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Biotech Tour: Inside University City's BioLabs@CIC

July 3, 2019  |  Philadelphia Magazine 

BioLabs@CIC Philadelphia officially opened its doors to the Philadelphia community last fall. The member-based co-working chain joined uCity Square’s growing innovation corridor at 3675 Market Street, the building that’s home to the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). The Philadelphia BioLabs is the latest addition to the company’s growing national footprint of spaces that offer local startups the wet lab infrastructure and equipment they need to grow their businesses. The local hub boasts more than 127,000 square feet of shared office and lab space, 15,000 square feet of event space and the capacity to house up to 75 early-stage life science startups or as many as 150 scientists.

 

Local entrepreneurs are choosing the space for its 30-day renewable terms. The companies also get access to spaces that are available now — they won’t have to undergo various funding rounds to begin working on their groundbreaking inventions. NextHealth PHL recently toured the space with site director Melina Blees for a peek at what it’s like to be work out of the state-of-the-art space. Here’s what we saw.

 

From the moment you enter 3675, you’re met with an industrious energy. Everything from the high ceilings and modern furniture to the natural light beaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows will motivate you. The smell of coffee and pastries drifts through the lobby from Elixr Coffee Roasters which sits near the entrance. There’s also free wifi and seating in the Science Center’s Quorum Drop-in Lounge, a free, informal workspace that is open to the public Monday through Friday. It’s all a part of the wraparound amenities BioLabs@CIC residents get with a $250 monthly, per-person membership.

 

To get upstairs, take the elevators or take a stroll a few flights up this modern staircase to the BioLabs lab spaces on the fifth and sixth floors. BioLabs members also gain access to CIC’s spaces and amenities throughout the second, third, seventh and eighth floors, as well as programming and support from the Science Center.

 

When you exit the elevators at the lab floors, you’re greeted by brightly colored walls and unique paintings. According to Blees, all of the artwork comes from local artists and is for sale as part of a running art show courtesy of CIC.

 

Once you enter the space, you’ll see it’s pretty much a bio-startup’s dream toolkit. Residents have access to CIC’s large conference room spaces and small offices, cool communal kitchen spaces run by CIC with great views, and community wet labs run by BioLab’s science staff.

 

Scientists can set up a small bench for $2,500 per month or occupy a larger lab space as their team grows. The lab facilities are turnkey quality and include most equipment scientists need for daily-use including tissue culture and microbiology suites, flow cytometry, cold storage, autoclaves, and more.

 

There’s also larger equipment that scientists may not use on a daily basis but want to have access to when needed like fume hoods and qPCR machines. BioLabs also provides residents with Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) support, as well as chemical and biological waste disposal.

 

Larger co-working labs enable scientists to work alongside other experts in a communal space. Though Blees said they’re mindful about ensuring companies can still protect their intellectual property. While personal lab spaces have coded access, these larger shared spaces facilitate networking and collaboration when desired.

 

Ever seen a science supply vending machine? They’ve got those too. These RFID Supply Centers from ThermoFisher Scientific allow residents to purchase lab supplies without ever leaving the building.

 

CIC runs both large and small conference rooms for team meetings, embedded on the same floors as the labs. Instead of the old analog conference room signs that need constant updating, each conference room features a digital monitor that displays the details of ongoing meetings and upcoming availability.

 

Oh, and if you need to make a private call, there are these sound-proof, air-conditioned phone booths.

For all of this space’s in-demand resources amid Philly’s lab deficit, it’s worth noting that not just anyone can move in at BioLabs, however. They have turned some applicants away because, as Blees explained, they’re not for everybody.

 

“We are not the best place for the student who has an early-stage idea without sound data,” she said. “We are an in-between space for fast-growing companies with strong science behind them.”

 

To become a BioLabs member, companies go through a four-step application process during which they pitch to the BioLabs leadership team just like they would a venture capitalist firm. BioLabs@CIC is currently fully occupied with a waitlist, but Blees said the flexibility of the 30-day membership terms means spaces could become available at any time.