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Northern Nevada tech startups growing fast thanks to UNR incubator

Jonathan Hull, co-founder of tech startup Bioelectronica.
Courtesy Photo

RENO, Nev. — Space is hard to come by for a startup in Silicon Valley — especially lab space.

This is one of the many reasons why startup company Bioelectronica decided to branch out at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR).

Created in 2015 by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s Knowledge Fund, UNR’s research and development incubator provides a wide range of resources to entrepreneurs: technical services, intellectual capital, testing and research capabilities, advanced tools, and plenty of lab space. 

So, rather than trying to squeeze into a congested incubator in Palo Alto, Bioelectronica moved to Reno and made NCAR its launching pad, said co-founder Jonathan Hull.

“In our industry, biotech, first and foremost you need lab space,” Hull said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “In the Bay Area, typically what you’re faced with is an incubator where you don’t get your own space. In that scenario, how are you supposed to develop intellectual property or keep something secret from another company?

“And a lot of startups, especially at the early stage, are faced with that problem where you still have to prove out something before you can really get enough money or investment or attraction to get your own space.”

At NCAR, that was not a problem for Bioelectronica, which is inventing new tools to accelerate drug discovery. In fact, nearly three years since it launched its laboratory R&D operations at UNR, Bioelectronica has outgrown NCAR and emerged as a viable company.

Two other startups have recently done the same, including NexTech Batteries and LactaLogics. Combined, the three NCAR-affiliated companies have attracted $43 million in investments, according to GOED.

LactaLogics, which manufacturers human milk-based biopharmaceuticals and medical foods for neonates, grew from two employees to nine and relocated to a Florida. NexTech Batteries, which is developing technologies for lithium sulfur batteries, grew from two employees to 14 and planted its headquarters in Carson City.

Bioelectronica, meanwhile, grew from two full-time employees to 10 and decided to remain in Reno. With access to local talent and the ability to scale, Hull and co-founder Roger Chen saw no reason to leave Northern Nevada.

“As we grew with more hires, we were able to get more space and access to labs,” Hull said. “And a lot of our hires have come out of the university.”

The company, which still works with NCAR through a fee-for-service agreement, recently moved into a 4,500-square-foot space in Reno.  

“We have loved it here and never really looked back,” Hull said. “And haven’t considered relocating the company. The key factors were we were able to grow our business successfully and hit our milestones. And we’re really happy with the talent pool. There’s not a lot of competition in terms of hires, so we feel like we get really good access to candidates.”

Hull also pointed to the region’s growing local investor base a major benefit. Bioelectronica, which has developed partnerships with global pharmaceutical companies, has completed “several multi-million dollar financings” and invented “several bodies of patents,” he said.

“We want to use Reno as our engine for invention and growth,” said Hull, who expects the company to double in size over the next two to three years. “I want to put Reno on the map for biotechnology.”

Bioelectronica’s growth into a viable company is a microcosm of NCAR’s success over the past four years. The incubator has engaged with more than 110 companies, which have earned a combined $20 million in capital investment and created more than 90 jobs. What’s more, $23.6 million in grants, contracts, investments, gifts and agreements have been generated to the university over that span.

Currently, 13 companies are working on campus at NCAR.

“The Nevada Applied Center for Research is a central location, a portal, for industry to access university resources,” said Carlos Cardillo, director of NCAR. “The support from GOED and the Knowledge Fund is a key element in this idea that we help the region and the state succeed in attracting businesses and creating new companies. And help them move from early-stage to commercial companies.

“I like to call this the triple-helix approach, which is collaboration between industry, academia and government. And it’s happening.”


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