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February 05, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Many biotech start-ups prefer renting at Co-working labs

Rather than spending time and money creating their labs, biotech founders can rent co-working spaces that provide the tools they need.

Co-working is a term frequently applied to shared office space, but it can also apply to shared lab space. As various organizations explore how to create more lab space for life science start-ups in Tennessee, there’s a Massachusetts-based entrepreneur with a good deal of experience providing what are called co-working laboratories.

Johannes Fruehauf recognized a need for the flexible rental lab spaces with shared equipment and consumables a few years before he sold his first biotechnology spin-out company, Cequent Pharmaceuticals, in 2010. At the time, Fruehauf had started providing wet-lab consulting services to venture capitalists, so they could see whether he could replicate results from start-up companies that they were considering investing in. Some of those small companies asked whether they could rent a corner of his lab.

“I realized that this was the better business, and we embraced this idea,” says Fruehauf in this article from Nature magazine. His first venture, BioLabs, was launched in 2009 in Cambridge, initially offering fully equipped single bench spaces. As chief executive, he has expanded the franchise to nearly a dozen locations across the U.S., as well as to Paris and Heidelberg, Germany. It is supported by sponsors, including Thermo Fisher Scientific in Waltham, MA.

In 2013, Fruehauf launched LabCentral, a grant-funded non-profit business that now runs three co-working labs in Cambridge, as well as several others there that it runs in collaboration with other institutions.

The co-working lab is becoming the preferred home for many biotech start-ups. Rather than spending time and money creating their own labs, which could cost millions of dollars and take up precious time during these companies’ early days, they can rent venues that offer anything from one bench in a shared lab to an entire floor of ready-to-go lab space — plus a supportive community of experienced innovators and mentors to cushion the journey to commercial development.

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