LabCentral, a shared incubator space for biotech startups that first opened for business in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in November 2013, could serve as a model for a new type of building tenant. Founded by doctor-turned-entrepreneur Johannes Fruehauf and life science investor Peter Parker, with help from the Cambridge Innovation Center, the facility offers researchers shared laboratory facilities as well as offices, conference rooms, seminars and professional services, including legal advice. Designed as a “launchpad for high-potential life-sciences and biotech startups,” LabCentral is a private, nonprofit institution funded in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), a quasi-public agency.
After founding biotech company Cequent Pharmacueticals together in 2006 — and facing significant delays because of the difficulty of setting up lab space — Fruehauf and Parker realized that there had to be a better way. Finding appropriate space, obtaining the necessary permits and equipping a lab can take months, if not years. Fitting out raw shell space alone can cost as much as $350 per square foot, and equipping that space can cost millions more.
LabCentral’s founders worked with building owner MITIMCo (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Investment Management Company) to retrofit the building at 700 Main Street, which was built in 1848, with the purified water and wastewater treatment systems, specialized HVAC equipment, backup generators and compressed air and vacuum systems needed by biotech researchers. They then fitted the space out with additional state-of-the-art equipment and hired administrative and skilled laboratory support staff who could help start-ups become successful commercial enterprises.
All members have access to a kitchen and other communal gathering places. Paul Avis
LabCentral tenants pay a monthly per-person membership fee of $400 as well as $3,600 per month for one of 30 individual bench spots and/or $400 per month for one of 22 lab desks. Eight private lab suites, which can accommodate up to eight employees each, rent for $14,000 to $16,000 per month, while the monthly fee for the 18 private offices ranges from $900 to $2,450. The facility also features a kitchen offering free food and espresso, as well as open-plan communal space designed to facilitate interaction and collaboration among researchers.
Demand for space at LabCentral outstripped supply even before the facility opened. This allowed the founders to be choosy about tenants; they accepted less than 20 percent of initial applicants through a competitive review process, focusing on high-growth prospects and filling the 28,000-square-foot facility more quickly than expected. Twenty start-ups, including 121 Bio LLC, Arsia Therapeutics and Auxocell Laboratories Inc., now occupy the lab, with three more slated to move in by summer’s end.
At LabCentral’s ceremonial opening in March 2014, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced an additional $5 million grant from the MLSC to double the size of LabCentral. The funds will be used to build out additional space near LabCentral’s current location. The world is taking notice of LabCentral’s unique model; the facility regularly hosts delegations of scientists, funders and policymakers from around the nation and the globe who are eager to learn more.