And while it has been the first stop for early-stage companies in the biotech sector for more than a decade, the facility’s figurative “no vacancy” sign only recently has been lit up in blazing neon.
Kathleen Coviello, director of the EDA’s Technology and Life Sciences Division, said the North Brunswick incubator has been consistently at 100 percent occupancy for several years in a row.
“We are constantly being asked about opportunities for new space … and we hate turning people away,” she said.
Thankfully, it won’t have to.
“We’re starting to see more interest now in the education and private sector in complimenting the state’s support of the biotech ecosystem,” Coviello said.
Debbie Hart, CEO and president of the biotech industry association BioNJ, said this year will see both Princeton University and Seton Hall-Hackensack Meridian Health medical school establishing incubators with labs for biotech work.
Hart said there’s at least one other marquee industry name setting up an incubator later this year, but couldn’t get into the details of that project.
Having a number of new incubation facilities up and running offers the possibility of bucking a trend in local biotech innovation that Hart is less excited about.
“While New Jersey’s industry has grown, much of the growth has come from later stage companies setting up operations here … to take advantage of the good commercial talent,” she said. “It’s a great problem to have. But, frankly, we have not been creating early-stage innovation at the same rate as competitor states, (such as) Massachusetts and California.”
Even in neighboring New York — seen often in the life science world as a partner rather than a rival — academic institutions are spitting out biotech startups at an unprecedented rate.
As Hart has heard it described: New York academic institutions have spun out about 10 companies in the previous 18 months; the same number could’ve been cited for the entire 10-year span before then.
Such a flurry of activity in close proximity to the Garden State — and similar action occurring farther away — landed on local radars.
Anne-Marie Maman, executive director of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, said Princeton University’s faculty members have taken it upon themselves to boost involvement with the booming industry in the same manner.
“The local ecosystem (for biotech startups) wasn’t as robust as some other academic regions,” she said. “So the university decided to step forward to try and help encourage its growth.”
The university is building Princeton Innovation Center, a fully-equipped lab space for early-stage biotech companies run by faculty, graduate students, alumni or other applicants from the wider community.
“What we’re doing, along with other new incubators, is creating more spaces where investors can look at some high-quality startups,” she said. “We’re hoping this is going to be another great site for that.”
The around 30,000-square-foot facility will operate on a different model from the EDA’s incubator, using a bench system in which entrepreneurs and teams rent out areas in a large lab setting.
The Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies offers dedicated 800-square-foot (or larger) labs and office space for up to five years to starting biotech firms.
Any available lab space is welcome by entrepreneurs, who often don’t have balance sheets robust as required for a space otherwise.
For Johnson’s full NJBIZ story, click here.