| 2014 Q4 | story by Anne Brockhoff | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
The Bioscience & Technology Business Center at first glance looks much like a typical incubator. Look closer, though, and you’ll see the BTBC’s reach goes far beyond fostering private sector start-ups to embrace everything from University of Kansas spinouts, student-run enterprises, small- and mid-size businesses, Fortune 500 types and international companies.
That’s because the BTBC is a unique partnership, one that leverages the assets of KU, the City of Lawrence, Douglas County, the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce with a single goal in mind—grow the region’s bioscience and technology industries.
“We want technology and life science-oriented innovators, wherever they’re from,” BTBC President G.R. Underwood said.
Since the BTBC’s founding in 2010, it’s collaborated with countless business, university and government professionals, and is now one of the Midwest’s biggest economic development engines. It now has more than 27 tenant companies that together have 130 employees and an aggregate payroll of more than $6 million.
However, the BTBC is about more than current numbers. It’s about potential. The center provides entrepreneurs with resources while forging bonds between them and the community with the hope that they will become a permanent part of the Lawrence and Douglas County landscape.
The BTBC, which earlier this year won a $50,000 federal grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, has three locations. Its main facility is on KU’s West Campus and includes customizable office and lab space for tenants that range from medical and life science companies to software, energy and consumer goods enterprises.
Three tenants have recently graduated, or grown large and financially stable enough to leave the BTBC: Sunlite Science & Technology, which manufactures and markets LED lighting fixtures; drug development company, CritiTech; and 360 Engineers, an energy solutions provider.
The BTBC recently completed its $10 million Phase II expansion, adding 30,000 square feet to the main site. The new space includes both wet labs and office space for tenant companies, as well as an office suite for developing companies that need access to amenities, such as a mailing address and conference rooms, but aren’t yet ready to lease a dedicated office.
“It’s designed to be a ‘virtual’ suite for entrepreneurs – people working on ideas that could develop into a commercial venture,” said LaVerne Epp, the BTBC’s Executive Chairman. Those entrepreneurs can also then tap into other BTBC resources, such as getting help writing business plans and grant proposals.
The expansion will also house KU’s Innovation & Collaboration, which oversees developing and licensing of KU technologies and private industry relationships with KU researchers. There’s also the Catalyst Program, a partnership between the BTBC and KU’s School of Business that aids students in developing their own ideas.
“When those students leave KU, we want them to stay here at the BTBC or in Lawrence, rather than moving to Denver, Austin or somewhere else,” Epp said.
The BTBC’s Expansion Facility sits a few blocks from the KU campus and includes 17,500 square feet of labs and offices, including highly specialized Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) ready laboratory space for small-scale pharmaceutical concerns. The center also has 20,000 square feet of lab and office space at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. The next goal: add an innovation and research park on KU’s West Campus.
KU is supportive of the park, Epp said, and he praises the university’s administration for fostering an entrepreneurial atmosphere on campus.
“That really does help us in building an asset that can attract companies to Lawrence in key industry areas,” Epp said.
Other initiatives have helped, too. Epp credits the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor,the region between Columbia, Mo. and Manhattan, Kan., which contains what the organization claims is the single largest concentration of animal health interests in the world—with helping draw businesses like Simcro. Simcro is the New Zealand-based animal drug delivery device maker, which earlier this year picked Lawrence for its North American headquarters.
The Kansas Research and Education Network, a non-profit consortium of educational institutions, allows for other amenities, such as the highest speed Internet connectivity available.
Then there are the City of Lawrence, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and Douglas County. Epp and Underwood applaud the efforts of all three to draw new businesses to the region, improve infrastructure and otherwise boost the area’s quality of life.
“I think Lawrence is in the early phase of a fairly substantial uptick,” Underwood said. “The timing is right, the community is prepared and the infrastructure is in place, and you’re seeing the fruits of that.”