Business incubators are loosely defined as supportive environments helping entrepreneurs to launch and grow successful businesses. Whether for-profit or non-profit, spawned by commercial real estate firms, state/local governments, academic officials or entrepreneurs, business incubation on the rise with an increasing variety of offerings to suit virtually any aspiring entrepreneur. The National Business Incubator Association, and numerous state and local affiliates, offer loads of information for incubators and entrepreneurs alike.
Why this works
A critical advantage that business incubators offer is the availability of fully functional infrastructure – enabling entrepreneurs to focus on their fledgling businesses without having to worry about time-consuming operational bits like setting up permits, licenses, internet access, waste disposal, meeting space, security, vendor negotiations etc.
Successful companies paying it forward
As an active member of the Massachusetts biotech community, I’m delighted that biotech incubation is experiencing a significant growth spurt within the already prodigious life sciences ecosystem. I wish this had been the case when we started MaxThera in the last decade. Beginning with an idea in 2003, we landed at Inotek Pharmaceuticals, along with other startups, including Smart Cells. Inotek happened to have a bit of extra lab space and equipment available, and was willing to lend a hand to startups. Other companies have offered shared space to startups as well, but such arrangements can be difficult to find are not always well-suited to the incubator role.
Massachusetts biotech incubators: A model for success
The Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI) is sort of a granddaddy of biotech incubation – launched in the 1980’s, MBI provides office and laboratory space, including some basic lab equipment. Centrally located in Worcester, MBI has grown considerably over the years, is housed in several buildings and has tenants ranging from innovative biotechs to research service providers. The Cambridge innovation Center (CIC) is another mature entity that offers amazing office facilities and resources to startups of every kind, and is located in Kendall Square (for any readers from another planet, that’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts). Until now, CIC has not had direct access to laboratory space, but that is going to change soon with the launch of Lab Central expected later this year.
The future of biotech incubators is now
A few new breeds of biotech incubator are on the rise though. A leader of one such new breed is North Shore InnoVentures, with thoroughly equipped biological laboratory facilities and a host of added value services (Note: NEPA is actively involved with NSIV as a sponsor and advisor). As is the case with MBI, NSIV tenants include service providers, such as Hepatochem and Cell Assay Innovations, but here, both share the space with other startups, creating a unique environment for collaboration. Joel Berniac, Founder and CEO of Akrivis Technologies, a recent NSIV graduate, described his experience in this incubator as follows:
“Being part of North Shore InnoVentures during our critical start-up phase proved to be a key success factor in our transition to commercial operations. The collaboration opportunities we received, along with access to world-class facilities, mentoring and a network of business and investor contacts, gave us an enormous advantage.” – Joel Berniac, Ph.D., MBA
Contract Research Organizations (CRO’s): Mixing business with startups to help entrepreneurs
Another new approach is incubator space offered by a contract research organization (CRO). TGA Sciences and Cambridge BioLabs are two examples of companies that provide varied biological and/or pharmacological research services as well as offering shared space for startups. For entrepreneurs, this is a great deal because their teams work in close contact with experienced scientists from the CRO, and they can readily expand their staff capabilities by engaging the CRO for services.
With my background in chemistry, I’m particularly interested in the launch of the CreaGen Chemistry Incubator (C2I) (Note: NEPA is also an advisor to CreaGen). For entrepreneurs starting a chemistry centric business, C2I offers a unique office and laboratory space that includes access to experienced chemists as well as a full array of chemistry equipment instrumentation and automation equipment. Biology driven companies might also like this space, especially if they are planning to develop small molecule products or to use chemistry based tools for their work.
Accelerating great science, entrepreneurship and financial outcomes…
Biotech business incubators, both new and established (I have mentioned just a few here), offer amazing facilities and resources with cost structures that cannot be matched by any stand-alone company. In a world where financing great ideas is increasingly difficult, these facilities give entrepreneurs funding their dream with savings accounts, grants or friends/family a chance to get up and running fast. Professional investors occasionally find gold in incubators, but anecdotal evidence suggests that incubator residents still represent an emerging opportunity for investors to find the next breakout success for their portfolio. Some investors might also benefit from exploring incubators as low cost options for developing assets they have already funded. Word is getting around: MassBio recently launched their Incubators in MA page to make it easier for anybody with an internet connection to find them.