Innovation incubator for biotech in the works at Innovation Campus

The Biotech Connector will be located on the fourth floor of the Food Innovation Center.

Nebraska’s biotechnology startups soon will have access to a new facility on Nebraska Innovation Campus that provides specialized laboratory space and other support to help them succeed.

Biotech Connector will open on the fourth floor of NIC’s Food Innovation Center in early 2017, providing an innovation incubator for emerging biotech companies. The facility also will be available for established companies that may need a small amount of space and want to be located near UNL’s faculty, students and core facilities.

The connector will lease laboratories to small and startup companies with the goals of expanding the state’s biotechnology industry and creating jobs. Companies will span a range of disciplines, including biomedical research, pharmaceutical development and agriculture.

The connector was developed through a partnership between Nebraska Innovation Campus, Bio Nebraska, Invest Nebraska, Nebraska Department of Economic Development and UNL. A $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration and matching university funds finance the program.

“Biotechnology is a big part of the life sciences industry in Nebraska. We’re really trying to make this a very helpful environment and culture for these biotech companies. It’s about having the right support systems in place,” said Ann Willet, director of strategic alliances for food, fuel and water for NIC.

Those support systems include affordable wet lab space and equipment for lease to up to eight companies at a time. Wet labs use specialized utilities and ventilation systems that are difficult for small companies to afford independently.

Young companies also will have access to expertise and networking opportunities. Bio Nebraska, a biotechnology trade organization, will offer mentoring, while Invest Nebraska and the state will assist with investment opportunities and tax incentives.

Bio Nebraska also is developing an outreach program to local high schools and community colleges designed to introduce biotechnology fields to students from underserved communities. The outreach program will help increase the state’s biotechnology workforce.

Nebraska faculty and students also will benefit from networking and internship opportunities.

“Companies need biotech students and interns, but they also need people to help with marketing and the business aspects,” Willet said. “We think those real-life experiences are invaluable to students to help prepare them to enter the real world upon graduation.”

This support for Nebraska’s emerging biotechnology companies will help recruit innovators and other companies to the state, she added.

“Working together, we can help the biotechnology network, from the companies themselves to students and other employees, to ensure that we have education at every level to make these companies succeed.”