U-M, SPARK incubator to support life science startups

October 15, 2007
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK announced Monday plans to fill a Pfizer Inc. facility with U-M researchers and four life sciences companies to create a new wet lab incubator.

At the same time, Ann Arbor SPARK is also planning two office-style incubators—one in downtown Ann Arbor and another in Ypsilanti—to nurture startup companies in a host of other fields. Altogether, SPARK is working with 31 businesses that have located or plan to locate in one of the three new business accelerators and many either have ties to university research or former Pfizer employees.

U-M and SPARK, the economic development and marketing organization for greater Ann Arbor, with the help of a $1 million state grant, have assumed Pfizer’s lease of a 34,400 square-foot lab space at the Traverwood office park on Huron Parkway, north of Pfizer’s main Ann Arbor campus.

Ann Arbor SPARK and U-M have already begun taking over the space, with plans for SPARK to sublease up to 12,000 square feet to startup companies within the next few months as U-M medical researchers move into the remaining 22,400 square feet.

Wet labs, highly sophisticated, climate-controlled, specially ventilated research facilities, are far more expensive than typical office space and it is rarely cost efficient to build a lab on the smaller scale a brand new company might need. Incubators are business acceleration centers used to nurture several budding businesses by offering shared infrastructure and services in a shared space.

SPARK leaders have been working with at least 14 startup companies looking for wet lab space, trying to find alternative locations for those they can’t accommodate. The availability of Pfizer space where numerous small companies can be housed presents a large opportunity for many new and growing firms.

“This is a concrete example of the power of Michigan’s University Research Corridor to harness our existing talent to create new jobs and help new companies grow,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, referring to the alliance of the state’s three research universities, U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.

Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Michael A. Finney added: “Currently, no space exists in the Ann Arbor region that offers life science and biotechnology companies both infrastructure and room to grow; the wet lab incubator meets a unique and pressing need for these startups. The wet lab incubator space is affordable and organized—ideal for emerging companies and entrepreneurs. The flexibility offered by the space is highly attractive to a growing company.”

Three initial tenants of the wet lab incubator have signed leases, and the fourth company is wrapping up negotiations. Tenants include:

OncoImmune Ltd., an Ohio-based company licensing patents from U-M and Ohio State University, would open an Ann Arbor office with three to four researchers initially working on treatments for multiple sclerosis and cancer.

SensiGen, LLC, uses proprietary technology invented by Dr. David Kurnit, U-M professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, to improve the ability to diagnose early stage kidney disease and cervical cancer.

Genomatix Software Inc., a new Ann Arbor-based subsidiary of Munich, Germany-based Genomatix Software Gmch, which works with U-M, Wayne State University and Pfizer, has occupied 900 square feet of the incubator since August but expects to move to another location outside the incubator as tenants needing lab space move in later this year. The company hopes to have 40 employees within three years.

The region has long had a shortage of privately available wet lab space.

“There are currently more companies looking for this type of wet lab space than Ann Arbor SPARK can accommodate,” Finney said. “Additional funding for this type of economic development is critical to create a robust and diverse biotechnology industry in southeast Michigan.”

The wet lab space includes equipment that is ideal for life science companies, and Ann Arbor SPARK is further customizing the space with additional equipment needed by tenants. Ann Arbor SPARK received a $1 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to develop and sustain the wet lab incubator space for three years.

“The creation of incubator space at the Traverwood facility marks a critical turning point in the prospects for transforming the economy of southeast Michigan,” said U-M Vice President for Research Steve Forrest. “Today’s announcement is concrete progress toward building a diversified, knowledge-based economy, one based on entrepreneurial startup companies that emerge, primarily, from the state’s research universities.”

Forrest added that SPARK and U-M have worked tirelessly to establish a high tech local workspace for bio-related startups. “Traverwood represents only the first major success in that effort,” Forrest said.

“The facility will be shared cooperatively with the University of Michigan School of Medicine to house several exciting new health sciences companies. Its wet lab space is already fully spoken for by interested companies, forming an important nucleus from which to grow the 21st Century Michigan knowledge based economy.”

Through its Business Accelerator and Entrepreneur Boot Camp program, Ann Arbor SPARK is able to identify and support startup biotechnology companies who have expressed need for space within a wet lab incubator.

Ann Arbor SPARK, a non-profit organization, is the driving force in establishing the Ann Arbor region as a destination for business expansion, retention, and location by identifying and meeting the needs of business at every stage, from startups to large organizations. Ann Arbor SPARK represents all communities in Washtenaw County. Ann Arbor SPARK collaborates with business, academic, government, and community investor partners including the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, the Herbert and Grace Dow Foundation, Pfizer, Washtenaw County, the City of Ann Arbor, the Bank of Ann Arbor and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. For more information, please call (734) 761-9317 or visit www.AnnArborSPARK.org.



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