WED AM News: Forward BIOLABS leverages coworking to support biotech startups; UW experts: scientists must be transparent to build public trust

— As coworking becomes more popular among freelancers and small business professionals, the biotechnology industry is also seeing new opportunities to leverage the model. 

Madison-based Forward BIOLABS is a biotech coworking space that allows biotech startups to get off the ground without the overhead and supply cost. On average, Forward BIOLABS helps reduce the time to startup by six to nine months without the hefty overhead price tag of getting a lab up and running.

The coworking space includes offices and a fully equipped life sciences lab. Most of the equipment in the lab is used sporadically, explained founder Jessica Martin Eckerly. By sharing that space with other startups, Forward BIOLABS makes more efficient use of the expensive equipment.  

The “membership” is month-to-month. It costs startups $1,750 for the first bench per month and $1,000 for every additional bench. Since Forward BIOLABS launched its pilot in 2018 and has since gone to a larger footprint, five startups — and one more this month — have graduated into their own space, she said.

Each company that enters is at a different stage in their work, for example, getting funding, filing a patent, working on a technical issue, trying to resolve a scientific hurdle in product development, building a customer base or making connections. 

“There’s nothing like this, there is nothing like Forward BIOLABS in the Midwest,” Eckerly said, adding that while coworking lab facilities are new in the grand scheme of things, more exist on the coasts. 

Read the full story at 

— Bancorp of Wisconsin, Inc., holding company for PyraMax Bank, has named David Ball the president and COO of both the company and the bank. 

Ball brings 30 years of banking experience to the entities, most recently as the managing director of correspondent banking at BMO Harris. He starts his position on Feb. 22. 

Richard Hurd will continue as the CEO of Bancorp and PyraMax Bank. 

“I have known and worked with David from our time at Bank One Milwaukee and most recently in his role as our Correspondent Banker, where he managed our relationship with BMO Harris over the past five years,” Hurd said. “His depth of experience in finance, commercial lending and management, positions David for successfully growing 1895 Bancorp of Wisconsin, Inc. and PyraMax Bank. He will add considerable depth to our management team as we move ahead.”

— Science is an ever-changing discipline. What’s thought right one day could be proven wrong the next. 

So scientists must be transparent about their work to increase the public’s understanding and trust in science, according to a panel of UW-Madison experts.

The group made up a Monday evening lecture panel sponsored by the university, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Morgridge Institute of Research. 

“Trust is one of the shortcuts we use to make sense of scientific information,” said Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of the Department of Life Sciences Communication.

She said the values people develop from their backgrounds and belief systems shape their perceptions of people and whether or not to trust them. When people feel heard, they build trust, she said, adding that scientists must engage and listen to people who are hesitant to trust them.

Ajay Sethi, a population health sciences professor, highlighted a study done about a year ago by the Pew Research Center that 84 percent of Americans trusted scientists to act in the public’s interest. 

“That same poll said that the public was divided as to the role scientists should play in the policy-making process,” Sethi said. “Some of that is correlated with political views and when the pandemic hit it became more pronounced as politically motivated individuals began to interfere with the functions of agencies, like the CDC.”

He says public trust in those agencies likely is lower. Sethi added that the new Biden administration has a top priority to restore trust. 

“People trust you more if you are honest about what you know and you don’t know,” Morgridge CEO Brad Schwartz said. “We shouldn’t feel the pressure to have the answers; we should be honest with people.”

— The UW-Whitewater online degree programs stand among the best in the state and nation, according to a 2021 ranking from the U.S. News & World Report. 

The university’s online MBA program was ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin among single-institution programs, No. 17 among best online programs for veterans and No. 26 nationally. The national ranking takes into consideration student engagement and success, faculty credentials, university services and admissions criteria, among others. 

“We are pleased to be once again named among the best online programs in the U.S.,” said John Chenoweth, dean of the College of Business and Economics. “It reflects our efforts to deliver a world-class education to distance learners while remaining one of the best values in the region.”

UW-Whitewater’s online Master’s programs aim to give working adults the flexibility and convenience to fit graduate education into their schedule. The online MBA is a 36-credit program with more than 12 emphases and 50 electives to choose from.

— The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has approved an $8 million incentive package with tech manufacturer Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company in Chippewa Falls.

Under the plan submitted to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance for review, the Chippewa Falls location would be designated as an Enterprise Zone eligible for up to $8 million in performance-based tax credits over the next five years as the company retains its current workforce of almost 500 jobs paying over $30,000 more per year than the area’s median income.

The company plans to establish the Chippewa Falls site as its Global Center of Excellence for High Performance Compute Manufacturing and invest roughly $22 million in improvements, moves that would create 30 new jobs. Currently, four large computer systems for the U.S. government are being manufactured at the site, including the world’s fastest exascale-class supercomputer El Capitan for the U.S. Department of Energy.

“I want to thank Governor Evers and the WEDC for helping us strengthen our presence in Wisconsin,” said Pete Ungaro, general manager of High Performance Computing and Mission Critical Solutions at HPE. “We’re excited to grow this rapidly expanding part of HPE’s business in the region through our HPC Manufacturing Center of Excellence. The Enterprise Zone designation is an important first step in this initiative.”

— The Department of Health Services has signed off on allowing teachers, non-frontline health care personnel and prisoners to receive the COVID-19 vaccine around March 1.

The agency also signed off on adding those in congregate living facilities, public transit, grocery store workers and others to the next wave of those eligible for the vaccine.

The group totals around 600,000 Wisconsinites, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk told reporters yesterday in a health briefing.

The State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee made the recommendations after reviewing the science and considering nearly 5,000 public comments to provide guidance that equitably distributes the vaccine across the state. But the start date to vaccinate these groups is dependent on the vaccine supply from the federal government.

See the eligible populations in priority order:

— The amount of vaccine allocated to Wisconsin does not meet the number of doses requested by vaccine providers, according to DHS.

The start date for vaccinations was determined given the current trend of Wisconsin’s weekly vaccine allocations, which is about 70,000 doses. If the federal government increases the state’s weekly vaccine allocation, vaccinations for the new groups may begin before March 1, Willems Van Dijk explained. If Wisconsin receives less vaccine than expected in the coming weeks, this date could be pushed back.

“We’re going to keep getting shots in arms as quickly as possible and as soon we have vaccines available,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “In the meantime, we have to continue working together to prevent the spread of this virus by wearing face coverings and limiting gatherings with others while we vaccinate folks across our state.”

In order to verify that people work in eligible occupations, Willems Van Dijk said employers may opt to vaccinate at the workplace. The agency is also encouraging vaccinators to ask for verification in the form of an employee work badge, pay stub or a signed statement.

DHS numbers show Wisconsin has administered 362,505 COVID-19 shots. Over 69,000 people have completed the two-dose series.

Willems Van Dijk said in order to reach herd immunity or 80 percent coverage by the end of June, Wisconsin needs three times the amount of doses it is getting right now per week. Last week, the state’s vaccinators requested more than double what was given to them.

The federal government has allocated over 846,000 doses to the state.

— After the announcement, lawmakers and business groups complained about groups left out of the second phase.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce President and CEO Kurt Bauer said it was disheartening that prisoners were put ahead of manufacturing workers in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

“Manufacturers have been essential to Wisconsin’s response to this virus for nearly a year — including modifications to produce critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment,” Bauer said. “We are disappointed that Gov. Evers and his Administration have ignored the medical experts at the CDC by excluding manufacturing workers from the next phase of the vaccine rollout.”

A federal advisory committee recommended including manufacturing employees in the second phase, but the state committee only included 84,800 food processors, WMC noted recently.

— The Assembly Health Committee has passed along partisan lines a bill that requires DHS to include people age 60 and older in the next phase of vaccine rollouts.

DHS is currently vaccinating people ages 65 and older. Unless vaccine supply from the feds ramps up, the agency expects to get halfway through that population by March 1; then it will open up to other populations.

When asked how the agency justifies putting prisoners over someone aged 60 and high risk or someone who works in the manufacturing sector, Willems Van Dijk said the state considered people in congregate living to be at great risk of contracting the disease.

“When the committee looked at congregate settings, they certainly had robust conversations about whether to include people who were incarcerated or not in the population,” she said. After examining the risk of disease spread of those individuals who by consequence live in congregate living settings, “it did not seem reasonable to exclude prisoners.”

She added that outbreaks in the prison have an effect on the community. When inmates become ill, it spreads to corrections workers and then to others in the community.

As far as those with preexisting conditions, Willems Van Dijk argued that many people with chronic conditions are 65 and older and eligible now for vaccinations. She added younger people with preexisting conditions will be given full consideration in subsequent phases.

“People who have some of the conditions that put them most at risk need to stay home anyway,” she said.

See more on the Health Committee vote: 


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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– Gov. Evers: Announces WEDC Incentive Package for Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company in Chippewa Falls

– St. Norbert College: Office of Communications Wins Case V Award

– Dept. of Health Services: Announces Groups Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccine Tentatively Beginning March 1

– Waukesha County Community Dental Clinic: Announces New Name and Brand