WARF chief venture officer calling for more state dollars for shared labs

Mike Partsch, chief venture officer for WARF, is calling for greater state investment in shared lab spaces to help emerging biotech startups.

As a former founder and CEO of a startup in this space, called Cervel Neurotech, Partsch says competition has only grown more fierce in the decade since he guided the company through two rounds of venture capital financing.

“We had to raise millions of dollars of venture capital, and then it took about a year to outfit a building. We had to start engaging suppliers and vendors… It took so long before we could actually get functional,” he said.

If a biotech startup were to start from scratch like that today, Partsch estimates it would face a two-year handicap and would be down about $5 million.

“The world is so competitive, you don’t want to be at such a disadvantage,” he said.

In a recent interview, Partsch noted Massachusetts has invested $5 million into a shared lab space that’s now known as LabCentral. It’s a shared-use facility with laboratories, cold rooms, valuable equipment and established vendor relationships.

He says entrepreneurs can show up to visit the facility, sign a lease and start running experiments on the same day.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation recently made an investment into Forward Biolabs, a lab space with resources for life science startups in University Research Park in Madison. Forward Biolabs was announced in September as part of the Forward Bio Initiative, which is also supported by a $750,000 state grant through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

“I don’t know if the state of Wisconsin has the ability to put $5 million into a site like Forward Biolabs, but if it could put in $1 million or other resources to help develop the startup environment, it would go a long way,” Partsch said.

He said WARF Ventures — the newly reorganized investing arm of WARF — will also establish a presence at StartingBlock Madison, a coworking space for startups located near the Capitol square.

Partsch says the WARF Ventures team will be connecting to the StartingBlock community with a goal of identifying new technologies in which the fund could invest. He’s also hopeful about finding partners for WARF’s portfolio companies, to help them further develop their own technologies.

Listen to a recent podcast with Partsch: http://wisbusiness.com/index.iml?Article=393881 

–By Alex Moe