Forward BIOLABS to host early stage life sciences startups

The recently announced Forward BIOLABS will serve as a landing place for startups, many of which will come out of UW-Madison research.

That’s according to co-founder Jessica Martin Eckerly. She says the nonprofit’s goal is to establish a fully equipped life sciences laboratory for early-stage companies, making it easier for them to bring their ideas to life.

“There’s a ton of interest, a ton of positivity… It’s exciting,” she said.

The creation of Forward BIOLABS was announced in early September, as part of the greater Forward BIO Initiative which includes the Forward BIO Institute at UW-Madison. The Forward BIO Initiative is supported by a $750,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Startups working out of the laboratory will pay a membership fee, and Eckerly is continuing ongoing fundraising efforts to cover early operating costs.

“We can’t build half a lab,” Eckerly said. “We have to have it all there, so members have what they need to get going.”

For now, a handful of startups are working out of a small pilot lab at URP, which is “fully equipped, maintained and supported,” Eckerly says. Gregor Diagnostics moved into the space in early September, and she says two or three more will be moving in over the next few months.

She says the pilot lab is “spoken for completely,” and others will have to wait until the larger lab can be opened at University Research Park in Madison. Eckerly says she’s hoping to complete fundraising soon, and is aiming to open the larger lab next summer.

“That will allow me to move forward with everything needed for a larger lab,” she said. “It’s going really well; we’ve come a long way in a short time.”

That expanded location will have 8,700 square feet of space, including 25 laboratory benches.

“Everybody else is waiting in the wings for the larger lab to open,” she said. “They’ll come in, I’ll show them the pilot lab… Sometimes, we go up to see the larger space. It’s the best part of my day.”

Startups will pay a membership fee to rent a bench and also get turnkey access for the lab. Infrastructure will be provided for these companies, so they don’t have to go through the process of finding a location, buying equipment and arranging “background services” like cleaning and hazardous waste disposal.

“Even basic things like safety features, evacuation procedures… maintaining the equipment,” Eckerly said. “If it’s broken, they don’t have to waste time fixing it. All those little things, they add up.”


Eckerly will speak on a panel at the Wisconsin Biohealth Summit in Madison today, joining other leaders of the Forward BIO Initiative. Panelists will provide details on how companies can get involved.

This morning’s keynote speaker is Chris Mason, a UW-Madison grad and associate professor of physiology, biophysics and computational genomics at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. He’s working with NASA on projects related to life in space and has contributed to a long-term survival plan for Earth’s inhabitants called the 500 Year Plan.

At today’s event, he will be collecting data as well as addressing attendees. Some will have their smartphones swabbed and analyzed, contributing to a larger population study on antimicrobial resistance.

Get event info here:

Listen to a podcast with Professor Bill Murphy, head of the university’s Forward BIO Institute:

–By Alex Moe