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These two Baltimore biotech hubs are partnering to help scientist-entrepreneurs

The partnership is designed to open up more access to resources from university-affiliated Harbor Launch at IMET and community science space BUGSS.

Live science at BUGGS. (Photo by Chelsea Prevosto)

A pair of bio-oriented spaces in Baltimore are looking to provide extra help to scientists building companies out of discoveries.
The Inner Harbor–based Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) and Baltimore Under Ground Science Space (BUGSS) have a new partnership, according to leaders from both spots.
It’s a way to connect members of BUGSS and IMET’s Harbor Launch incubator, as well as open up more access to lab and entrepreneurship resources at the two spots. With an MOU, it also formalizes collaboration and idea sharing that’s been ongoing, said Harbor Launch Manager Lindsay D’Ambrosio.
The idea is to spur more cross to the community-centered education offerings at BUGSS’ Highlandtown community lab space and which is located within the Columbus Center university research center and houses more than a dozen startups.
Among the offerings will be a discount on memberships at both spaces. That covers Harbor Launch’s affiliate program includes coworking space and entrepreneurship resources like office hours and connections to mentors, as well as BUGSS’ membership offering access to lab space and equipment as well as community-oriented programming.
The idea, said D’Ambrosio, is to offer “the best of both worlds.” It can also help connect the community of scientists. IMET startups are often linked with university research taking place at the UMCES-affiliated center, while BUGGS Founder Tom Burkett said many of BUGGS’ members aren’t university-affiliated and are often just starting out and testing ideas. For an entrepreneurial community, it’s important to have both.


“The more ideas you can explore, the more likely you are going to hit on something that works,” Burkett said.
For Novel Microdevices, the connection between the two spaces – and a potential path for entrepreneurs – is illustrated by its story so far.
The startup is developing a diagnostic DNA testing device that can be performed quickly and without the need for a lab, said CEO and founder Andrea Pais. Initially, the company is developing tests for infectious diseases, with a focus on sexually-transmitted infections.
It’s an example of a company that has benefitted from both spaces.
“The primary roadblock to starting a biotech company is the huge capital cost associated with setting up a laboratory,” she said. “Resources such as BUGSS that offer shared lab space and equipment for a nominal fee keep costs low and enable startup companies and citizen scientists to easily test and validate their new ideas prior to seeking funding. When the company is ready to stand on its own and expand operations, Harbor Launch is a great resource and next step.”
Novel Microdevices first joined as a member of BUGSS, which offered access to lab space and testing equipment. There, it was able to demonstrate proof-of-concept and do initial testing.
“Submitting research grant proposals require the inclusion of some preliminary data to demonstrate the efficacy/proof of principle of your idea,” Pais said. “Without the BUGSS resource, it would have been challenging and expensive for us to test our device and benchmark it with standard laboratory test methodologies.”
Using the data gathered there, the company received a $50,000 grant from the Johns Hopkins Center for Point of Care tests to develop the technology to detect Chlamydia.
As the company’s testing requirements grew, Pais said the company needed lab space with specific requirements to work with infectious disease pathogens. In September 2016, the company joined Harbor Launch. Pais said she’s since found value in the networking and access to mentors that can help grow the business, as well as the proximity to other startups.
Through the partnership, leaders are hoping to bring some of those entrepreneurship resources to BUGSS members, as programming is being planned at BUGSS’ community science space for this summer.

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