Samuel Sia Starts Up First Biotech Incubator in NYC

Jun 11 2013 | By Holly Evarts

Samuel Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering and an entrepreneur who has founded several companies, has just launched Harlem Biospace (Hb), the first biotech incubator in New York City, in Harlem just a few blocks north of Columbia Engineering. He and co-founder Christine Kovich are working with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to create a communal space that offers an affordable shared wet lab outfitted with modern biotech equipment and all utilities, WiFi, and printing.

“There’s a real need for affordable space in New York City, where biotech inventors can share an environment, equipment, and ideas with one another,” Sia says. “Biotech research needs wet-lab space and expensive equipment, and it’s been almost impossible for biotech startups to find space in the City that’s reasonably priced. We think there is room for a new model to address these challenges and that’s what we’re hoping Harlem Biospace will be.”

A video interview with Prof. Samuel Sia on Harlem Biospace.

Sia’s vision is to take early-stage ideas from local research universities and innovators and help turn them into viable companies—all right in New York City, which, as he points out, has one of the nation’s largest investor communities. He notes that the City has nine major academic medical centers, with the second highest level of federal National Institutes of Health funding of all U.S. cities. “It’s clear we needed to do something in the City for the early-stage startups that can’t afford the larger, more expensive spaces available to companies a little further along in their funding.”

Harlem Biospace, which is accepting applications now, will open November 1, 2013. Located in Harlem’s old Factory District in the Sweets Building, a former lab for confectionary research at 423 West 127th Street, it offers 24 seats with turnkey access to cell-culture hoods, incubators, benchtop centrifuge, autoclave, chemical fume hood, microscopy, freezers, and refrigerator space. The rent is $995 per desk per month, with a six-month commitment.

The NYCEDC is supporting Hb with $625,000 to help equip the lab and provide business expertise. Participants will be offered personalized support, one-on-one mentorships with leading investors and practitioners, classes on the business of biotech and launching a small business, and other programs.

Sia, who was named one of the Top Innovators under 35 by MIT’s Technology Review, is focused on using microfluidics for tissue engineering applications and point-of-care diagnostics. His groundbreaking mChip technology was recognized by the 2011 Wall Street Journal Innovation Awards. He has already signed up for the first seat at Harlem Biospace and will work to commercialize his Columbia Engineering lab’s work on diagnostics and cell therapy.

“We’re building a model for turning biotech ideas into products that solve real health problems,” he says. “There is no industry sector more in need of innovation than health and biotech. So how can we make it easier to transform biotech ideas into actual products? And can we inspire the next generation of talented scientists to work on health technologies?”

For biotech entrepreneurs, Harlem Biospace looks like a good place to start.