Last week, the organizers behind the Gold Coast Bio Center, a life sciences incubator forming along the 101 technology corridor, held a meeting to talk about the group's efforts to tap into the wealth of experience in the area in the biotechnology and life sciences area, and create an incubator here. About 60 people sat down to hear about the effort, the benefits to biotech startups, and gain more information about the incubator effort, which is being spearheaded by Brent Reinke and Wayne Davie. Reinke is head of the Gold Coast Biotech Forum--an effort to try to spur more biotech firms here--and an attorney at Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP; also heading up the effort is Wayne Davie, who was formerly both at Amgen and Rockwell Scientific. We spoke with Brent about the center.
What's the idea behind the incubator, and how did the idea come about?
Brent Reinke: Really, the incubator was an offshoot of what John Dilts (editor's note: of the Maverick Angels, an investment group here) and I have been doing on the Biotech Forum. The Biotech Forum is providing some great educational information, and networking for people who are interested in seeing the area develop a biotech cluster. We're developing an ecosystem here for the biotech indusry. In talking with people it's clear there is a fairly significant need for wet lab space, for people to do research and development. Lab space just doesn't exist--at least not in this region, and that creates a barrier to seeing this effort succeed. As a consequence, Wayne Davie and I spent 8-10 months working on putting together a business plan for an incubator. We put lots of time and effort into looking at the best practices of incubators around the country, and from that, evolved a plan to do one in this region. I think what this effort will do, is finally show a tangible step being taken. We're not just talking about creating a life sciences cluster in this area, we're actually building a facility we think can be a focal point of the whole effort.
Describe the facility?
Brent Reinke: It's about a 38,000 square foot, two story building. The facility itself is comprised of office space, common areas, a board room, conference rooms, and individual lab space with adjoining office space. There are two common labs, which will entail both a bio and a chem lab. In addition, there will be Internet connections, phone systems, and a common reception area, and things of that nature, offered to tenants.
How far along is the effort?
Brent Reinke: It's fairly far along. We've spent a fair amount of time on the design. The lab design is done, the building owner has engaged an architect, and a number of people with significant experience in laboratory build out have provided input on the design of the facility. We've drawn on what other incubators have done, and have tried to create a best-practices facility. We've designed a facility that is extremely flexible. If there is a new tenant coming in, who needs to relocate some of the equipment within the lab, it's designed to have mobility and so you can do that without PI improvements. If you need additional equipment, it's easily relocated within individual labs. That flexibility helps the tenant, and if also helps the incubator on costs. You don't have to do lots of PI modifications with new tenants.
Talk about the thinking behind the lab space; why is the lab space such an important component of the effort?
Brent Reinke: To go and build these facilities themselves, typically within a commercial/industrial park, it's extremely difficult due to the permit pulling process. There's a significant expense to buying equipment, and installing it. What the incubator does is create a plug-and-play environment, and takes the up-front expense. The building owners have committed $5 to $6 million dollars to build this out, and we're responsible for dealing with the city to get permits to have the facility constructed. Of course, the companies will have to have the idea and the financial wherewithal to pay for rent, but you could come in on day one and start doing research. That's a huge factor.
There's more than just the space to this?
Brent Reinke: On top of that, we're going to bring intangible value, like contacts we're going to have with the investment community, potential strategic partners, and others. Our goal is to develop top notch advisory boards - technical, medical, business - that companies will have access to. There will be a tremendous value added beyond the physical facility.
What kinds of companies are a best fit for the incubator?
Brent Reinke: Our goal is for the cost of someone coming in to rent the space, to be at or less than going out to build their own lab space. We're essentially taking all of the upfront expense, buying or leasing all of the equipment or furniture necessary in the lab space, the cost of doing construction, the time and efforts of permit pulling. So, it's going to take a company that has at least some level of financial backing. That could be personal backing, an early stage angel, or maybe even early stage venture capital financing. We don't know exactly what the cost will be, but we hope to have that figured out in the next couple of weeks. It will be market. We believe that once everyone factors in the value of what we're going to bring to the table, and compares that to the cost to do your own, it will be pretty reasonable. That's all in addition to the value of the advisory services and connections we're going to bring to bear.
Are you seeing any more activity now in the region, particularly with the situation with Amgen?
Brent Reinke: I think there is. We're starting see a little more activity. We're hearing more and more about people have an idea and are looking for sources of financing, and ways to get up and running. We're encouraged by what we're hearing. We believe a facility like this could be a significant catalyst. It's another reason to stay in this area, and to make it happen. We can then start developing critical mass, and eventually strong interest from the investment community. It's a place with real opportunities for a life science cluster to develop, and the indications are encouraging.
It's interesting, this is sort of the opposite situation of the tech industry, where people talk about having a hard time finding seasoned management. It seems that the biotech industry has lots and lots of management experience here but not many startups.
Brent Reinke: There's significant value that the location of the incubator has to bring to companies that are outside the area. Companies who have been finding quality management very difficult will find there's lots of management experience here, on both the scientific and executive side. We've got an opportunity here--there's a brain trust of quality life sciences experience sitting here in this area. They don't have to relocate, they have ties here, and in fact don't want to relocate. It's a huge advantage to what we're doing. If you can build a Class A facility in the midst of where those people are living, and we'll hopefully have an easier time to attract the money. We're working closely with the universities in the region, working with strategic partners, and pharmaceutical companies that have IP they'd like to see commercialized, and making them aware of what we're doing.
Finally, if things go as planned, when do you think space might be available?
Brent Reinke: If the timeline holds--and that's an if--in Spring of 2009 the facility could be up and running. At this point, it's all about us and the building owner getting a comfort level, and a level of interest from qualified, prospective tenants. We'd like to get a comfort level which enables the building owner to move ahead. That's the stage we are at now. We hope to get some comfort level in the next month, month and a half, to be able to pull the trigger and for construction to move forward.