For a small startup ready to research or develop chemical or biological innovations, finding lab space can be a challenge. Dry labs, which host technological or computer studies, or studies in fields like psychology, aren’t hard to outfit and rent. But wet labs -- featuring the equipment and safety measures needed to work with chemical and biological materials -- are another story.
This summer, labs at the soon-to-open Pennovation Center
will help to change that for a select group of local companies.
About a year and a half ago, we covered
the groundbreaking at University of Pennsylvania’s new 23-acre Pennovations Works
campus on the south bank of the Schuylkill River: the three-story, 58,000-square-foot Pennovation Center
at 34th Street and Gray’s Ferry Avenue will be the centerpiece.
The Center is slated to open this August. Its second floor will feature wet lab space available for lease to local startups.
"Wet labs are pretty unusual commodities" for this market, explains Paul Sehnert, director of development for Pennovation Works. "They’re usually built on a customized basis for companies under a long-term lease… If you're a startup company, it’s really a top dilemma. You need a space to work out of, but you can’t sign a lease and find a lab without making a long-term [financial] commitment."
The Pennovation Center hopes to remedy this with a 32-person lab available for customized leases (some as short as six months) for startups and inventors. These will come with all the typical wet lab gear: benches with view hoods, glass wash and sterilization centers, centrifuges, microscopy, and cell tissue culture and bioinstrumentation suites, in addition to safety measures like security systems, emergency eye wash and air change stations.
Senhert says the initial demand for the space is "robust" -- Penn is working now to "curate" which companies will be the best fit.
"Given that these are young companies, the more you can provide…this kind of sharing of basic services, that keeps the price more affordable and the [rental] terms shorter," says Anne Papageorge, Pennovation vice president of facilities and real estate development.
The Center will also provide programming, networking and training opportunities as a part of the package. This summer, they’re working on negotiating and executing license agreements for participating companies; the labs will be ready for occupancy in August.
The site offers two other lab spaces, adds Papageorge: a dry lab, and a currently empty lab building that Pennovation Works is holding with the intention of letting qualifying companies continue their work onsite in the future with a more customized, longer-term lease. The team hopes that as interest in the Center grows along with its companies, startups could "graduate" out of the shorter-term labs and into larger space.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Paul Sehnert and Anne Papageorge, Pennovation Works