WMSTI has new incubator

April 27, 2009
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For rent: Cheap lab space, networking built-in.

That could be a classified ad for leasing a spot in the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative’s expansion of its business incubator, the Venture Center. It’s the only one of its kind in the state, said Steve Rapundalo, president & CEO of trade organization MichBio.

“It’s the kind of thing the state and the various regions of the state need to be doing — assessing their regional landscape and seeing what companies need and how to meet those needs,” Rapundalo said.

The new location at 1345 Monroe Ave. NE in the Cooper’s Landing building will be devoted to medical device start-ups. It adds 6,500 square feet of a former Spectrum Health laboratory to the 19,000 square feet of incubator space in Grand Valley State University’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, said Rich Cook, Venture Center director.

The networking is not only in the broad bandwidth digital connection in the building, but in the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium, a 30-member WMSTI-sponsored group that will provide invaluable support for the fledgling firms locating in the Venture Center, added Linda Chamberlain, WMSTI executive director.

“When Spectrum Health vacated to move to the Lemmen Holton Cancer Center, we seized that opportunity to take those wonderfully equipped labs and build community capacity for incubation in life sciences,” Chamberlain said.

She said that capacity use of the incubator space in the GVSU building on Michigan Street last year sent several companies elsewhere and has delayed the launching of others. The current incubator has housed 12 tenants, which eventually created 650 jobs and more than $100 million in investment.

Tenants locating in the incubator must agree to keep their companies in Kent County once their initial two- to three-year stay is complete.

The new incubator, which is expected to be completed by the end of April, can be divided into customized, secure space, some of it without lab access. Rich said it is available at below-market rates. Lab space ranges from 300 to 1,500 square feet. Amenities include office space, BioSafety cabinets, fume hoods and shared access to life science analytical measurement equipment at the incubator on the fifth floor of the Cook-DeVos Center.

Chamberlain said no other business incubator in Michigan is devoted to medical devices.

“If we look at the strategic plan for the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative, about two years ago we elected to have much more emphasis in the end of the life science spectrum that had a more rapid return on investment,” Chamberlain said, noting that the turn-around on medical devices is just two to three years, compared to as long as 20 years for drug development.

“We wanted to have a balance in our portfolio of activities and a balance of companies that we worked with that would give us a balanced return on our life sciences investment in our community.”

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