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Monitoring the Genomics Mojo

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In spite of 20 percent greater attendance and more than double the exhibitors from last year, the Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s 2002 Genome Tri-Conference lacked that certain je ne sais quoi of previous years’ meetings. Complaints about light traffic in the exhibit hall were common — even free fudge brownies in the afternoon didn’t seem to lure browsers by the 125 booths. Certain companies whose names appeared on early drafts of the exhibitors list were noticeable for their absence — DoubleTwist, Entigen, and Genomica among them. Tough times have done in those firms, but even Applied Biosystems bailed out at the last minute rather than drag its staff down the road to Santa Clara from Foster City. And those that did show weren’t nearly as prolific about pumping out press releases about deals and new products as in years past.

Meanwhile, many lecture-hall talks got mediocre reviews and the audience sat silently, letting most presenters leave the podium without fielding a single question. One presenter from a genomics technology company said he surmised that it was because a majority of the meeting’s 1,800 attendees were other vendors, there to collect competitive intelligence, rather than users there to learn about new methods and technologies. Even hallways and common spaces in the conference’s new venue, the Santa Clara Convention Center, lacked the buzz of the old San Francisco Fairmont Hotel meetings.

Some shrugged it all off as an optical illusion: “It’s like going to a party; if you’re in a small room it seems like there are more people,” Ann O’Donnell, Incyte’s trade show manager, told GenomeWeb’s West Coast reporter Ken Howard. But others say there was more to it than that. “At the Fairmont Hotel there was a lot more networking and one-on-ones,” remarked Garreth Hippe, enterprise sales account manager at InforMax. In Santa Clara, Hippe said, people were “picking up material and blasting on.”

And it seemed that those who hung around were less interested in checking out the products and more interested in selling one: themselves. “There are a lot of people looking for jobs, a lot of people with dot-com backgrounds and software engineers looking to move to a new area, and to educate themselves [about genomics],” observed Bert Cummings, senior account executive at InforMax.

True, but there were more than a few out-of-work genomics veterans milling around too. For instance, Entigen’s former director of business development, Warner Yuen, dropped by the GenomeWeb booth cheerily wondering why we hadn’t yet reported on his company’s recent demise. And Barry Giordano, who decided to take a break when GeneEd, the genomics educational software company he helped found, started going south, seems to be enjoying his newfound free time playing music and palling around with his Bernese Mountain dogs. He remarked, “It’s not all doom and gloom.” In fact, most job seekers at the show seemed to be downright optimistic about their options.

Incidentally, if you’re one of those people, our Managing Editor Meredith Salisbury would like to hear from you. She’s seeking fodder for our new Promoter Region column. If you’ve got career questions you’d like her to research, management approaches you want her to investigate, or a resumé you’d like to submit for public review, drop her a line: [email protected]

— Adrienne Burke, Editor in Chief

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