This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - St. Louis’s BioGenerator will host an open house tomorrow to mark its recent expansion into new space in the region’s growing tech district.
“Brick walls, concrete floors,” said Donn Rubin, president and CEO of BioSTL, which oversees the incubator. “It’s very urban and gritty – a very cool space.”
That space will be at the old turn-of-the-century Center for Emerging Technologies facility in a former car factory on Forest Park Avenue. Wednesday’s event, which runs from 5-7 p.m., will mark the unveiling of 4,300 square feet of offices and conference rooms; they opened about a month ago to house the incubator’s unique entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) program. Startup experts assist those working to bring new companies into profitability while keeping an eye out for new ideas that show potential for commercialization.
“We’re finding that they are spending a lot more time in the office space,” Rubin said of the dozen or so EIRs who will share space with several BioGenerator staff, “which is great because there is a lot more interaction going on and lot of synergies can happen – collaborations, new ideas for companies can emerge.”
Started in 2011, the entrepreneurial program itself has drawn its share of attention. By assisting BioGenerator companies to raise money, hire staff and construct business plans, the EIRs are working to bolster the status of the incubator’s enterprises.
“These are not permanent employees,” Rubin said. “The idea is that they are engaged with us for a temporary length of time and ultimately, they will indeed lead companies here in St. Louis. One of the goals of the program is to fill the gap we have here in St. Louis of seasoned entrepreneurs to run companies.”
Entrepreneur-in-residence Harry Arader said the move has been a boon to his work with BioGenerator.
“For people who do what I do, it is great to be able to interact on a daily basis with others that are doing similar work,” he said. “First, it’s because you can work with people directly -- there is just a collegial atmosphere. Having people around with whom you can explore ideas is very important.”
Arader, who has founded companies in locales from China to Chicago, said the new digs are a big improvement over the previous EIR space.
“We were basically in just one large room with cubicles and it was very difficult to hear yourself think in there. There were just too many people,” he said. “Once two people started talking, nobody else could really concentrate.”
The new space comprises two-person offices for the EIRs but also has bigger meeting and collaborative areas. Arader said he likes the offices’ writeable partitions.
“You can write your ideas up on the wall, take a photo with your cell phone when you are done and then erase everything so privacy is maintained,” he said. “The new space provides a variety of experiences that weren’t available in the old one.”
Arader, who has founded 10 companies as an entrepreneur, said that he feels the area’s biotech scene is really on the move.
“I’ve had a chance to see a lot of different environments up close and personal and I fundamentally believe that because of what BioGenerator is doing, and the very different approach that we take to starting life science companies, that right now St. Louis is the best place in the Midwest to start human health companies,” he said. “I don’t think there is any place in the world that is better to start agricultural-based companies.”
“I think we’ve had the ingredients for many years but BioGenerator provides the recipe,” he added.
James “Jim” McCarter is also optimistic. As part of the venture capital arm of Monsanto, he’s been working with BioGenerator for some time as an EIR and feels the relocation is a positive part of building a collaborative critical mass in town.
“The new space within the Center for Emerging Technologies has been extremely useful in gathering together entrepreneurial talent in one place,” he said. “The space itself is really conducive to interaction between the EIRs and the BioGenerator staff. It’s a nice venue for me to bring visitors to.”
That includes out-of-town venture capital folks and representatives from Monsanto.
“I’ve been able to connect a number of the EIRs to technology expertise within Monsanto,” he said. “We have about 5,000 people in R & D internationally so it is a good chance to tap into that organization to help local entrepreneurs and make the Monsanto organization aware of some of the technologies that are emerging in the local community.”
He even likes the architecture.
“I think using old spaces as they have done with Center for Emerging Technologies is a great way to revitalize the city,” McCarter said. “I actually live in Lafayette Square so I’m a fan of historic rehabs.”
Future moves are still in the offing. Down the street from CET, shared lab space is being expanded on the third floor of the CORTEX building to accommodate use by BioGenerator portfolio companies. When completed, that renovation will be triple the size of this one.
“We have something like 20 companies right now crammed into very close quarters and this will give us a lot of room for expansion,” Rubin said. “The office component is nearly done but the labs won’t be done until maybe late February.”