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In Brooklyn, An Incubator Perseveres As Biotech Perks Up in the City

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flocked to a number of its neighborhoods. Travel most anywhere in Brooklyn and you’ll see construction underway on new luxury apartment buildings and commercial spaces. “We were just very lucky that it became very popular,” Cramer says.

And lucky that it’s tougher to find options for lab space in Manhattan. Currently, there are only a few places available for biotech entrepreneurs. like the city’s lone biotech incubator, Harlem Biospace, which opened in 2013 and occupies a 2,000-square-foot floor on 127th St. in West Harlem.

Harlem Biospace, as founder Samuel Sia told Xconomy in 2013, is equipped for biotech startups that are taking “baby steps” out of a university and need to take the next step. It’s got workstations and shared equipment that suit the needs of a one- or two-person biotech startup. There isn’t much available to Manhattan biotechs that outgrow that space, however. The Alexandria Center for Life Science, a sprawling complex on the city’s East Side, has the space and the facilities for more mature companies, but it’s too expensive for many smaller biotech startups to afford. It’s manned with outposts for large companies like Roche, Pfizer, and Eli Lilly’s ImClone unit, and well-funded startups, like Sam Waksal’s Kadmon Corp., and Kallyope, which just raised a $44 million round—one of the largest financings in recent memory for a New York startup biotech.

Cramer says startups at Downstate can get anything from just a desk or bench to upwards of 4,000 square feet of space. In a way, it’s a middle step for companies that may start out at Harlem Biospace: move to Downstate, grow, and eventually set up shop in BioBAT. (IRX didn’t start out in Harlem Biospace, but it is going from Downstate to BioBAT.)

Cramer is hoping for more cases like EpiBone, a startup spun out of Columbia and partly funded by Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs. EpiBone is developing a way to use stem cells to regenerate bone tissue, which if successful would be a potentially safer alternative to bone grafts or cadaver bones to repair a bone fracture. The startup had been working in Harlem Biospace but “it was time to graduate,” Nina Tandon, EpiBone’s CEO, says. Sharing a lab with 15 other companies “is not really an option for a company that we’re trying to move towards clinical trials,” she says.

Tandon looked around Manhattan and saw a lab space “housing crisis.” EpiBone didn’t need 10,000 square feet, just a few thousand. Where could it go? BioBAT, Tandon says, was too far away. The Alexandria Center wasn’t affordable for EpiBone. So, on the advice from Modern Meadow—the two share investors, among them Breakout Labs—Tandon was introduced to Cramer. The location worked, as Downstate is a block or so from the subway. EpiBone could get the space it needed with the ability to scale up to a few thousand square feet. It could access the animal testing facilities at Downstate for its preclinical work. In addition, by joining up, EpiBone could apply for Start-UP NY, a program that gives new businesses the chance to operate tax-free for 10 years. The startup moved into Downstate in November. “It certainly is a commute,” Tandon says, ”but it’s a step up for New York city to have a space like this.”

The progress has emboldened Cramer. She’s thinking of a future when water taxis can shuttle entrepreneurs from BioBAT to various locations up the East River, like the Alexandria Center or Weill Cornell’s new campus on Roosevelt Island. She’s now got conference space at the Downstate incubator to hold events and run a mentorship program (called “the next milestone”) to help startups progress and network. She wants to get contract research organizations to set up shop in BioBAT and interact with, and presumably help, local biotechs. A teacher at heart, she wants to build entrepreneurship into the fabric of the educational system, putting programs in place not just for graduate students but young children as well.

“I feel like my role is to build the ecosystem,” Cramer says.

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