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LabCentral, a new hatchery for science-oriented startups, is seeking space in Kendall Square

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 20, 2012 10:31 AM

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Update: LabCentral now has a website, and on February 7, 2013, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center announced a $5 million grant to help it get off the ground. The projected opening date is November, 2013. It will be 27,000 square feet, with room for 20-30 entrepreneurs and startup businesses.

The founders of the Cambridge Innovation Center and the MassChallenge startup competition, Tim Rowe and John Harthorne, are collaborating to create a new startup space for businesses that need a laboratory to develop new kinds of biopharmaceutical or synthetic biology products. Working with them on the project, called LabCentral, are Peter Parker and Johannes Fruehauf of the consultancy BioInnovation LLC, which already operates a small lab space in Kendall Square, Cambridge Biolabs, as a kind of "beta test" for a larger facility. The partners say they hope to open LabCentral by mid-2013.

Rowe points out that the cost of an individual company building out its own lab is "very high," and that many of the existing turn-key spaces around town, like the Venture Development Center at UMass-Boston and Boston University's BioSquare Discovery and Innovation Center, tend to run pretty close to capacity.

Cautioning that the project is still "PowerPoint-ware at this point," Rowe tells me the team is focused on creating a 20,000-square foot space in Kendall Square that could accomodate dozens of companies. It'd be dedicated primarily to lab tables, ventilated hoods, and equipment, with a few conference rooms or shared desk areas for meetings and computer-based work, Parker says. (20,000-square feet is about the same footprint as a single floor of the Cambridge Innovation Center's building at One Broadway in Kendall, Rowe says.) Tenants would be able to rent a single "bench space" in the lab for one scientist on a month-to-month basis, Parker says. Fruehauf will be the on-site executive director of the new facility; he is also president of ViThera Pharmaceuticals, a startup developing engineered probiotics to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

The space would be operated as a non-profit, Rowe says, and would probably rely on some kind of city or state funding to get off the ground. Given the requirements for pricey lab gear like microscopes and flow cytometers, "it's hard to make the math work on a purely private basis, and keep the rents reasonable," he says. The team may apply for a grant from the taxpayer-funded Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which was created to support job growth in the life sciences industry, and they're also hoping to get some of the equipment donated by manufacturers.

This'll be an interesting project to track...

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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