As reported by the Hartford Business Journal, June 20, 2011.
UConn’s Growing Incubator Space Aims to Yield Breakthroughs, Jobs
By Greg Bordonaro
Less than a year after opening its doors, the University of Connecticut’s Cell and Genome Sciences Building in Farmington has filled its 4,500 square feet of incubator space.
With about eight companies now operating in the 117,000 square foot state-of-the-art research facility — and more knocking on the door — it’s a sign, school officials say, that the region can become a hub for bioscience, luring tech startups and entrepreneurs who want to collaborate with researchers at the UConn Health Center.
And, in conjunction with the recent passage of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $864 million Bioscience Connecticut initiative, which will renovate and add hundreds of thousands of square feet of research and incubator space in Farmington, the future possibilities are stoking optimism.
“This shows the great demand we have for our facilities and research experts,” said Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, the outgoing vice president for health affairs and dean of the UConn School of Medicine. “Companies are willing to relocate here to tap into this expertise.”
The Cell and Genome Sciences building, which opened last summer, houses about 100 scientists and 25 labs, as well as UConn’s major research programs including the UConn Stem Cell Institute and the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology.
About eight incubator companies have taken residence there, in the medical device, pharmaceutical, health care, software and technology industries. In many ways, the facility serves as a precursor to what officials are hoping evolves into a vibrant bioscience hub, spurred in part by the Bioscience Connecticut project.
In fact, much of the 238,000 square feet of research space that will be renovated at the UConn Health Center will be modeled after the Cell and Genome Sciences building, which has the latest technology and is designed to have open labs that flow into each other and office areas located on hallways running between labs, putting scientists, researchers, and business minds side-by-side to spur collaboration.
Laurencin said the Bioscience Connecticut project, which passed both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by Malloy, will triple the amount of incubator space in Farmington, adding 28,000 square feet.
Combined with the renovated research space, officials expect the improvements to attract leading basic and clinical scientists and nearly double the amount of research money that flows into UConn’s coffers.
That’s important because research drives tech transfer and innovation. Schools expect one patent or invention disclosure per $2 million in research funding and 12 to 18 new jobs added per $1 million in research funding.
UConn brought in about $210 million in research funding last year. “We know that companies are attracted to regions where great science is done,” Laurencin said.
Of course, there are questions about whether a bioscience cluster should and could flourish in Farmington or Greater Hartford in general. Some have argued that the state should concentrate its efforts in New Haven, where Yale and the famed Science Park already have a strong foothold in growing a vibrant biotech cluster.
Officials in Hartford have also been vocal about the need to move UConn medical and dental schools to downtown Hartford to spur a health care cluster with local hospitals.
But others, like Paul Pescatello, the CEO of Connecticut United for Research Excellence, said there is room to expand the footprint and create Connecticut’s own research triangle among New Haven, Storrs and Farmington, even if the geographic connectivity isn’t perfect.
“The No. 1 thing that drives biotech formation is basic research,” Pescatello said. “We have cutting edge university research at UConn and Yale, but it’s just a matter of having more of it.”
Pescatello said Connecticut has about 50 biotech companies in the state, compared to the 500 or so that that exist in or near Cambridge, Mass., which is Connecticut’s closest industry competition.
Matthew Nemerson, president and CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council, said every region in the country — other than Boston, Silicon Valley, and San Diego — is trying to figure out how to create the right mix of academic, venture capital and entrepreneurs to create a vibrant bioscience corridor.
Nemerson said Connecticut has strong building blocks, which will be bolstered by the UConn Health Center project, but to create a critical mass the state will have to attract more top researchers and entrepreneurs.
The venture funding typically follows after that. “It’s not just enough for us to be a player in New England,” Nemerson said. “You have to be a player globally to attract capital.”
The Cell and Genome Sciences building is based on that model of collaboration, because it brings under the same roof scientists, incubator companies and commercialization executives who are trying to turn research into marketable businesses or products.
The facility, which received $52 million in renovations, is equipped with sophisticated technologies including highly specialized imaging equipment; three-dimensional, laser-based microscopes; a major data center and super-computers; and next-generation sequencers.
Rita Zangari, director of the Office of Technology Commercialization, which is the tech transfer arm of UConn, said the incubator companies typically stay there for about three years before they graduate, and hopefully move into their own facility or sell their technology to a larger company.
Zangari said more companies are looking for space in Farmington, and UConn will try to accommodate them if they can with other lab space available at the Health Center.
UConn also has incubators operating in Storrs and the school is opening up 10 new incubator spaces on its Avery Point campus, with the hopes of capitalizing on the pharmaceutical and defense industry knowledge base that exists there.
Among the incubators in Farmington is Jolinda Lambert’s startup Innovatient Solutions, which is developing patient quality management and assessment software. The health care technology firm employs about eight people and is looking to hire a few more workers. The company is preparing for an Aug. 1 general release of its software, which is targeted at inpatient health care facilities, Lambert said.
Doctors Research Group is also a tenant in the facility, and has developed bone cement made from naturally occurring fatty acids and calcium carbonate to treat cranial defects resulting from trauma and surgery.
Joseph Jannetty, the company’s vice president of R&D and engineering, said the technology has already received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval and went on the market in the United States in 2010.
The company with 25 employees is based in Southbury, but lacked lab space for its research so it decided to add a presence in Farmington.
Jannetty said the company is doing a number of research projects looking at stem cell applications as well as looking for new potential uses for the bone cement it developed.