Biotech in NYC? Yes, it exists.

I was in Manhattan yesterday at NYU-Poly’s incubator space on Varick Street attending a meetup organized by NYC Bio. They have the modest goal of trying to evolve a biotech ecosystem in the NYC area to rival a few other well-known life-science hubs. One reason I came was to see how many people–students, post-docs, investors, and bio-med startup founders–would show up. And they did come.

This was not a typical event for TvB, but curiosity got the better. First I learned that the Varick Street space was established about two years ago as a Bloomberg initiative to bring public and private sectors together for promoting economic development–meaning lets help launch startups.

And there is an active program in place at Varick. They’ve raised $50 million, and had 60 companies incubate and take flight. Their current freshman class covers digital media, legal tech, decision software, as well as some bio-medical. By the way, NYU-Poly has true incubator cred: there’s a ping-pong table, and a spirited game was underway when I arrived.

The point of this meetup was to do for bio what all the other NYC-area gatherings have done for software–basically to have a platform for meetings, mentorship, and money.

On that latter point, I learned from the panel discussion led by Andrew Koopman, NYU’s manager of New Venture Development, that access to capital was a big advantage for boosting early-stage biotech in the city.

And closeness to NJ, which others, ahem, might find to be a disadvantage, is a good thing for biotech: startups can tap into nearby pharma companies’ expertise in drug development and diagnostic tools.

Other factors favoring NYC? It has all the right biotech startup nutrients in terms of educational institutions and a deep talent pool.

On the negative side, money is an issue, as in it’s expensive to set up a sophisticated lab space, more so than at other hubs (Boston, San Francisco). The difference is so much so that according to Michael Lamprecht, panelist and co-founder of Cellanyx Diagnostics, the economics force you to set up your lab benches outside the city.

Though Lamprecht said it is getting better.

One anecdote that kept coming up is that in Silicon Valley, where the concentration of bio-tech is very high, you can ride your bike between all the startups and established firms, and you can do the same trick in Boston.

New York City might not ever get to that point, but perhaps one day … you’ll be able to hop on and off the IND subway line to visit clusters of biotech firms.

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