While there’s no shortage of talent in Singapore’s biotech industry, there is a need to help commercialise technologies that often get stuck within institutions. For this, we need more biotech companies to have successful exits to market, instead of just relying on academic funding, which will inspire scientists to look towards commercialising their IP.
Fundamentally, two things are needed: money and time. And NSG Biolabs – the first private co-working laboratory space in Singapore – was started to fulfil these two areas. In Boston, there are a number of such spaces with all the necessary facilities and infrastructure. Together with schools like Harvard and MIT, Boston is arguably the epicentre for biotech, something Singapore can work towards as well.
US$727.1bn: The expected global biotechnology market size by 2025, according to Grand View.
We want to use the 1,400m2 space as part of an ecosystem to help biotech companies successfully spin out their technologies for profitability. As a start, we’re shortening the set-up time by providing facilities such as a shared DNA and bacteria room, expensive equipment like microscopes and a pre-approved base chemical list which can take between six to eight months to be approved by the Singapore government.
All this allows a biotech company to hit the ground running from day one and – unlike a typical co-working space where just a laptop, desk and WiFi are needed – the savings in capital expenditure means there’s more funds to run research and experiments.
A biotech co-working concept is also different from, say, a WeWork co-working space model, as clients tend to be a lot stickier. When a company wants to move in, they will take at least six months to stop experiments in their previous space, moving equipment over gradually before starting experiments in a new place which has been optimised for their workflow. Correspondingly, they also stay longer, taking between a one- to three- year lease.
Collaboration and community are also a big part of any co-working space. While the social aspect of weekly gatherings, for example, is nice, they should be productive and conducive to talking openly about projects and sharing equipment. As we don’t allow competitors in the same space, what company A is doing can be shared freely with company B. The niche nature also serves to attract service providers who want to be in the same space as their existing or potential clients.
“There is a need to help commercialise technologies”
When you raise millions of dollars, you need to start your experiments quickly and focus on hiring good scientists, instead of spending time and money building a lab space. I think all businesses, especially start-ups, need to know where their value creation lies and focusing spending and effort on that. Hopefully this is something we can help the industry with.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
This article was originally published in the February 2020 issue of SilverKris magazine