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Biotech incubator brings co-working lab to Japanese entrepreneurs

Bringing a new technology to the market by establishing a startup can be a nerve-wracking and isolating prospect. By partnering with a leading developer of co-working lab space globally, an open-innovation centre in Kawasaki, Japan, is aiming to provide life-science start-ups with much-needed support and interactions with other start-ups.

Night view of the Kawasaki industrial area. The Kawasaki waterfront area has seen a shift from heavy industry to life-science industries.

“Startups in Japan need more than lab space,” says Hiroshi Atsumi, site director of iCONM in collaboration with BioLabs. “We provide a community where startups can share information and initiate communication with venture capital and the pharma industry.”

Located on Tokyo Bay, King Skyfront is a 40-hectare hub for R&D in health, medicine and biotechnology. Established to help Kawasaki city’s transition from heavy industry, the cluster is helping scientists, investors and entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground by providing an open-concept facility that gives users access to shared lab spaces and business expertise.

PEER SUPPORT

Through support from the city of Kawasaki and the Japanese government, the Kawasaki Institute of Industrial Promotion announced in June 2022 that BioLabs — a US company that currently operates 14 co-working facilities worldwide — will bring its expertise to King Skyfront by partnering to help run the new co-working facility.

“Kawasaki is smart to look at what the future is,” says Johannes Fruehauf, CEO of BioLabs. “They see life sciences as a new industrial base.”

BioLabs has supported more than 200 start-ups, which have raised a combined US$3 billion in funding. BioLabs’ model provides selected start-ups with access to lab space, state-of-the-art equipment, peer support and business resources with flexible terms.

Part of its success lies in the architecture of its co-working spaces, designed to reduce friction — using smart systems to keep labs running smoothly— and increase encounters with others. “When I saw the iCONM building, I knew we could collaborate because it was built with the same design elements in mind,” notes Fruehauf.

These interactions can be invaluable to start-up leaders. “Oftentimes inventors are best positioned to take products forward, but no-one teaches us business at grad school,” says Fruehauf. “Learning from peers is a big factor in making people more comfortable about assuming this new role of a company leader.”

INNOVATIVE FACILITIES

Representatives from Kawasaki Institute of Industrial Promotion, BioLabs, iCONM, and the city of Kawasaki at a ceremony announcing the collaboration.

Offering facilities for microfabrication, chemistry, biochemistry, animal studies and more, as well as numerous ‘magnet areas’ with cafés and collaboration space; iCONM in collaboration with BioLabs is positioned to be a hub that connects Tokyo-area start-ups to the global biotech community.

With more than 60 life-science companies in the King Skyfront cluster — including industry heavyweights Nitto and Shimadzu — prospective start-ups have numerous opportunities for collaboration, says Atsumi.

“You can create hundreds, and in our case, thousands of well-paying jobs,” says Fruehauf. “Once governments understand the power of this innovative model, they can get behind it and support the initial cost of setting up these facilities.”

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