Growing Pains – Moving Beyond the Comforts of an Incubator Lab Space

First, you start with an idea. You do a few experiments to see if you get the expected results. You soon realize you may have an idea for a bio-technology company. You develop a business plan, maybe get some money, gather a few scientists and rent some space in an incubator lab space to see if you can make your idea a reality.

Pretty soon, it looks like things are coming together and you need more people! You start to go after more funds, maybe some VC money, and soon you’ll be outgrowing your incubator space. You are now at 20 people and have 2 or 3 labs. You need to expand and now is the time to look for your own space.

As soon as you start looking for space you realize there are a lot of things you hadn’t considered – likely because the incubator lab you were working out of had a lot of services you took for granted. When thinking about starting your own lab space, where do you start and what considerations should you include?

Here are a few tips and considerations to keep in mind when moving on from an incubator:

  1. Plan ahead. Leave at least 6 – 9 months, if not more, to find and move into a new space. Real estate, especially small lab spaces, are getting harder to find. Make sure you start your search early enough that you have some flexibility and don’t get locked into the first deal that looks like it may work.
  2. Consider how long this “temp” space will be used for. Most landlords are looking for longer leases, especially for a lab tenant, unless they are very familiar with labs and happen to have some buildings that are already set up for the lab environment or a quick sub-lease. You may get stuck signing for a longer term than you expect, so be realistic about your growth and revenue channels. We know the research is harder to predict, but making sure you have a firm handle on your expected growth plan is a big help.
  3. Bring the right team to help you – starting with the right broker you will need some advocates to assist you in making the right decisions. Make sure the people you are talking with understand your science and the lab environment, have access to numerous resources, and are willing to help you even though your project may be considered small in comparison to what they normally do.
  4. Consider your technical needs. It’s easy to forget about the power requirements of your equipment, especially the back up power for experiments and data. If you have any kind of chemical use, you need to consider proper ventilation and if you need clean water, you may need to consider RODI and a glass wash room. Also, lab waste is a huge issue – one that your landlord may not be willing to support. Start with a list of all lab equipment, chemicals/biologicals, supplies and services you will need to support your science.
  5. Consider your space needs. Make a list of the amenities you expect from a space – think about conferencing, food service, offices and workspaces, and casual break out areas. Think about parking, bike storage, showers, or other features that may be important to your staff. Make sure your program includes the real need to have and nice to haves in your space. Make sure you have people who can support keeping your equipment up and running, and resources to assist with lab safety and permitting, if required.
  6. Learn about the real estate process. There are different types of leases (Triple net, gross, etc) and different ways the landlord can provide you space (turnkey, Tenant Improvement allowance). Make sure you know what these terms imply about the resources you need looking after your own interests. Understand what role the Work Letter can play in the process and make sure you have the right professionals looking at your lease.

There are a lot of common pitfalls along the way to finding your new space after coming out of an incubator. We identified only a few things for you to think about, but hopefully you are beginning to realize that you need to think about your space and learn about the process. Don’t forget there are resources out there in the industry who can help you. Make sure you have someone on your side throughout the process from start to finish.

Growing Pains for Labs will be a three part series. Part two will focus on developing a safe lab environment and Part three will address creating a road map to your new lab space.