Recognition awards are a big part of many professional conferences, but not many evoke the buzz that the Everyday Superhero program did at the 2015 BIO International Convention in Philadelphia in June. As a kickoff to the meeting, Mayor Michael Nutter issued a proclamation declaring June 15 “BIO Superhero Day.”
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) debuted its Everyday Superhero contest earlier this year to recognize biotech leaders in the patient, industry, and academic communities whose accomplishments are helping people battling debilitating and chronic disease. Top honorees were announced at BIO 2015, which was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on June 15–18. More than 15,000 people working in life-science innovations and applications gathered for the event, which is the largest annual meeting in the biotechnology industry.
“Our industry is filled with countless superheroes. They are the inspiring patients, academics, and industry researchers like the individuals who we are proud to honor today,” BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood said in presenting the awards at Tuesday’s keynote session. “These real everyday superheroes have helped to advance groundbreaking new therapies and technologies. We are thankful to all of our nominees and their unwavering dedication to using biotechnology to heal, feed, and fuel the world.”
The three honorees were warmly received by the audience, with the youngest — 10-year-old Emily Whitehead eliciting a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. “People were clearly moved,” Fritz Bittenbender, BIO’s executive vice president for public affairs, told Convene, “and it was a very powerful moment.”
Everyday Superhero was a new initiative for BIO, and one that ties very closely to the association’s mission. “We strive every day at BIO to tell the story of the remarkable work being done in our industry, but the convention each year gives us a special opportunity to really highlight that,” Bittenbender said. “When planning for BIO 2015, we wanted to put a human face on that science and also give people a chance to recognize the achievements of their colleagues and friends in the industry that are truly heroic.”
The contest launched in March with an invitation on BIO’s website to submit nominations for biotech leaders who are having an impact on disease treatment in one of three categories: patient/patient group, pharma/biotech, and university/research institutions. Nominations were open to the public, not just BIO members; BIO received more than 100 in all.
“The contest really drove engagement from across the spectrum of the biotech community,” Bittenbender said. “Our greatest challenge was narrowing down the list of nominees to come up with our five finalists for each category. We ended up forming a committee to review all of the nominations to select the finalists, which was a tough job, but it was also inspiring to read the stories of the scientists, patients, and advocates who are the reason behind everything that we do at BIO.”
Winners of the contest received free registration to BIO 2015, along with VIP access to keynotes and other functions. They were also recognized through promotion on social-media and other channels during the convention. And marketing materials and signage throughout BIO 2015 played up the superhero theme with design elements such as red capes and Superman-style “B” logos (for “biotech”).
Planning for BIO 2016 in San Francisco is already underway, and while the association hasn’t made any official announcements, Everyday Superhero is likely to return. “We are confident that we will be able to build upon the momentum and lessons learned coming out of Philadelphia,” Bittenbender said. “We hope to create an even more memorable event next year.”