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Early-Stage Biomedical Startups Gain South Florida’s First Shared Wet Lab

The University of Miami and the Cambridge Innovation Center in Miami (CIC Miami) have partnered to establish South Florida’s first shared wet lab space for early stage biomedical startups. Years in the making, it is the final step in attracting and fostering biomedical discoveries in the South Florida region.

Scientists in the new shared wet lab space.

Inspired by the formation of as many as 10 UM startups each year, many of them in the biomedical field, Norma Kenyon, Ph.D., vice provost for innovation for the University of Miami, began exploring the possibility of establishing the space more than three years ago. Early stage biomedical startups have limited funds and are often applying for Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants.

“Even if a phase I grant is awarded, the need to rent and equip space is a major hurdle. Co-working space is readily available for tech-based companies. Why not have co-working space for our biomedical startups?” asked Kenyon, who is also chief innovation officer of the Miller School of Medicine.

With that goal in mind, Kenyon began conversations with VWR, a life sciences supply company, convincing them of the importance of the project. VWR agreed to place critical equipment and instrumentation in a new, shared space. From there, all Kenyon needed was the space.

The arrival of CIC as a partner presented such an opportunity. Founded in 1999, CIC has been lauded as the densest aggregation of startup activity in the U.S. by the Brookings Institution. CIC opened its doors in Miami in October 2016 with the intent of building a collaborative, inclusive, and engaging center in a city that has the second largest health district in the United States. CIC’s CEO Tim Rowe also co-founded one of the premier life sciences accelerators in the country — Lab Central — as well as launched successful laboratory offerings, including a thriving shared laboratory project, in St. Louis.

“Given our track record articulating the juncture of life sciences and other innovation sectors, we came to Miami looking to replicate this vision here as well,” said Rowe. “The reality that we shared this priority with UM allowed us to adapt what we have done in other cities to Miami less than a year after opening our doors and truly hit the ground running.”

With that agreement, Converge Labs was born on July 5, named to reflect the identity of the Converge Miami innovation district that is developing on the parcel formerly known as the UM Life Science and Technology Park.

The shared lab is equipped with everything, from the basics such as balances, water baths, centrifuges, pH meter, refrigerator, and a freezer, to advanced equipment for molecular biology and cell culture. Early stage biomedical startups can rent a bench and have immediate access to equipment, including core and shared resources at the University of Miami. Included in the rent are all of the CIC amenities, such as a co-working desk space, high-speed Internet, conference rooms, and copy machines.

Kenyon says, “For early stage startups, this means that the majority of their funds can immediately go toward actually undertaking the critical research they need to do to strengthen proof of concept and product development.”

Six and a half of the eight benches have been rented by UM companies, prompting Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, general manager of CIC Miami, to identify and begin preparing a second lab.

“The great response and interest we have had so far confirms that supporting early stage life sciences startups is a need in South Florida, and we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to add value and support to these growing companies,” she said. “These are precisely the kinds of innovations that we need to bolster in order to become a more robust health and life sciences hub.”

While the first few months of operation were reserved for UM startups, Converge Labs is now available to other universities and will open to non-university affiliated biomedical startups on January 1, 2018. Kenyon says her original goal was to facilitate growth of UM companies, but the longer-term vision is to establish a robust infrastructure for all early stage biomedical startups in South Florida.

“We, UM and CIC, believe that Converge Labs can be a game-changer for our area,” she said. “In the future, we plan to provide programming for these startups and are exploring partnerships and funding options.”

“This collaboration fulfills a true need in building Miami’s biotech infrastructure,” said Edward Abraham, M.D., acting executive vice president for health affairs and CEO of UHealth, and dean and chief academic officer of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “We’re pleased to take a leading role in propelling the discoveries of our own physician-scientists, as well as others in the area.”

Both CIC and UM gratefully acknowledge that the contributions, both in terms of equipment and lab set-up expertise, by VWR and some of their partners have made Converge Labs possible.

For more information, contact Natalia Martinez-Kalinina at [email protected].

Tags: biomedical startups, Cambridge Innovation Center, Converge Miami, Miller School of Medicine, Norma Kenyon, University of Miami, wet lab