San Jose BioScience Incubator and Innovation Center

Conventionally, biotechnology incubators provide space for fledgling companies to grow. But a new generation of facilities is springing up that offers additional services to help nurture budding businesses. One such newcomer is the San Jose BioScience Incubator and Innovation Center, which opened last month and is expecting its first tenant in August. The centre is the latest in a number of government-funded facilities that provide a support structure as well as lab space.

The building's 3,400 square metres should comfortably house about 25 companies, which will be able to use the centre's support staff to help establish and meet their business goals. Melinda Richter, managing director of Global Access to Innovation Networks (GAIN), the Bay Area company that will manage the facilities at the centre, sees the set-up as an “ecosystem”.

The companies that secure space in the incubator must first undergo a business assessment with GAIN. This looks at the nascent firm's strengths and weaknesses — including intellectual property, finances and management — and identifies its three most important needs. These are then used as benchmarks, and the firm must meet with GAIN quarterly to check on its progress.

To help the tenant meet the goals, the centre assigns each firm a ‘chief-executive coach’ from a non-competing company. In addition, the incubator offers access to a database of potential mentors that can help the company to find people such as intellectual property lawyers or contacts at potential commercial partners. The centre also plans to house several companies ‘virtually’, by providing them with its services but not space.

The city of San Jose spent $6.5 million to renovate, equip and manage the centre in order to attract jobs. An earlier incubator, which opened its doors in 1994, focused on information technology and has already attracted $475 million in venture capital and created 2,500 jobs.

Richter hopes that the combination of service and space at the biosciences centre will serve as “an international landing pad” for companies from abroad looking to get a toehold in the United States. She is optimistic about the centre's future — after all, the Milken Institute recently listed San Jose as one of the top ten sustainable biotech cities.