Future lab building will give biosciences a boost

Upon completion, 30 beginning firms will be able to use the facility at one time.

by Jake Weyer

It has been more than 50 years since a University alumnus co-founded the medical technology company that has now become a world leader, and University officials hope a new project will help current students mirror his success.

University alumnus Earl Bakken and his brother-in-law co-founded what is now Medtronic in a northeast Minneapolis garage in 1949.

Bob Elde, College of Biological Sciences dean, said he hopes that in less than a year, a building where beginning biotechnology companies can rent laboratory space will be turning out the next generation of Earl Bakkens.

Elde, who said he has been interested in developing the laboratory building for years, began raising money for the project through the nonprofit University Enterprise Laboratories, founded about one year ago.

The lab space will occupy a now-vacant office building at 1000 Westgate Drive in St. Paul. When the building is fully operational, 30 beginning firms will be able to use the facility at one time, Elde said.

The building and property cost $6.75 million, Elde said. Another $10 million will be needed to create the laboratory space and renovate the property.

Private funds will pay most of the cost, but the city of St. Paul also contributed to the project, Elde said. Companies including 3M, Medtronic and Xcel Energy have contributed to the approximately $7 million already raised for the project.

The laboratory building will also provide jobs that are strongly dependent on University expertise. The jobs will in turn help improve the state’s position as a leader in biotechnology and health care, Elde said.

“It provides opportunities for faculty and students to experience what it takes to start up a business in biotechnology,” he said.

The laboratory building is the initial step in creating the University research park, a 714-acre area of mostly vacant industrial buildings located east of the Minneapolis campus near the University’s transitway.

The research park is one section of a “bioscience zone.” Another section is planned for Minneapolis, along with sections in St. Paul and Rochester, Minn., to create new and attract existing biotechnology and health-care firms to the areas.