Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

September 2, 2021

Making Room: New lab, coworking space help build New Haven as a national bioscience hot spot

Paul Pescatello is the executive director of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association's Bioscience Growth Council.

Last year, amid a global race to develop and test a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, bioscience research and development drew a lot of media attention.

It also drew a lot of investment.

Numbers from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. show that from 2019 to 2020, total global venture capital funding of bioscience overall was up 45%; the value of partnerships, joint ventures and other deals in the sector nearly doubled; and IPOs for bioscience-related companies increased by 186% to $34.3 billion.

As the sector continues to grow, New Haven’s bioscience ecosystem is becoming an increasingly larger part of Connecticut’s economy and future. Over the past decade, public and private investment in the state — including a 10-year, $200 million Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund launched in 2015 — has fueled a robust cluster of startups in the sector, particularly in the Elm City.

That’s fueling the need for new bioscience office and lab space, and the market is starting to respond.

The latest infrastructure projects include a new 8,000-square-foot bioscience incubator — the New Haven Innovation Labs — on the Yale Medical School campus slated to open this October, and a 10-story, 500,000-square-foot life sciences tower at 101 College St. in New Haven, which broke ground this past June and will feature laboratory, research and meeting space for startup and early-stage companies when it opens in the summer of 2023.

Meantime, the Elm City Bioscience Center, an office building being converted to lab space at 55 Church St. in New Haven, is currently in lease-up and poised to come online in January, according to real estate developer and downtown landlord The Hurley Group. Renovations and upgrades to transform the 8-story, 105,500-square-foot class B office building into a life sciences center began this summer.

Dawn Hocevar, president and CEO of BioCT, a talent engagement and advocacy organization supporting the state’s bioscience sector, says Connecticut’s investment has attracted private venture capital and created a robust and growing market for startups that plays to the state’s competitive advantages.

“Our [bioscience] ecosystem is growing organically and thriving,” Hocevar said. “Our entrepreneurs — especially through Yale — are creating more companies and they understand the network and access to talent is all here.”

Space for growth

Connecticut, according to BioCT figures, ranks in the top 10 U.S. states for science and engineering degrees with 33% more high-tech workers than the national average. Additionally, 80% of research and development dollars in the state support the bioscience sector.

That’s driven a need for more lab space to accommodate the research discoveries and entrepreneurial startups from institutions like UConn and Yale, a trend that Kim Kelly says has been accelerating in Connecticut over the past two decades.

Kelly, the operating director of BioCT’s Innovation Commons bioscience lab and office space in Groton, says facilities like the new Innovation Labs opening this fall are critically important. The new site — a $1 million-plus investment between Pierce Labs and CTNext, a quasi-public supporter of statewide entrepreneurship efforts — will feature four private laboratories, a shared lab, bench spaces for lease and a small number of offices.

The bench program, Kelly says, is ideal for scientists at the earliest startup phase (proof-of-concept stage), but the facility will also accommodate early startup growth. All leases will be renewable for up to one year.

Interest in the Innovation Labs space has already been steady, with dozens of applications in the pipeline, Kelly said, noting the majority have been biotech companies, with some medical device startups as well.

In addition to the space to advance potentially commercially viable discoveries, Kelly says incubators are equally important to provide networking opportunities and teach the business side of startups, including human resources, accounting and, most importantly, how to access venture capital.

“Among the challenges startups face,” Kelly said, “funding is always near the top.”

That’s particularly true in the bioscience sector, says Paul Pescatello, executive director of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association's Bioscience Growth Council, because the total cost of bringing a pharmaceutical from proof of concept to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval can run between $2 billion to $3 billion, according to data from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

That investment — through multiple rounds of clinical trials — can take years with little guarantee of success, Pescatello explained.

He says today there’s a greater appreciation among state governments and venture capitalists about the long-term benefits of bioscience R&D and a vibrant startup culture, particularly considering the pace of the COVID vaccine development.

“Ten years ago, there might have been more frustration with the amount of investment and hype around biotech,” he said. “But now [with COVID] we’re starting to reap the rewards.”

A compelling message

One of the leading national players of startup incubator space is BioLabs LLC, founded in Cambridge, Mass., in 2009. Since then, it has grown to include 10 locations nationwide.

Currently more than 300 startups are part of the BioLabs network, according to Susan Chase, the company’s vice president of business development. The company was selected by developer Carter Winstanley to run the 101 College St.’s Yale-backed incubator when the building opens in two years.

Carter Winstanley is the developer of the planned 10-story, 500,000-square-foot life sciences tower at 101 College St. in New Haven.

Chase says that while all BioLabs locations provide a standard level of services, core equipment and access to industry, there are unique features for each. Those details are in the works for 101 College, but Chase says that unlike some incubator spaces that can only accommodate the earliest phases of startup development, the 101 College St. location will provide larger facilities for companies to graduate into.

The plan, she says, is to provide a variety of spaces from a lab bench to the earliest-stage startups, to up to a quarter, half, or full floor as, she hopes, companies grow.

“We are helping companies to reach their milestones and move to the next [phase] in a productive way,” Chase said, noting the average occupancy for BioLabs tenants ranges from 18 to 24 months.

Chase said she is bullish on New Haven, too.

“There’s a compelling message that New Haven has around [bioscience] real estate,” Chase said. “There’s excitement around [startup] companies and pent-up demand for lab space and the confluence of COVID has brought life sciences into the spotlight.”

Hocevar, of BioCT, said she continues to be encouraged by the developments and trends she sees in the New Haven region, including a new BioPath initiative at Southern Connecticut State University that aims to grow interest and participation in bioscience.

“We have everything that is needed for a successful biotech [sector] in Connecticut,” Hocevar said, pointing to the state’s leading research institutions, centers of excellence and growing venture capital base. “The ecosystem exists. We just need to keep it growing and make it grow even faster.”

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF