Bayer, Keeping Tabs on the ‘Hood, to Open Labs For Mission Bay Startups

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Bayer has been working hard the past couple years to get its finger on the pulse of innovation in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, and today it’s making another move in that direction by offering up some of its lab space to startups.

The Germany-based pharmaceutical company, which already has about 65 people in its U.S. Innovation Center at 455 Mission Bay Boulevard South, is setting aside 6,000 square feet of space in its facility for what it calls its “CoLaborator” incubator for three or four biotech startups. The space will be available at competitive market rates, but Bayer says it plans to be more than just a typical landlord, because it wants scientists to be able to easily collaborate with the startups that settle into its building, says Chris Haskell, the head of Bayer’s U.S. Science Hub. Bayer plans to provide support to the startups with equipment and expertise, and in return, wants to have an inside track to form partnerships with promising startups.

Bayer moved its own R&D facility to Mission Bay in 2010, and further strengthened its ties in the neighborhood a year ago by striking a 10-year master agreement to collaborate with the scientists nearby at UCSF. There is already significant startup space at QB3 and the Fibrogen building nearby, but Haskell says it’s become clear there isn’t enough room to house all the aspiring startups in the neighborhood. UCSF executive vice chancellor Jeff Bluestone noted in a Bayer statement that there are 38 startups on or around the UCSF campus now.

“This is an innovation hotspot,” Haskell says. “Part of the intention of moving here was to have Bayer increase our interaction with the innovation community, especially at an early stage. The CoLaborator is an extension of this mission.”

Bayer is open to various structures in how it relates to the startups, although it isn’t really focused on taking equity stakes in the companies, like a venture capital firm, Haskell says. Bayer’s scientists in the building upstairs are primarily focused on oncology, women’s health, cardiovascular disease, and hemophilia, so Bayer is likely to put more priority on startups with ideas in those fields. But the company wants to remain open to leasing its space out to startups with other kinds of concepts to test. “We’ll also be opportunistic in trying to do good creative science,” Haskell says.

Jeff Bluestone, the executive vice chancellor of UCSF, said in a Bayer statement that “Demand for new startup facilities continues to exceed our space. Bayer’s new incubator will augment that ecosystem, offering lab space and access to commercial knowledge to help more scientists translate their work into products that improve patients’ lives.”

The space is expected to be available in late summer 2012, Haskell says.