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Expanding the Innovation Ecosystem

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

BSA Committee Explores How Sharing Space and Resources Catalyzes Biotech Ventures

The BSA Committee for Research and Innovation Design set the stage for a discussion on shared work spaces in biotech at LabCentral.

The BSA Committee for Research and Innovation Design set the stage for a discussion on co-working facilities in biotech at shared-space success story LabCentral.

What is the relationship between space and innovation in the workplace? IT startups have been engaging in this conversation for years, leading to the creation of several successful co-working facilities. But what about other industries? Can the “incubator model” be re-imagined across entrepreneurial ventures to foster other successful innovative ecosystems?

BSA’s Committee for Research and Innovation Design overwhelmingly decided the answer is yes, at its inaugural meeting last week at LabCentral in Boston.

Committee Co-Chairs Luke Voiland, AIA, principal with Shepley Bulfinch, and Lynn Petermann, AIA, associate with Payette, partnered with first-of-its kind LabCentral to showcase the successful utilization of shared space and purposeful design in action.

While Massachusetts has established itself as a breeding ground for science talent and progression, facility and cost deterrents associated with the Kendall Square, Cambridge, biotech innovation hub remain prevalent. LabCentral’s 28,000 square-foot shared laboratory space was designed to bridge that gap, and in the process, has changed the way life-science companies are built.

Design Influences Operation, Collaboration, Success

Since its inception only three years ago, LabCentral – a private non-profit – has served 51 companies, created 717 jobs, produced 261 filed patents (45 being granted) and achieved a 77% net promoter score. Not to mention its cutting-edge companies have raised a total of $1.1 billion.

So, what’s in the secret sauce of a successful biotech shared workspace? Per their findings, LabCentral’s Gary Vogel, operations manager, and Celina Chang, director of laboratory operations, pointed to six design advantages specific to the needs of biotech startups.

Six design considerations for successful biotech shared facilities

  1. Transparency: The use of physical transparency throughout a space emulates intended collaboration among teams and companies. Increased visibility also creates accountability.
  2. Proximity: Working side-by-side with other like-minded individuals – regardless of company or specific field – fuels creativity and progress.
  3. Variety & Adaptability: Offering a variety of different shared spaces encourages specific feelings and forms of communication – think formal versus informal.
  4. Intentionality: Systematically placing each space throughout the ecosystem creates forced collisions as people move throughout their daily routines.
  5. Technical Expertise: Understanding the function of individual spaces and the spirit each will evoke promotes the larger innovative ecosystem.
  6. “Build” a Collaborative Culture: Constantly encouraging open dialogue – whether around lab equipment clean-up policies or requesting Goldfish in the snack cabinet – furthers the overall collective mindset.

Focused on this setup, the “success stories” have varied from resident company collaborations and breakthroughs in medical science, to human resources knowledge sharing. “Funny enough, some of the most interesting synergies we’ve seen take place because of this environment are not at all centered on science,” Vogel said. In one case, two residents were working with Chinese-based venture capital firms. Throughout the course, they shared findings and best practices about their experiences and interacting with companies from another culture. In another example, a student team had grown to the point of its first full-time hire, and quickly realized they had zero idea what that should look like. A senior team in the lab swooped in and walked them through the hiring process, including the importance of HR best practices.

LabCentral evolves and expands by learning from its community and other labs..

LabCentral evolves and expands by learning from its community and other labs.

Biotech Next Gen

Of course, architecture alone is not the sole catalyst in the prosperous biotech startup structure. Operations and programming play key roles as well. “Running centralized programming specific to audience and providing core shared services – such as centralized purchasing, calendars and training – has helped feed innovation,” Chang explained. “We take serious consideration of who our residents are at any given time and are nimble enough to make adjustments based on physical needs but also personalities.” LabCentral has offered everything from company-specific “chalk talks” where individual residents can share their work and challenges with other teams, to large-scale origami-making classes and themed costume parties.

“It’s also a work in progress,” said Chang. “We will continue taking cues from other labs doing specific types of work, and doing it better. And, we’ll keep looking at what people in Cambridge are working on and how they work – for example, people here use mice not rats which changes how we design.”

To that end and alongside BSA Committee for Research and Innovation Design’s evolving conversation, LabCentral stands looking forward. It recently linked with Harvard University’s Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab (an award-winning Shepley Bulfinch project), is currently adding an additional 42,000 square feet of shared lab space in Kendall Square and has plans for even more – approximately 30,000 square feet – in the works.


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