To Dr. D. Douglas Miller, the secret is out on BioInc@NYMC. Now, he said, New York Medical College’s biotech incubator has to find ways to build on its early growth.
Miller is the chief scientific officer of the incubator, a public-private partnership on New York Medical College’s Grasslands campus in Valhalla, where he is also dean of the School of Medicine.
Launched in 2014 and financed with a mix of county, state and federal funds, the incubator has grown to 10 companies that utilize its administrative and lab space and employ a total of 34 workers. That number includes 13 researchers from the Dutch tech giant Royal Philips, which announced in December it would lease space in the incubator for its genomic research.
The incubator’s 6,500 square feet of developed space is now largely occupied, although the school hasn’t yet gone out of its way to advertise the space, Miller said.
“We’ve built out business and our brand by networking,” Miller said. “Now we are going to extend our business and our brand by marketing.”
His goal is to continue to expand the incubator’s offerings within its existing space while also exploring options to further develop additional lab and work space.
For $100 per square foot, BioInc@NYMC can offer biotech startups access to expensive lab equipment, administrative space and professional services. The incubator is designated the Mid-Hudson Valley’s Innovation Hot Spot, a program run by the state’s Empire State Development Corp. that provides yearly funding of up to $250,000 to incubators.
So far, Miller and BioInc@NYMC Director Randi D. Schwartz credit growth in clients to word of mouth and initiatives through the Westchester County Association and Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp.
The initial business plan the medical college developed for its incubator was created with Harvard Business School and aimed at bringing clients from both biotech and other tech development sectors. Early draws to the incubator were its affiliation with a medical university, proximity to a strong local biotech sector and a location in Westchester that offers “all the benefits of the (New York metropolitan) region with a lower cost,” as Miller described it.
“We want to take that strong platform that we have developed, to create a new incubator in a busy ecosystem,” Miller said, “and say, OK, these are a range of very different clients, but what are their common needs?”
From his office in Sunshine Cottage on the New York Medical College’s 54-acre campus, which adjoins Westchester Medical Center’s three-hospital campus, Miller laid out a three-pronged vision for the incubator’s future.
Number one, he said, would be to bring in experts from around the country to lecture in front of incubator clients. The first of those events took place Feb. 17 and included a panel discussion on intellectual property and a guest lecture from the executive director of NewYorkBio, a biotech policy group.
“That’s an example of what our clients and we think the ecosystem wants,” Miller said.
The second goal would be to help clients track down funding. Part of that is through the partnership with New York Medical College, which Miller said opens up funding opportunities through federal agencies. The school also has ties to Westchester business communities, which Miller said opens up more opportunities for clients to attract angel investment.
BioInc has also launched a clinical trials unit in its 10,000-square-foot incubator space. Miller said that can be crucial for companies in the process of creating a product for the market.
“This responds to what we see as a need of the companies, to begin to test some new nutraceutical drug or device in humans,” he said. The clinical facilities would be open to both faculty members and incubator clients as well as outside clients.
The third initiative for the incubator is to develop a more global strategy. The incubator is specifically targeting potential clients in Toronto and Israel, places where there is already an established biotech scene.
“One thing you can’t do in Israel, for those companies, is enter the U.S. without a place to land, so we create a landing spot for them,” Miller said.
That would include so-called touchdown space, essentially a small office space that allows international companies to work in the area when necessary.
“It’s a future strategy that is still evolving,” Miller said. “Because obviously when you are dealing with international companies and markets and legalities, you have to evolve in a very careful way. But we are looking at that as a way of bringing outside companies into the New York area and helping them to start out in what we think is a very good environment.”
The incubator will also look to capitalize on partnerships with major companies such as Philips. Miller estimated the incubator already has about $1 million of activity with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. between grants, contracts and projects.
BioInc also is working with Manhattan-based Blue Fountain Media on a new website, expected to be completed in three months. With its launch, “We’ll become much more visible to the rest of the world and that will create a lot of interest and demand for what we do,” Miller said.
While many of the efforts Miller described will adapt space already developed at the incubator, New York Medical College officials also are eyeing its physical expansion.
BioInc@NYMC is housed in a 120,000-square-foot building at 7 Dana Road, once home to the American Health Foundation, where some of the earliest research was done linking tobacco use and lung cancer. The building also is home to the college’s Clinical Skills and Disaster Medicine Training Center, a 21,000-square-foot facility that opened the same year as the incubator.
Over the next two years, Miller said, the goal is to build out the rest of the designated incubator space. But officials first need to gauge what the market demands.
“Hypothetically, it is possible that we have great interest from the website, great support from the state and 10 companies approach us and say they all need dry space, offices,” Miller said. “And we would say, ‘Well, that’s helpful because we were just getting ready to plan an expansion and we might have gone 50-50 wet (labs) and dry (labs).”
All of the efforts are focused on positioning the incubator for what clients want down the road, with a view to where the biotech market will likely be in 2020, Miller said.
“We believe that our competitiveness will continue to grow as we enter into this marketing phase,” he said. “The secret’s out and we will have to compete, which we’ve done, but now we’ll have to do it as a known entity.”