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Instant lab is available for life science startups

Southwest Michigan Innovation Center unveils Launch MI Lab

November 17, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Instant lab is available for life science startups
Greg Cavey, shown here working with a liquid nitrogen freezer, is manager of Launch MI Lab. Courtesy Launch MI Lab
As it approaches its 10-year anniversary, the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center in Kalamazoo has marked the occasion with the unveiling of a new resource for life science startups in the region: Launch MI Lab.

Launch MI Lab (pronounced “launch my lab”) is a fully equipped and staffed bioscience laboratory to help new startups get off the ground.

“Life science entrepreneurs need affordable lab space and equipment to test their ideas, generate support and build momentum,” said Robert DeWit, chief executive officer of SMIC. “Launch MI Lab offers a place for startups to begin that journey.”

Launch MI Lab, located in Western Michigan University’s Business Technology & Research Park in southwest Kalamazoo, has more than 2,300 square feet of secure wet lab space, access to sophisticated scientific equipment, and an array of analytical services and expertise. Each client has personal bench space and a work station with high-speed Internet access and VOIP telephone service, use of conference and café facilities and free parking.

Available equipment includes mass spectrometry systems, centrifuges, autoclaves, flow cytometers, a variety of microscopes, incubator, lyophilizer, upright freezer, and standard lab supplies and tools.

The laboratory is staffed to assist its users and provide key services. Greg Cavey, a biochemist and experienced research investigator, is the manager of Launch MI Lab. Cavey brings more than 20 years of experience in proteomics, mass spectrometry and lab management for pharmaceutical companies and, most recently, the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids. He also provides mass spectrometry services and counsel for clients at the Innovation Center as well as for local, regional and national research companies and universities and colleges. Cavey holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University.

“Among the challenges startups face are access to affordable lab space and equipment and access to affordable, quality analytical services,” said Cavey. “Launch MI Lab and SMIC are designed to help entrepreneurs tackle both issues. Clients, advisors and staff bring decades of bioscience and business experience that is made available to Launch MI Lab tenants. We offer affordable short- and long-term leases, on-site small business advisors and administrative support.”

mass spectrometer Launch MI Lab
A mass spectrometer is one of the pieces of equipment available to life science startups. Courtesy Launch MI Lab

Cavey said the lab space generally rents for about $800 a month, starting with the most basic equipment.

“One thing that is unique to our facility is that we take short-term clients,” said Cavey, adding that some of those clients may use the facility only a few hours at a time. Those clients then pay a short-term rental fee prorated on the monthly $800 rate. There is an additional rental fee for some of the most specialized equipment at the facility; the BD Biosciences cytometer rents for $25 an hour, for example, and the stand-up mass spectrometer for $100 an hour.

There is no way equipment like that can be rented at such low cost for short periods of time, he said. “Until we get overwhelmed” with users, “we’re pretty open on the length of time” it can be rented, said Cavey.

The lab has actually been open for more than a year, but the marketing of it is just beginning. Even prior to the marketing, however, it had attracted several clients, with three of them currently using it: West Labs Scientific LLC, UltraMikro and Anisyn.

West Labs Scientific was founded by Rich West, a former researcher at VARI who left to start his own business. His business offers a range of analytical research services, including veterinary hematology and blood chemistry, cell cycle analysis, immunophenotyping and cell culture.

West’s expertise is in flow cytometry, according to Cavey, which involves analyzing detectable cell surface proteins. West’s company serves several others that are clients at the center, enabled by a flow cytometer that was donated to Launch MI Lab. He also has access to other equipment including cell cultures, microscopes, centrifuges and pipettes, with data available via the Internet.

Ultra Mikro was launched by Scott Alrich, described by Cavey as a particle microscopist. He analyzes unknown particles encountered in manufacturing processes, and previously was employed as an analyst in the pharmaceutical industry.

Anisyn Inc., launched by chemist Wenchun “Tony” Chao, provides pharmaceutical research and also chemical compounds for drug development.

Cavey said most of the people who have come to see the lab are individuals with an idea and an urge to start a company as a sole proprietor.

“This is an answer for someone who does not have the funding to buy all their own equipment and rent their own space,” said Cavey, and Launch MI Lab is “affordable space.”

“Another key thing: Not only do we have equipment and space, but we also have a lot of expertise available to go with that,” he said, referring to the individuals attached to the Innovation Center.

“Rarely a week goes by that we don’t have someone come tour the Launch MI Lab or call us on the phone. It’s picking up quite a bit of interest,” said Cavey.

Most of the lab equipment was either purchased through the state of Michigan or was redundant equipment donated by companies including Pfizer Animal Health and VARI. Cavey said the donated equipment would probably be valued at “upwards of $250,000.”

Launch MI Lab was made possible through financial support of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which provided initial funding of $100,000 in 2011 to purchase equipment. Later, MEDC granted $600,000 to the center, of which $400,000 was invested in the core lab. The city of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Southwest Michigan First, the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center and Western Michigan University also provided funds.

More information is available at www.launchmilab.com.

The Southwest Michigan Innovation Center is a 69,000-square-foot business incubator/accelerator providing a comprehensive range of support and assistance to nurture the formation, survival, and growth of innovative, entrepreneurial life science businesses. It opened in 2003.

Western Michigan University’s Business Technology & Research Park is a state-designated SmartZone; more information is available at www.kazoosmic.com.

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