada Place, we’ve opened our doors to the world and are inviting them to join us in 2010," Hansen said in a release. "We are highlighting the enterprise and innovation at work in every corner of the province."

More than 80 B.C. businesses, ranging from high-tech firms to knitting companies, will be represented in Torino during the February Olympics and March Paralympics. Some companies were invited to participate by Leading Edge B.C., a non-profit partnership between the province and technology firms dedicated to raising the profile and awareness of B.C.’s tech sector. Other companies are official sponsors, which required a commitment of at least $75,000 in cash and/or goods.

John Meekison, chief financial officer of life sciences firm iCo, said the Vancouver company’s participation at Torino is part of a trade mission.

"There are a couple of other conferences in Europe (prior to Torino), and we thought it would be a neat idea to see what’s going on in Italy," Meekison said.

The company focus is on developing or modifying existing drugs for a range of human medical conditions within "isolated biological environments" such as the eye, spinal cord or joints. By concentrating efforts on development instead of research, iCo aims to acquire the rights to drugs that are either off-patent, currently approved or near commercialization and develop them by re-dosing or reformulating them for new uses, primarily in ocular applications.

Meekison said the company is going to Torino to look for potential partnerships in other countries.

"It’s a trade mission, basically. Part of what the government does is link B.C. companies with similar Italian companies.

"Our business revolves around licensing technology," Meekison continued. "That’s one of the things we’ll be exploring in Italy."

The company will also be looking for businesses that could help market or distribute iCo’s products in the future.

While Torino is an immediate opportunity for companies like iCo, an even bigger opening may be two years away in Beijing. Companies that paid to be sponsors of B.C.-Canada House also have first right of refusal to participate in B.C.-Canada House at the 2008 Summer Olympics in China.

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