HARLEM — For less than the cost of a Harlem studio apartment, budding biotech entrepreneurs will be able to rent space in an old office building that the city is helping to convert into a state-of-the-art laboratory.
For just $995 per month, Harlem Biospace will provide biotech entrepreneurs with all the equipment necessary to take their ideas to the next level such as centrifuges, autoclaves, a chemical fume hood, and freezers.
The goal is to keep budding biotech companies in the city as they develop ideas and products that could help treat cancer patients, make hip transplants better or create the tools to facilitate other medical advances.
“Harlem Biospace will fill a critical void that currently exists within New York City’s biotech sector, providing small and early stage companies with the tools they need to grow and solve important health issues,” said Kyle Kimball, executive director of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
EDC is partnering with Sam Sia, Harlem Biospace founder and associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, on the project.
Sia said entrepreneurs with ideas they'd like to develop are often forced to leave the city because lab space is so expensive. Rent for a 1,000-square-foot lab could start at $80 per square foot and not even include the expensive equipment needed to outfit the space.
"The occupants will be entrepreneurs who need to do more experiments to validate exactly what they have. By staying in the city, they can spend half their time researching and half their time speaking to investors," Sia said.
The 2,300-square-foot space is in the Sweets Building at 423 W. 127th Street between Amsterdam and Morningside avenues. NYEDC is contributing $625,000 to help Sia upgrade the building.
About 24 companies will be able to operate in the space, which will also include Wi-Fi, electricity and gas in the rent. The space will be designed to be comfortable and welcoming.
Harlem is an ideal space because of its proximity to City College and Columbia's Morningside Heights campus, as well as its new Manhattanville campus in West Harlem, Sia said. The potential investors are also close by.
The average entrepreneur would stay anywhere from six months to three years, said Sia, himself an entrepreneur who founded founded Claros Diagnostics, a venture capital-company that was acquired by Opko Health in 2011.
By the time they leave, researchers will have determined whether their idea is viable or will have attracted enough funders to move on to the next phase of development and a larger lab.
A focus on biotech will also help diversify the city's economy along with the growing tech sector.
"There have been successful incubators that have helped with the rise in the tech sector," Sia said.
But much of that space is not suitable for biotech development.
"I hope this space will inspire young people to move into biotech instead of just writing software," Sia added.
In addition to affordable space, the entrepreneurs will also have access to mentors and help with business development. The project hopes to launch in November.
"Harlem is undergoing some changes that are quite exciting," Sia said. "There's a lot of new energy here."