It’s a good problem to have. With the latest contract signing with Phigenics, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Biosciences Entrepreneurial Laboratory is at capacity. The BEL opened in May 2016 and now – 10 months later yet sooner than projected – the search is on for potential expansion space.
The BEL is a “wet lab” space managed by the University’s Nevada Center for Applied Research. The idea behind NCAR and the BEL is to make the University’s most sophisticated labs and equipment – and the brain-power and infrastructure that make them work – available to industry, start-ups, entrepreneurs and collaborators.
“We are already at work in BEL thanks to the efficient professionalism of the people at NCAR,” said William McCoy, chief technology officer and co-founder of Phigenics, which operates nationwide and helps facility managers in healthcare, hotel management, commercial buildings and universities optimize the cost of operating their water systems efficiently and safely.
The 11 companies presently working with NCAR include startups, existing high-tech companies looking to expand research and development, research collaborators and “spin-outs” based on faculty discoveries that are commercialized with the University. Biomedical or bioscience is the core specialty of most of these companies and this, predicts Mridul Gautam, vice president of research and innovation at the University, may be the start of a regional, biotech-industry hub.
Phigenics has developed patented analytical diagnostics that are widely used. Now ready to expand its research and development investment, the company has decided to do so in Reno and on campus in the BEL. Phigenics is exploring joint research opportunities with faculty members in the College of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the School of Medicine’s Center for Molecular Medicine.
“We believe our structure is unique,” Ellen Purpus, the University’s associate vice president for enterprise and innovation, said. “NCAR further facilitates research and development by taking care of infrastructure so companies can focus on growing their business.”
To do this, NCAR works with industry, early-stage high-tech companies and entrepreneurs to help determine the assets and expertise they need, and then develops a customized plan and fee structure. The right technical support may be assembled, and important related services such as training, waste management and Internet are provided. As is the case with Phigenics, the companies collaborate with faculty members, and many are recruiting students as interns and employees and also collaborating with The Innevation Center University of Nevada, Reno.
NCAR and the BEL are supported by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the State of Nevada Knowledge Fund. GOED Director Steve Hill described the services as providing “critical bioscience infrastructure for Nevada companies to reduce some of the cost-prohibitive downsides for bio-tech start-ups and early-stage companies.”
“It’s a public good, it creates opportunity,” Gautam said. “This is a strong example of serving the land-grant university mission in the 21st century.”
Carlos Cardillo, NCAR director, anticipates another three to six companies in discussions with the University may locate on campus. He also forecasts the number of businesses engaged with NCAR will always be somewhat in a state of flux. Some companies have contracted to use the BEL for only a month or two, as this short-term arrangement meets their business needs.
The ultimate success is a company like Flirtey which worked with NCAR and was based in the University’s Applied Research Facility. Now, one of the leading companies in drone delivery and attracting significant investor support, Flirtey has grown and moved to its own facility. As Gautam said, Flirtey has graduated.
The Nevada Center for Applied Research and the Biosciences Entrepreneurial Laboratory are part of Research & Innovation at the University. For more information, visit www.unr.edu/ncar.