Member Spotlight

THE SPOTLIGHT

Biotech Connector Incubator

Today in the spotlight is Eric Zeece, innovation manager at Invest Nebraska and manager of the Biotech Connector (BTC) at Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Eric, what is the Biotech Connector? When and how was it established?

The BTC opened in October of 2017. It is the first wet-lab incubator in Nebraska. The BTC is focused on catalyzing commercial R&D. We empower entrepreneurial scientists, mentor startup biotech firms and develop partnerships to launch biotech companies. The BTC provides access to over 7,700 square feet of well-equipped wet lab space. This includes equipment and services needed for startup companies and commercial research. Options range from six linear feet of bench space to 1,300 square foot laboratory suites. We also offer commercialization support, life-science mentors, help for qualified firms preparing non-dilutive grant applications and help companies prepare for venture financing.

Sounds very growth oriented.

Life science entrepreneurs require unique and expensive equipment and space. They also face daunting barriers to entry, including intellectual property analysis and protection, intensive capital needs and regulatory requirements. Prior to the BTC, Nebraska had no commercial wet-lab space for bio startup companies and it was often raised as an issue holding back growth.

What kind of collaborations are you targeting?

We are focused on serving the needs of corporate research and early-stage life science startups. We will provide a strong value proposition for a variety of companies as their projects evolve. We also anticipate that we will partner with other organizations building the startup human capital pipeline. Creating experiences in an entrepreneurial lab will only help encourage more new life science entrepreneurs and help new teams and technologies to come together in new fields.

When can companies and researchers come and see the facilities?

We welcome the opportunity for researchers and corporations to tour the lab. The BTC is a secure facility. To make an appointment call me at (402) 480.5837 or email me at eric@investnebraska.com. We also will be scheduling a grand opening so stay tuned.

There’s lots of talk about bring industry and public research together. What are the hallmarks of good collaboration?

That is a great question. Ultimately, it comes down to value proposition. Specifically, the tangible and measurable value that each partner offers to the project, to the ongoing operations.

BTC is both the result of collaboration and a place to foster it.

Yes, we (most importantly) must have a sound value proposition for to the companies that utilize the BTC. Companies in the BTC also must offer value, measured by commitment to R&D that is part of a specific commercialization effort. 

Our beginning was based on public/private partnering. The U.S. Department of Commerce provided a grant to build the lab. NU and Nebraska Innovation Campus, DED and Bio Nebraska have also provided resources and support. Invest Nebraska Corporation (IN) purchased most of the lab equipment and provides ongoing lab programming and support. For our companies, this means that necessary facilities and services are available in one place.

What’s been successful so far with the Biotech Connector?

All of this was achieved through a partnership that required no new funding appropriation. We think that is truly remarkable and is a model that you may see more of in the future. The Biotech Connector has been open for three months, so it is still early in our history. We currently have three companies in the lab. Successful strategies of the BTC will mirror those of any start-up. The BTC will curate the lab with high-quality projects and companies. We will evaluate the effectiveness and perceptions of our service based upon feedback and success metrics, including investment capital leverage and new well-paying jobs in Nebraska.

Tell us more about funding possibilities.

In addition to federal SBIR grant opportunities, NEDED offers an avenue for R&D and prototyping grants via the Business Innovation Act. And Invest Nebraska is also able to make some investments in select early-stage companies

What is the significance of your feature “IP-Free” space?

IP-Free space refers to the fact that our lab is private space, and the BTC partners have all agreed to not take any intellectual property position on IP developed in our lab. Any new technology developed in the lab is the property of the entity or entities that developed it. Thus, our statement: “Your IP is your IP.”

Are there branches of life science you feel that we have clear critical mass?

We expect that companies and projects in the lab will be varied in scientific discipline, but also expect that most projects will derive from areas of strength in Nebraska. For the BTC to be of value and a good fit (and vice-versa), the project must be scalable and achievable in Nebraska. However, that competency is broad, and we also expect to see select projects that do not fit the mold.

It has been said that Nebraskans collaborate well as a skill set. Do you agree and how do we tap into that skill set?

The culture of Nebraskans in one of hard work and dedication. There is a great degree of accessibility in Nebraska and, due in part to tradition and to the size of the state, relationships matter. Nebraska’s culture leaves us well positioned to share our strengths in news ways that maximize success and measurable ROI. This gives us the opportunity to test and scale new concepts like the BTC. But, we must continue to find new ways to work together to achieve goals with fewer resources.

How do we make sure that our doors across Nebraska are open to success?

As is the case in business, partnership efforts must expand to succeed. The BTC will connect the dots between public and private partners in developing new economic opportunities for Nebraska. Prospects for increased biotechnology opportunity in our region will come as a value-added extension of our powerful agricultural economy. Access to producers, feedstocks, technologies and abundant capacity provide assets to create new economic and business opportunities all across the state.

 

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