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Updated 10:00 AM October 15, 2007




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U-M, SPARK incubator to support life science startups

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The University and Ann Arbor SPARK today are expected to announce plans to fill a Pfizer Inc. facility with U-M researchers and four life sciences companies to create a new wet lab incubator.

At the same time, Ann Arbor SPARK also is opening two office-style incubators — one in downtown Ann Arbor and another in Ypsilanti — to nurture startup companies in a host of other fields. Altogether, SPARK is working with 31 businesses that have located or plan to locate in one of the three new business accelerators and many either have ties to university research or former Pfizer employees.

With the help of a $1 million state grant, U-M and SPARK, the economic development and marketing organization for greater Ann Arbor, have assumed Pfizer's lease of a 34,400-square-foot lab space at the Traverwood office park on Huron Parkway, north of Pfizer's main Ann Arbor campus.

Ann Arbor SPARK and U-M already have begun taking over the space, with plans for SPARK to sublease up to 12,000 square feet to startup companies within the next few months as U-M medical researchers move into the remaining 22,400 square feet.

Wet labs — highly sophisticated, climate-controlled, specially ventilated research facilities — are far more expensive than typical office space and it rarely is cost efficient to build a lab on the smaller scale a brand new company might need. Incubators are business acceleration centers used to nurture several budding businesses by offering shared infrastructure and services in a shared space.

SPARK has been working with at least 14 startup companies looking for wet lab space, trying to find alternative locations for those they can't accommodate. The availability of Pfizer space where numerous small companies can be housed presents a large opportunity for many new and growing firms.

"This is a concrete example of the power of Michigan's University Research Corridor to harness our existing talent to create new jobs and help new companies grow,'' says President Mary Sue Coleman, referring to the alliance of the state's three research universities, U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.

Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Michael Finney adds: "Currently, no space exists in the Ann Arbor region that offers life science and biotechnology companies both infrastructure and room to grow; the wet lab incubator meets a unique and pressing need for these startups. The wet lab incubator space is affordable and organized — ideal for emerging companies and entrepreneurs. The flexibility offered by the space is highly attractive to a growing company."

Three initial tenants of the wet lab incubator have signed leases, and the fourth company is wrapping up negotiations. Tenants include:

• OncoImmune Ltd., an Ohio-based company licensing patents from U-M and Ohio State University, would open an Ann Arbor office with three to four researchers initially working on treatments for multiple sclerosis and cancer.

• SensiGen, LLC, uses proprietary technology invented by Dr. David Kurnit, professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, to improve the ability to diagnose early stage kidney disease and cervical cancer.

• Genomatix Software Inc, a new Ann Arbor-based subsidiary of Munich, Germany-based Genomatix Software GmbH, which works with U-M, Wayne State University and Pfizer, has occupied 900 square feet of the incubator since August but expects to move to another location outside the incubator as tenants needing lab space move in later this year. The company hopes to have 40 employees within three years.

"The creation of incubator space at the Traverwood facility marks a critical turning point in the prospects for transforming the economy of southeast Michigan,'' said U-M Vice President for Research Steve Forrest. "Today's announcement is concrete progress toward building a diversified, knowledge-based economy, one based on entrepreneurial startup companies that emerge, primarily, from the state's research universities.''

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