U lab buys more space

A nonprofit group completed a campaign to purchase lab space from St. Paul.

Hayley Odom

University students and faculty interested in biosciences most often relocate to California and Massachusetts to pursue their career goals, said University College of Biological Sciences Dean Robert Elde said.

But an initiative by University Enterprise Laboratories – a nonprofit unit separate from the University – will give them incentive to stay in Minnesota.

The organization announced Monday the completion of a $9 million fund-raising campaign to buy its current building from the city of St. Paul.

The next step will help the organization build a biosciences laboratory for a projected cost of $20 million.

The building will provide 22 small labs for University projects and other biosciences start-up companies. Renovations for the building should be complete by July.

Elde said many University research projects are not ready for commercialization and need to go through more development. Start-up companies, such as those that will be housed in the building, provide researchers with that option, he said.

The University is one of the last research institutions to build a bioscience incubator near campus, he said.

Besides providing start-up company options for faculty and students, it also allows students internship opportunities, he said.

“I think it’s going to be a great long-term addition to the University’s commitment to the neighborhood and the state,” he said.

Approximately 100 start-up companies began as a result of University research since the 1980s, University Patents and Technology Marketing communications coordinator Bruce Erickson said.

A significant portion of those companies are biotechnology- or bioscience-related, he said.

“Once companies get started, they need workers,” biochemistry professor John Anderson said. “Hopefully, they’ll hire people trained at the University, which will create a job market and hopefully adds to the state’s economy,” he said.

The laboratories’ proximity to the St. Paul campus will give occupants access to specialized technology and methods already established at the University, he said.

Elde said the laboratories created 10 to 15 jobs that otherwise would not exist in Minnesota. Once the building is done and occupied, it will create several hundred jobs, he said.

Carl Kuhl, a spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, said the city of St. Paul has guaranteed the project $6 million in funds during the next seven years.

“It’s important not only for St. Paul, but for the region and the state to get up and moving in the biosciences area,” he said.

Kuhl said University faculty and students brainstormed great ideas in bioscience but took their ideas and work to other parts of the nation where biotechnology is a priority.

The laboratory will help the University retain students and faculty, and will allow growth in the biosciences, he said.