How bioscience incubators help industries grow

The need for supplying reasonable accommodations and mentoring services for startup companies is not a new concept. Most first-time business owners come from areas they know very well. They are experts in their chosen fields. For example, in bioscience and medicine, most new companies are started by trained scientists and medical professionals. They know their trade, but they often don’t know much about business. After all, that has never been their profession.

The “incubation” of startup companies is, therefore, understood to be an important part of the initial development of a company to assure its success. In bioscience this is especially true, as the journey from discovery to business success takes a long time and requires enormous financial resources. Indeed the CEO views his or her job as one that revolves as much around funding as scientific research.

Bioscience incubators provide not only reasonably priced office and laboratory space, but offer services, such as mentoring, for the knowledge gaps that often plague startups. Going from an academic research department to being a commercial business is a dramatic change, and the OTRADI Bioscience Incubator and other similar incubators prepare and train company heads to form and expand their new ventures. OBI fast tracks a company from the lab to the marketplace.

The bioscience and medical sectors of business are extremely important to any region. When strong, they supply some of this country’s best paying and professional jobs. All of us who live in Oregon know how important this is. For our economy, these startup bioscience companies must be nurtured and armed with information in order to succeed. Their success embellishes Oregon’s economy.

But there is another realm that benefits from a strong bioscience sector. We are now living longer than ever before. Even as close as the turn of the 19th century, the average lifespan only lasted 48 years. Now, many of us will still be here well into our 80s and beyond. What most of us want, then, is not just a longer life, but longer life coupled with a higher quality of life. We want to live and enjoy living as independently as possible. This requires research into the reasons for an often decreased quality of life as we age.

Bioscience companies at the early stage are the natural progression from academia. The research into the therapies that will allow us a long and enjoyable life begin with clinical discovery and then travel to commercialization – only if a team is both lucky and prepared. Unfortunately, that is not what often happens. Scientists conduct research and leave their positions. The therapy languishes. It does not become one of those drugs, devices or products that cure arthritis so we can move independently in our older years without pain; or offer cures to cancer that target only the cancer cells, making treatment less severe.

With a bioscience incubator, that research can move more smoothly from lab to the marketplace. Through the nurturing of new companies, OBI can offer a roadmap to successful market penetration. Its companies will grow and bring on other therapies that further build pipelines.

When OBI opened in June 2013, it was 100 percent full within six weeks. We now have a growing waiting list of companies seeking OBI space, but unfortunately space is not yet available.

This year, my goal is to increase the space offered within the OBI facility and offer it to more startup companies. I would also like to be able to offer additional space to some of our current client companies that need it. In addition to the physical plant, another of OBI’s goals is to increase the services offered with a statewide BioMentoring program and a monthly informational series that puts companies in touch with those in the business world who offer services and advice businesses need. Collaboration breeds success.

To accomplish this, we are planning to increase our financial resources. A lack of funding has slowed the OBI’s growth. We will soon announce a capital campaign to help finance the many goals of OBI for 2014 and beyond.

The OBI has been fortunate to have a group of experts helping with our expansive goals. Our OBI Advisory Board is made up of some of the best minds in the business world in the areas of strategy and planning for incubators; financial diversification; and BioMentoring. I am grateful to those who have given so much time to help OBI grow and become more successful.

There is so much that depends on an OBI success story. Our economy, our lives, our future – we all want to smell the roses for as long as we can.

By Jennifer Fox, Executive Director, OTRADI