Nebraska Innovation Campus wins $750,000 grant to help provide lab space for startups

By Martha Stoddard / World-Herald Bureau
Sep 23, 2015

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Innovation Campus has won a competitive federal grant to help nurture biotechnology startup companies by providing laboratory space.

Officials announced the $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration on Wednesday.

It will be matched with an equal amount of University of Nebraska-Lincoln funds to build and equip wet laboratories for lease by fledgling companies.

Wet labs are equipped for tests and analyses requiring water, direct ventilation and specialized piped utilities. They do not work with hazardous materials.

Matt Erskine, deputy assistant secretary of commerce, said the planned Biotech Connector will be a hub for business innovation leading to the creation of new jobs.

“Smart collaboration and smart investment drive the world,” he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said the program offers an opportunity for Nebraska to expand its valuable and important biotechnology industry.

The industry already provides 15,000 jobs in the state, which pay an average salary of $58,000, he said.

Providing space for lease helps startup companies by reducing their costs, said Rob Owen, chairman of Bio Nebraska, a biotechnology trade organization.

He said he expects the program will be a recruiting tool to help lure innovators and fledgling companies to Nebraska.

Bio Nebraska, whose members are involved with everything from medicine to agriculture, will provide mentoring to the startups and create a community outreach program aimed at exposing students from underserved communities to biotechnology.

The program also will work with Invest Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. They can link the startups to investment and tax incentives.

According to UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, the Biotech Connector will occupy the fourth floor of the Food Innovation Center at Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Plans call for building enough wet laboratory space to accommodate eight startups per year.

One business already has announced its interest in the program.

Dr. Tyler Martin, CEO and chairman of Great Plains Biotechnology, said he hopes a spinoff of his business will become the first tenant in the new program.

“Wet labs are the places where ideas get turned into real product concepts,” he said.

Perlman said he expects interest from a couple of other ventures growing out of research done at UNL.

The Nebraska Innovation Campus is being built on the former state fairgrounds.

The campus is intended to bring together private-sector companies with university researchers and students to foster innovation, build business and create jobs. Construction began in December 2012.

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