News Article

Santa Fe Business Incubator lands $1.25M grant for biosciences lab
Date: Nov 25, 2011
Author: Megan Kamerick,
Source: bizjournals ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Acoustic Biosystems Inc of Santa Fe, NM

Marie Longserre, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Business Incubator, unveiled plans for a new biosciences shared lab at the facility, funded with a $1.25 million federal grant. It is slated to open by fall 2012.

Reza Shekarriz needs lab facilities to take his company, Acoustic Biosystems Inc., to the next level. But some of the equipment his startup needs to commercialize its technology costs tens of thousands of dollars.

He'd rather use those funds to pay salaries for his employees to operate that equipment. He might get that opportunity, thanks to a new initiative at the Santa Fe Business Incubator, where Acoustic Biosystems is housed.

The Incubator has landed a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to launch a bioscience initiative. It will use the funds to build out and equip a lab with state-of-the-art equipment that can be shared among small firms and entrepreneurs. The new facilities could open in fall 2012.

Marie Longserre, president and CEO of the Incubator, said the organization has seen an expansion of life sciences companies recently. The incubator went from having one or two in its roster of clients to five or six at any given time.

SFBI convened focus groups last year and found there was a desire and need for shared lab space in northern New Mexico.

"There are a few well-outfitted wet labs that private companies have here, but there's nothing like this in terms of a shared environment," Longserre said.

A shared lab will enable companies like Acoustic Biosystems to advance their innovations at lower risk, and potentially decrease their time to market, she said. Shekarriz said the goal is to automate the preparation of biological samples and displace centrifuges, which are cumbersome and risk contamination by users in a lab.

The next step for the firm is to do testing using biological samples.

"Our future investors would not invest any more money into our future prototypes until they see the results of these actual bio tests," he said.

Lori Upham is a consultant with LabStart New Mexico, which works with scientists at the national laboratories to commercialize their technologies and innovations. Some just need a desk and a computer, Upham said, but there are others who need lab space.

"There are some wonderful life science technologies coming out of Los Alamos National Laboratory," she said.

WESST Enterprise Center, a business incubator in Albuquerque, has biotech facilities, but many of the people who work at LANL live in Santa Fe, Upham noted, saying she knows of others who want to move to this area and start companies.

"Having this lab space at the Santa Fe Incubator is a great start for the biotech growth I hope will happen there," she said.

Doug Lee, managing director of WESST Enterprise Center, said the facility has graduated one biotech firm and has another still in the center.

"I think there is lot of pent-up demand for this kind of space," he said.

Pedro Garza, regional director for the U.S. Economic Development Administration, said encouraging innovation and bringing new technologies to the marketplace is critical to creating jobs and improving the nation's economic competitiveness.

"We know times are tough, so to score a $1.25 million grant is huge," he said at an open house at SFBI on Nov. 17. "Felicidades!"

This will build on a strong base that already exists in New Mexico in knowledge-based industries, he added.

Longserre said the new project does not mean the incubator is moving away from supporting a variety of small businesses. Its tenants represent an array of fields, such as RoofCARE LLC, which focuses on making existing roofs last longer; Santa Fe Spirits, an artisan distillery; and NearSea Naturals Inc., which creates organic fabrics and yarns.

In the incubator's most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, client companies created more than 49 new jobs, raised more than $11 million in capital and funding, and reported a total of $7.5 million in revenue. Longserre also was elected chair of the National Business Incubation Association board of directors and took up those reins in October.