Researchers who want to turn their lab work into new products and services face the same challenges as other entrepreneurs – writing a business plan, finding affordable space, arranging for interim financing and setting up organizational systems to handle personnel and accounting.
They also face the additional task of persuading would-be backers that their still-experimental technology will work.
The University of Virginia Patent Foundation has rolled up its sleeves to help.
Through its for-profit subsidiary, Spinner Technologies Inc., the Patent Foundation has signed a five-year lease for about 2,000 square feet of laboratory space in the new Emerging Technology Center at the University of Virginia Research Park at North Fork. Although the building won’t be finished until spring, Spinner already has commitments from researchers who need the space.
“Spinner’s purpose is to help University scientists and engineers bring their research to the marketplace,” said Robert S. MacWright, executive director of the U.Va. Patent Foundation. “We can do this in a number of ways, including helping to provide the lab space researchers need to prove their concepts and secure funding.”
The Emerging Technology Center, a $4.4 million, 40,000 square-foot research facility, is located in the University of Virginia Research Park at North Fork, about eight miles north of Charlottesville. The building’s outer shell was completed in December and Spinner’s space is slated to be finished by March, said Bruce Stouffer, U.Va. Foundation director of real estate development.
The Spinner space will be set up for two “wet labs,” research space that includes sinks and plumbing, Stouffer said. The Spinner agreement includes access to conference space and other building amenities, such as fiber optic connections and specialized hazardous material storage space.
MDS Proteomics Inc., a subsidiary of MDS Inc., Canada’s largest health and life sciences company, also has signed a five-year lease for 15,000 square feet of space in the new Emerging Technology Center, leaving about 23,000 square feet still available, Stouffer said.
Created a year and a half ago by the Patent Foundation, and endorsed by the U.Va. Board of Visitors, Spinner is a for-profit subsidiary designed to help U.Va. faculty — especially those in biotechnology and the medical sciences — spin off new companies from their research, MacWright said.
“Three years ago, we took the first step in supporting faculty startups by working with local real estate developer Gabe Silverman to create Corridor 1, which provides young companies with office space on West Main Street,” MacWright said. “Since then, several of the companies have grown enough to move out of Corridor 1.”
Three of the five original Corridor 1 startups have secured outside funding and moved into other quarters.
AVAKI Corp., formerly Applied Metacomputing, LLC, was founded in 1993 by Andrew Grimshaw and Fritz Knabbe, both professors of computer science at U.Va. Last spring, AVAKI moved to Cambridge, Mass., and now is backed by $16 million in funding from Polaris Venture Partners, General Catalyst, and Sofinnova. AVAKI offers commercial grid software that provides highly secure access to data and computer resources in wide-area, multi-platform environments.
Adenosine Therapeutics, LLC, launched by Joel Linden, U.Va. professor of medicine, and local entrepreneur Robert Capon, focuses on the discovery and development of new pharmaceutical products that target adenosine receptor subtypes. Candidates for drug development are identified and screened using the company’s state-of-the-art platform technology.
The company was founded with the goal of bringing new adenosine-receptor selective drugs into clinical trials for a broad range of potential indications, such as sepsis, heart attacks, ischemia-reperfusion injury, vascular injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, organ transplantation, asthma and diabetes. Over the past two years, it has won several small business grants from the National Institutes of Health, supporting its work.
Last spring, Adenosine licensed two coronary vasodilator compounds to DuPont Pharmaceuticals Co. (now a subsidiary of Bristol-Meyers Squibb), for imaging the heart in the treatment of coronary artery disease, said Capon, Adenosine’s chief executive officer. The firm continues to seek licensing opportunities with other pharmaceutical companies for other uses of its compounds, and is starting its own clinical development program.
Adenosine now is based in the Commonwealth Center in downtown Charlottesville. It also leases most of the 1,200 square feet of laboratory and office space in the Corner Building on University Avenue that Spinner secured more than a year ago for U.Va.-affiliated researchers. The growing company also is talking with Spinner regarding additional space in the Emerging Technology Center at North Fork, Capon said.
A third U.Va.-affiliated business, ContraVac Inc., a reproductive health biotechnology firm started by U.Va. cell biology professor John Herr, has taken Spinner’s remaining lab space in the Corner Building. ContraVac recently received a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Award from the National Institutes of Health. The $653,000, two-year grant will fund the development of a genetically engineered protein that may lead to a new type of spermicide.
Pinnacle Pharmaceuticals, a fourth U.Va.-affiliated firm, is negotiating to take space in the Emerging Technology Center that Spinner has agreed to lease.
A biotech firm with programs in the anti-infective and anti-cancer fields, Pinnacle’s platform technology involves RNA targeting. One of its founders is Sidney Hecht, U.Va. professor of chemistry and biology.
Along with helping faculty start-ups find lab space, Spinner offers numerous business start-up services, including:
- trademark searches and corporate name registration
- referrals to appropriate sources of funding
- business negotiations
- connections to a U.Va. Faculty Entrepreneur’s Network.
As compensation for its services, Spinner retains a small equity stake – negotiated on a case-by-case basis — in each faculty start-up business it assists. Spinner is a joint venture between the Patent Foundation and the University.
“We envision the future as an unbroken continuum,” MacWright said. “We see today’s outstanding scientific talent at U.Va. creating valuable technologies that will eventually join the ranks of the region’s major employers. We’re working to make this vision a reality.”
Via UVA News