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First 11 Biotech Startups Admitted to Harvard’s Life Lab

Artist rendering of the future Harvard Innovation Wet Lab Building, a new co-working lab environment, set to open in August 2016 after approval for construction by the City of Boston.
Artist rendering of the future Harvard Innovation Wet Lab Building, a new co-working lab environment, set to open in August 2016 after approval for construction by the City of Boston.
By Jonah S. Lefkoe, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Life Lab, a new biotech research and enterprise facility in Allston, has selected 11 young companies to take up residence in advance of its November opening.

The application to work in the space remains open, and the selection committee—composed of Harvard faculty and administrators and biotech entrepreneurs—plans to announce an additional five to eight ventures by mid-October, according to Harvard Innovation Lab Director Jodi Goldstein.

The Life Lab, a 15,000 square-foot biotech facility located next to the i-Lab on Western Avenue, is equipped to support Harvard student, faculty, and alumni ventures across the spectrum of biotechnology and life sciences. Contractors are now working to finish the building’s interior before the teams take up residence later this fall, Goldstein said.

A rendering of the Life Lab.
A rendering of the Life Lab. By Courtesy of the Harvard Innovation Lab

The Life Lab’s grand opening will take place on Nov. 3, where the space’s major donors will also be announced. Though Goldstein declined to name the donors, she characterized them as “well-known leaders of the Boston business community with deep ties to Harvard.”

The admitted companies focus on a variety of fields and technologies, from blood tests with global health applications to sanitation solutions for the third world to immunotherapies. Goldstein said women founded 45 percent of the ventures. The selection committee evaluates ventures based on “the quality of their application and science, stage of development, potential for impact, and ability to be a strong community member,” according to an emailed statement from Goldstein introducing the admitted teams.

Nix, a company admitted to the Life Lab, develops biometric sensors, primarily for athletes. Meridith L. Unger, Nix’s founder and CEO and a Harvard Business School alumna, said she looks forward to sharing experiences between ventures.

“I hope I can bring a perspective to first-time entrepreneurs that’s helpful as they navigate some of those issues,” Unger said, reflecting on her experience founding several biotech companies. “And I think we can benefit from that too, whether it’s within the Harvard community or open to the larger Allston-Boston community.”

In February, Goldstein said Harvard’s lack of wet lab facilities for student and alumni ventures inhibited life science ventures at the student-oriented i-Lab and the alumni-oriented Launch Lab. The three entrepreneurial centers, founded in the last five years, have been buoyed by Harvard administrators interested in promoting Allston as a center for tech and entrepreneurship.

LabCentral, a large biotech incubator in Kendall Square, will manage the Life Lab’s day-to-day operations, including biosafety, chemical management, and protocol, according to LabCentral President Johannes Fruehauf.

Fruehauf described the Life Lab as “necessarily the first stop in [a biotech startup’s] entrepreneurial journey.”

“I don’t want us to ultimately judge the Life Lab… by the number of companies served. It’s not volume. It’s really about quality,” he said.

As stipulated in plans submitted to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Life Lab will offer educational programming as part of community benefits to Harvard affiliates and Allston residents. Though the Life Lab’s educational offerings are still in planning stages, Business School Executive Dean for Administration Angela Q. Crispi said it will follow the i-Lab’s model, featuring workshops, seminars, and speaker series.

“This is so much more than just a workspace. Similar to the way we think about the i-Lab, this is a community,” Goldstein said.

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