VABeachBio Park to begin construction fall 2018
Thursday, April 5, 2018
It’s been four years since Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms announced a biosciences initiative.
Now finally, the public will notice construction on the first building in the VABeachBio Innovation Park in late summer or early fall.
Sessoms announced at his state of the city address March 28 a partnership between the city and Olympia Development to build the first building for the 155-acre park on Princess Anne Road. The price tag for the 60,000-square-foot building is set at $12 million.
Steve Harrison, business development and research manager for the city’s economic development department, said about 20,000 square feet of the three-story building will be wet lab space, which essentially means it has water access and a certain standard of medical cleanliness.
The wet lab will be a shared space for several companies on the first floor. The top two floors will be research office space that can be converted to wet lab space as well.
The biosciences initiative has four main areas of focus: cardio, diabetes, neuroscience and oncology. Those areas were chosen based on a market assessment by a task force and advisory committee.
City economic director Warren Harris said the root of the initiative began with the need for economic diversification.
“I think it just starts with the basic understanding that we need to diversify our economy – that our reliance on defense and, for us, tourism and some of those traditional industry sectors ... it wasn’t really going to cut it going forward to put all our eggs in that basket,” he said.
It’s not a project the city took lightly, Harris said.
“This is a long process. This isn’t an overnight kind of story. It will take time and we have shared that with our leadership that we’re going to have some success,” he said. “But it’s going to take awhile to really be a significant player.”
Harris said Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas and North Carolina are leaders in the biosciences industry. He wants Virginia – and Virginia Beach specifically – to be included on that list.
“We’re nowhere near where Boston and to a certain extent, Maryland and some of these other states that have utilized and looked at and become sort of a bio hub.” he said. “Many of them (companies) are looking to move into more affordable markets where the cost of research and the cost of attracting talent is less.”
Harrison said with Virginia being between North Carolina and Maryland, there’s an opportunity for the state to jump into the industry and offer a lower cost for research.
“We can offer a competitive advantage as far as the cost and now we’ll have available lab space that just doesn’t exist at an affordable rate really along the East Coast other than here,” he said.
The first tenants of the building will come from the VABeachBio Innovation Challenge, which is organized through The Center for Advancing Innovations in Bethesda, Md.
The challenge will serve as an incubator for at least 26 bioscience startup companies.The center selected 26 inventions out of 120,000 submissions that were developed from research done at universities across the nation.
The inventions are focused on innovations related to veteran health care and include a portable device from NASA Langley that noninvasively screens for cancer, a miniature brain stimulation device from Virginia Tech to treat neurological disorders and several drugs from the University of Virginia to treat diabetes.
The challenge invites anyone to apply to commercialize one of the inventions or submit an invention of their own.
According to the center, there have been about 200 submissions to the challenge so far. The deadline is the end of May.
Harrison said he believes 200 teams will be selected for the challenge. Those teams will have to develop business pitches with training through an accelerator and mentoring from industry experts and venture capitalists.
At least 26 winners will be chosen by February and move into co-working spaces the new biosciences building in the park for one to three years.
“Once it (the challenge) actually ends, the teams will be granted the license to the technologies and incorporate in Virginia Beach as a company,” Harrison said.
The companies are required to be headquartered in Virginia Beach for at least seven years.
“There’s so much potential in this industry. So getting to see it really take hold is really exciting ...” Harrison said. “And the fact that Virginia beach is being mentioned in these circles is really a new and exciting thing.”