by Jeff Talka
As biomedical and biotech start-ups mature, they are faced with several challenges surrounding the type of lab and amenity spaces needed to support their current state and anticipated future needs as the company evolves. It also doesn’t help that today’s market offers countless ways to accommodate different stages of growth. To help these organizations make sense of their options, I have outlined a few basic lab space types based on number of employees, lab requirements, and lease timeframes that I have found useful in determining the best fit.
For early start-ups with smaller space needs, “ready to occupy” spaces offer lab benchwork and services that are already in place. The start-up rents lab bench space monthly and has access to common amenities like a cafeteria and collaboration and meeting space, in addition to core labs, with administrative and procurement support also available. This arrangement works for start-ups with one to six employees. Beyond that point of growth, the company may find it economically unfeasible to remain in this arrangement.
For larger space needs, the “graduate” lab is a good choice. This arrangement provides some level of autonomy, bench space for up to 12-18 employees and some shared support labs such as tissue culture and hood rooms. Office space is located outside of the lab and benefits from shared administrative services and meeting space. Central collaborative spaces such as lounges, lobbies, and food service are also part of the mix to encourage interaction between emerging companies. Glasswash, environmental rooms and autoclaves are central to the facility. These lab products are normally pre-leased, perhaps with longer terms than the “ready to occupy” lab benches. The average stay in a graduate lab is two to four years.
A hybrid between these two offerings, the “autonomous” lab, includes wet bench space, a dedicated office, and some service space for gas cylinders and storage. Core labs such as tissue culture, imaging, and PCR are shared and available for hire. Central services such as glasswash and environmental rooms are also available. This intermediate approach normally accommodates up to four employees in a module, however, modules can easily be connected and added to accommodate growth.
Lastly, a more permanent arrangement is the “build-to-suit” model. This concept is the preferred choice for companies who have outgrown the previous models and are autonomous in administration, research, and support. These companies typically have 20 or more employees, with a lab/office mix of 60/40. This type of offering is very prevalent in the lab-ready buildings in the marketplace. The start-up tenant will make the capital investments needed to build out the space and provide casework, equipment, and support services. Lease terms may vary but most commonly fall around ten years. The unique set up with this concept is a tenant/landlord matrix that clearly identifies what the landlord and base building provides versus what is the tenant’s responsibility.
A good real estate plan is essential for young companies to develop so appropriate choices and exit strategies can be made to parallel growth.
Jeff Talka, AIA, LEED AP is science + technology practice leader at The S/L/A/M Collaborative, Inc.