Seattle Needs an “Incubator” Culture

2/4/10

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for many of our early stage needs and may have to move our operations there entirely. The Bay Area offers an aspiring biotech entrepreneur an ecosystem similar to the one Seattle has for software. We were able to quickly find an incubator lab packed with other biotech startups but willing to let us come in at night from 7 pm to 7 am for about $1,000 a month. The lab offers access to the core facilities at UC San Francisco as well as discounted rates on reagents and contacts to large commercial suppliers. This kind of fertile, environment is essential to a thriving entrepreneurial sector and sadly its largely lacking in Seattle.

If Seattle is serious about being a biotech player we must invest in our entrepreneurial community. We should have incubators that are publicly or privately funded that can provide entrepreneurs with six months or a year of lab space for dirt-cheap and guidance to connect them with the existing biotech community. Tomorrow’s giant companies are built in garages today but unlike software, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has something to say about experimenting with cell culture and infectious diseases in your garage with a bag of Ranch Doritos and a Diet Coke. Such an incubator could be private or publically funded, but I think a partnership between the two would be ideal. Subsidized access to tools and exposure to potential investors for a small fee and equity stake in the company would be a great deal for entrepreneurs and Seattle.

Creating a culture conducive for life sciences entrepreneurship requires different ingredients than are required for software. The valley of death is still crossed by entrepreneurs in Seattle every year but the region could benefit greatly by improving the environment for early stage biotech entrepreneurs. Happily, Seattle already has great research and state of the art facilities. It is high time we use them to help the entrepreneurs who are building our future.

Matthew Scholz is the CEO of Immusoft, a (currently) Seattle based biotech startup that is commercializing technology to program the human immune system. Follow @

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  • Andy Freeman

    Does Silicon Valley have the “incubator culture” that Seattle supposedly needs? If not, why does Seattle need it?

  • Bob Wilcox

    Many local industry leaders agree that the region needs to do better at starting companies. For medical technology startups, two things that launched in 2009 will bear fruit in 2010. WINGS, a new Angel investment group for medical technology in Washington, is now accepting applications (medtechwings.com). Second, the Innovation Partnership Zone in Bothell was awarded $500,000 to launch a medical technology incubator. Keep watching xconomy for updates.

  • http://northcoastbio.com Johnny T. Stine

    Hmmmmmm Sounds familiar.
    Well – I think Seattle does have an incubator culture similar to what you mention above. And it started in a garage in a place that is zoned for medical. And we have all the tools needed to create value. Sure it’s tough to go after these small grants since it takes a year to even see the money, but if you truly believe in your idea and you know exactly what you need to do to bring it to a point of value, then take out a small loan/home equity line of credit and use EBay and auctions to acquire what you need. There are more “garages” out there now than there were when I was looking two years ago….and there’s plenty of materials available by EBay, etc. to generate what you need to do your work. It’s all do-able – but you’ll have to take on some risk by using your own money if you wish to start right away. Otherwise – as you indicated, you’re stuck in that catch 22 as a virtual company. But what you gain by doing so is a company with assets that you own 100% of and you get the data that will take it to the next level where you’ll be less diluted since you’ve raised the value bar.

    So you’re right – the incubator culture is needed, but we can’t wait for others to build it – we have to build it ourselves and since we’ve already started it here in Wallingford – it’s going to snowball and take on a life of it’s own as more come to generate their proof of concept – then more companies are created and hopefully more jobs.

  • Blue Swan

    Agreed. This is absolutely what needs to be done.

    Venture capital funding no longer meets the microfinance requirements of the 21st century.

    Typically you basically need to give a person a “grant” to cover his salary for say 5 years to get an idea off the ground.

    The costs of capital infrastructure are almost nil these days of cloud computing. What does need to be funded are the creative individuals who will build the apps. Will some fail to make a profit? Probably…but maybe 1 out of 100 or even 1 out of 1000 will make enough to justify all the other investments.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/profile?viewProfile=&key=6254578&locale=en_US&trk=tab_pro Anthony Rodriguez

    All entrepreneurs will agree with the posted sentiments about the need for such an environment. I think Seattle is already on its way to generating one, but its a slow road. Besides the groups already mentioned like Accelerator, ISB, WINGs and IPZ, we have others like the Zino society beginning to look the direction of biotech. Even UW Tech Transfer is beginning to take on more of a mindset of an incubator under Linden Rhoads with their EIR program and recently formed New Ventures Unit (see Luke’s interview posted today). I am sure San Francisco’s dynamic biotech start-up community did not happen overnight either. The key is for success here will depend on the successful. Reinvestment into the community from those who have thrived here built the Seattle tech start-up monster and biotech will be no different.

  • Anthony Rodriguez

    A quick correction from my previous comment: The Rhoads Q&A was written this time last year (2/10/09) and not yesterday.