Tech center eager to grow

$8M life sciences incubator at KU would be home to promising enterprises

August 10, 2008


After five years of boosting business prospects through spreadsheets, accounting functions, office support and other services, the Lawrence Regional Technology Center is ready to get even closer to the science behind its clients' success.

The center, now at 1617 St. Andrews Drive, is lining up to serve as the operational hub for the community's latest foray into the ultra-competitive world of bioscience startups and other businesses born on a university campus.

A new center - a planned $8 million incubator on Kansas University's West Campus - simply would be the next evolution for an operation that already has helped its clients generate more than $119 million of investment capital and create an additional 111 jobs, each averaging about $64,000.

The goal: more, more, more.

"There is a need for something that has flexible-type lab space, close to where the scientists are doing the original research work," said Ted Haggart, president of Douglas County Bank and chairman of the regional technology center. "That's why this is such a perfect fit."

The center is set to manage and operate the incubator, which would be near the Multidisciplinary Research Building on West Campus and serve as a home for promising startups spinning off from KU. Half of the project's financing already has been committed, through approvals from Lawrence and Douglas County commissions, and resources from KU and the Lawrence-Douglas County Biosciences Authority.

But the biggest chunk of money still awaits approval.

Financial needs

The Kansas Bioscience Authority - the state's $580 million program to boost bioscience research, employment and production statewide - will be asked to contribute $4 million toward the Lawrence project, Haggart said. A formal application is in the works.

Leaders of the Kansas Bioscience Authority are familiar with the regional center's plans and efforts to get the incubator going, said Chad Bettes, a spokesman for the state authority.

"We can't discuss prospects for a proposal until it's received and reviewed," Bettes said, noting that the process then could take anywhere from six weeks to a few months. "We've approved these sorts of things in the past, and the board will take a look at it."

Among other grants approved for such incubator projects:

l $2 million to help finance the renovation of the Breidenthal Research Building at Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., for use as an incubator for commercialization of research.

l $1 million to help finance construction and equipment for the National Institute for Strategic Technology Acquisition and Commercialization, with so-called "wet lab" incubator space at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

"It's the idea of getting products from the lab into the marketplace," Bettes said.

Jim Otten, chairman of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said the planned Lawrence center would be a major advance for the community's economic-development efforts.

Planting a seed

Just as the community is short on large lots for industrial development, he said, Lawrence also lacks enough space to accommodate what could be the next major medical advance.

"If you have the space available, you're more likely to be able to land something and develop something, rather than just wait around for it to happen," said Otten, a Lawrence dentist, who noted that Deciphera Pharmaceuticals and CritiTech were prime examples of startups that have shown great promise while growing in Lawrence.

"It's a seed," Otten said. "You plant a seed, and with every business like this that you add to the equation, it grows. It's a nucleus of businesses, and then it starts to gain energy and momentum on its own. It's important to do this and keep it going."

Haggart firmly believes in the regional technology center's abilities to help promising technology companies grow. The center's assistance has helped Deciphera, which is looking for room to expand as its work on small-molecule therapeutics continues to attract investment. And CritiTech, a spin-off from KU's Higuchi Biosciences Center, has advanced to the point of conducting clinical trials for its treatment for ovarian cancer.

Adding a second center location - this one near where basic research turns into prospects for commercial development - is the next step.

"This is a good deal for our community," Haggart said. "It's a big deal and a good deal."


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