New biotechnology incubator supports entrepreneur-researchers
By Karl Geiger 07/11/2013
Suppose you are a research scientist and have an idea for a new therapy or biotechnology product. You will need to prove it out and test it in order to get funding. You cannot use your workplace’s facilities without endangering your intellectual property. Perhaps the lab where you teach is too busy or lacks certain equipment.
In any case, you need lab space, real lab space, and fast.
Greg Cauchon, Ph.D., had exactly this problem in 2005 when he left Thousand Oaks biotech giant Amgen. Given the presence of Amgen and other companies, he thought he would quickly find suitable lab space for his own start-up biotech, Amethyst Life Sciences (www.amethystls.com).
“I didn’t really expect to find labs that were as nice as those I was used to at Amgen. But I was surprised to discover just how unsuitable most of the industrial buildings in Ventura County really are,” said Cauchon.
Settling into what was little more than a garage, Cauchon set to work performing analytical methods development and polymer synthesis for small companies and other organizations lacking their own labs. But the space was cramped and required a lot of labor and money to turn into a usable and safe laboratory.
“Having some space — anything, really — allowed us to grow the business and acquire the necessary lab equipment,” said Cauchon. “But we were always on the lookout for better accommodations.”
Then inspiration struck: If he was in a bind, how many others were in the same position? Why not create new lab space that would be suitable for Amethyst and other start-ups?
Cauchon reached out to and later joined a local angel-investors’ group, the Maverick Angels (www.maverickangels.com). The group’s co-founder, John Dilts, proved to be an invaluable resource about start-ups. Cauchon gave Dilts his pitch.
“Our goal is to create an R&D ecosystem for biotech and other life-sciences startups,” said Cauchon. “We believe that bringing together lots of Ph.D. scientists and engineers under one roof to invent a new generation of products and services will help Ventura County generate and keep good jobs in the new global business environment. And we think that this is a better model for economic development that helps Ventura County.”
The results ultimately led to the opening of the Ventura BioCenter in August 2012.
Located in Newbury Park, just a few blocks from Amgen and Baxter, the Ventura BioCenter (www.venturabiocenter.org) is one of county’s newest business incubators. VBC houses four companies and has plenty of space for additional life sciences start-ups. VBC’s laboratories handle all of the major classes of biopolymers (proteins, peptides, nucleic acids and carbohydrates) and small molecules as well as in-house product-development services such as analytical methods development, testing and chemical synthesis.
Unfortunately, Dilts passed away before the official opening of the VBC. “John was an incredible friend and mentor,” Cauchon said. “He had a deep understanding of the business, finance and legal fields as well as an extraordinary personality that lit up the room whenever he entered. We all miss him.”
What Ventura BioCenter brings to the area’s start-ups most is freedom. It lets researchers focus on science rather than infrastructure. More than just offices and shared and private lab space, VBC offers conference rooms, computing and communications services, and the staff amenities that researchers need to do their work comfortably and efficiently.
“I found out early on that in order to start up my biotech company I had to be familiar with a lot a very different fields, from plumbing, carpentry and roofing to insurance, taxes and government regulations,” said Cauchon. “Now that we have some experience with these things, and we know how much time and money they can consume, we hope to help other start-ups avoid them as much as possible. Everyone will be better off if these entrepreneurs can focus their time and attention on their new scientific products instead of worrying about getting a city permit to install a laboratory sink.”
Now housed in the new VBC, Cauchon’s companies continue to grow, too. Amethyst Life Science’s Analytical Ventura division develops methods and tests for a wide range of therapeutics and other materials. Another division, Designed Polymers, produces synthetic peptides (short pieces of proteins) and oligonucleotides (short pieces of DNA or RNA) as well as many different types of polymers for laboratory work.
With plenty of space available for future growth, the Ventura BioCenter remains on the lookout for new companies and for additional products and services to offer them.
Plugged In is a monthly column focused on new technology in and around Ventura County and it will be featured the second week of every month. Plugged In authors Bridge Carney and Karl Geiger are chairman and past chairman, respectively, for the Ventura Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE], the world’s largest professional organization, with approximately 800 local members in Ventura County. Please find them at www.ieee-bv.org.