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Biotech, Life Sciences Industries Flourish in Madison Region

The Madison Region keeps companies moving forward, and Biotech startups get a boost from a collaborative environment and a specialized coworking space in the Greater Madison Region.

By Teree Caruthers on September 23, 2022

Margaret Lumley, Co-Founder of ChloBis Water at her lab bench at Forward BIOLabs, which is a biotech company located in the Greater Madison Region.
Courtesy of Jessica Martin Eckerly

Thanks to the presence of a world-class research institution, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and collaborative organizations such as Forward BIOLABS, the Madison Region continues to turn out innovative life sciences products and services in the biotech sector.

For its part, Forward BIOLABS provides coworking lab space for biotech startups. This helps lower initial seed costs and makes it easier for new companies to get enter the industry. Tenants can rent space by the lab or by the bench.

“Our main mission is to help biotech and life sciences companies succeed. We do that by providing fully equipped, maintained, supported labs in addition to a collegial, collaborative environment. We provide a ton of services — all the lab maintenance, all of the safety infrastructure, all of the chemical and biological waste removal, and personal protective equipment,” says Jessica Martin Eckerly, cofounder and CEO of Forward BIOLABS.

“We lower the barrier to starting a company because we have it all set up for them. They bring their scientists and can get started immediately, so it gives them a huge leg up, and they can save on both the capital and time required to get a company started.”

The coworking space was initially designed with biotech startups in mind but has evolved over time. Martin Eckerly says Forward BIOLABS now welcomes all types of tech-related entrepreneurs.

“Our main mission is to help biotech and life sciences companies succeed.”

Jessica Martin Eckerly, Forward BIOLABS

For example, Margaret Lumley, cofounder of ChloBis Water, is one of the lab’s newest tenants. Lumley, who recently graduated with a Ph.D. in chemistry from UW-Madison, is working on a new water desalination technology that’s more energy efficient than conventional methods.

“The biggest thing that is helpful is the ability to start out really small at Forward BIOLABS and then grow as you need to. I rent just one lab bench right now, but I’m looking to hire a full-time researcher to start soon, so we’re going to expand into a private mini-lab,” Lumley says.

Lumley says obtaining lab space can be a significant financial burden. So, having Forward BIOLABS do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that can be difficult to manage is an advantage.

“Then there is the equipment,” she says. “The instrument that I use the most here is a high-speed centrifuge, which would be pretty expensive if we were to just buy it on our own.” Martin Eckerly says another advantage Forward BIOLABS offers tenants is a collaborative environment.

“The first thing that we worked on was getting the lab operational, but the community aspect is something that many of our startups tell us is important to them and that they appreciate and value. One thing that Forward BIOLABS offers that’s intangible is the chance to build relationships,” she says. “Being in a company of just a few people — or just you — can be really isolating, but when you’re around several other companies at the same stage, suddenly you’re not alone; suddenly you’re surrounded by folks going through the same things.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Madison Region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Madison Region

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