With state-of-the art laboratory equipment and space getting increasingly expensive, it’s harder than ever for a small biotech to successfully develop its idea. LabFellows is addressing this challenge with a concierge approach to providing lab space, equipment and even expert help. Times of San Diego spoke with CEO Julio de Unamuno and COO Tim Ryan about their plans for the two-year-old startup.
Why did you start LabFellows?
After observing the inefficiencies and stagnation of the biotech industry, we began asking ourselves “Why?” Despite an increased need for new drug development and testing, the biotech industry — especially in terms of startups — has become relatively stagnant. Drug development costs are increasing exponentially, the Food and Drug Administration‘s new drug application submissions have seen minimal growth in the past 50 years, and the majority of recent groundbreaking published discoveries fail reproducibility studies. And things aren’t improving. With high equipment and lab costs making research space unattainable for most and investor funding only going to top players, there is little room for biotech startups to thrive. We realized that in order to further biotech breakthroughs we needed to revitalize the industry and bring the focus back to the science and research. This is why LabFellows is focused on bringing science back to the lab bench.
You’re targeting individual scientists and even savvy amateurs. How easy is it for them to get access to equipment and lab space?
We are ideal for biotech startups of all sizes as well as experienced scientists in the discovery and development stage of their research. Our client base is quite varied from 1-2 person teams to companies with $100 million-plus in venture funding. Currently, access to the specific workflows — combinations of lab space and equipment — can be very difficult if not impossible for startups due to lack of funding and investor interest. However, with our system, clients have access to configurable lab spaces and a large growing network of partner facilities that can support almost any workflow. Researchers can have access to fully functioning labs, veteran scientists and digital research testing. They can now not only certify their work but also prove and replicate results with everything they need at their fingertips. We designed LabFellows to not only be a shared research space, but a biotech ecosystem.
What kinds of equipment and support services are available through LabFellows?
LabFellows provides a “high touch,” concierge approach for entrepreneurial scientists to build their teams and research in a configurable environment. Our goal is to always be able to fulfill a client’s request in a timely manner — whether that is costly equipment needs, digital testing or researcher assistance. Our goal is to ensure researchers and scientists have everything they need under one structured environment, including state-of-the-art, fully calibrated machines and customized solutions. We are creating an ecosystem where biotech startups now have the ability to emerge and refresh the biotech community. Whatever the problem, we can find a solution.
In what geographic areas are you currently operating?
Because of our digital research component and partnership network, we are able to work with researchers literally across the globe, from the U.S. and Canada, to Puerto Rico, Italy and Mexico. We have seen the strongest growth and have our largest partnership network in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. We are currently operating at a state where a researcher can send us a request from anywhere and we will work to find a solution.
What are the benefits for established laboratories to make their space and equipment available?
Not only is there a monetary incentive for established labs to make their space available, but also LabFellows can essentially act as the 24/7 management and support system between early stage biotechs and already established labs. Shared-space labs benefit from our marketing reach that can drive new customers to their space. We take care of the onboarding, review and payment collection so they don’t have to. This results in more valuable customers and bolsters the labs. We are currently developing ways for established labs and spaces to work more easily within our network with the tools, support and necessary equipment needed to do so.
Times of San Diego, a startup itself, regularly writes about startups in technology, biotech and other sectors of local business. If you are a startup in the San Diego area and want to tell your story, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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