by Meagan Charbonneau
In the life science industry, the idea of an incubator space is not as black and white as it once was. The catch-all term has evolved over the years to blend with other models such as accelerators and shared/co-working spaces. Each business model is quite different and typically targets specific occupiers within the life science industry. Still, one thing they have in common is to provide fully operational, move-in-ready office and lab space with flexible lease terms. The differences lie with the mentor networks, investor networks, university affiliations, regulatory approvals managed by the operator, capital provided, the level of lab instruments and equipment, etc. The tenants that an incubator wants to attract determines which of these resources and benefits they chose to incorporate into offerings.
Tenants target specific incubators, and likewise, incubators target certain tenants. Most are not one-size-fits-all, but rather a hub for a particular industry within life science. For example, Gilbane built an incubator space in Virginia to support start-ups interested in Proteomics, which is the study of proteins. This particular space has a university affiliation with George Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine. It provides start-ups access to talent and university resources like a mentor network. There are also incubator spaces owned by existing life science companies and others privately owned, all whose focus varies. However, the goal among all is to support their tenants in their efforts to make scientific advancements.
Alongside those advancements comes the access to funding. These start-ups need capital to support their growth. If you’re in the pharmaceutical business and in the preclinical research phase, you need access to an approved vivarium. Maybe the incubator you’re a member of offers that as a resource through one of their affiliations, but if they don’t, you likely have to pay a third party. Overall, the funding needed for a life science start-up to advance is significant, which is why incubators and the investor network that go along with them are so important.
Incubators are not meant to be anyone’s home forever. Ultimately, growing out of an incubator space depends on how well you’re funded and how you want to run your business. There are many variations, but if we’re talking about a start-up pharmaceutical company at a later stage, they may continue to run their business out of a larger incubator to take advantage of the resources but outsource production to a third party. On the other hand, some may believe moving into their own space would be more attractive to later-stage investors, so they enlist a site selection broker. In contrast, others may find themselves in conversations around acquisition. How you chose to allocate your money at that point is a decision based on the direction you want to take your company.
Gilbane has a long history of working with life science companies of all sizes. Whether we’re evaluating alternative real estate options, providing infrastructure and building condition assessments, or delivering accurate cost and schedule estimates, we’re constantly working to understand our client’s business and immersing ourselves in their company culture to ensure a strong partnership for now and into the future.
Meagan Charbonneau is business development manager for Gilbane Building Company.