University Enterprise Labs director on life science start-ups

0 20

Situated toward the westernmost corner of St. Paul bordering Minnesota 280, a sizable glass-paneled building has become an incubator of sorts for emerging life science companies, with efforts ranging from clinical trials of experimental drugs to new lab-based bio-technology start-ups, about a third of them launched by faculty from the University of Minnesota.

University Enterprise Labs, which opened in 2005, is neither funded by nor officially affiliated with the University, but the 60 start-ups gestating in its labs and offices on Westgate Drive draw talent and inspiration from their proximity.

The structure, which spans 144,000 square feet, includes 33 full-size wet labs with fume hoods and about 20 dry labs without fume hoods, in addition to conference rooms, office and common spaces. A $6.4 million addition, which includes shared group lab space, opened in 2019.

Within the health sciences, Minnesota, which is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies, already has a strong profile when it comes to medical device manufacturing, academic research, direct patient care and retail delivery of health goods. As private corporate ventures go, the life science and bio-tech industries have a much less established footprint.

Diane Rucker stepped down in December 2022 as chief executive officer of University Enterprise Laboratories. (Courtesy photo)

After five years as executive director and chief executive officer of UEL, Diane Rucker stepped down this month to focus on family. Rucker, an engineer who trained at MIT and the University of Michigan, returned to MIT in 2012 for her executive master’s of business administration.

Among her professional titles, she spent 16 years with Seagate Technology in Minnesota and five years with General Motors in Michigan, as well as holding roles with Carrot Health, a Minnesota start-up, and an entrepreneurship accelerator run by MIT and Harvard.

Interim executive director Mike Berthelsen, formerly a vice president of University Services with the U of M, will lead UEL until Rucker’s permanent replacement is chosen by UEL’s 12-member board.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What kinds of changes have you seen over the past five years?

A: What I’ve actually seen is a stronger start-up pool, more companies that have solid funding — less of the idea-stage companies and more companies that are ready to scale. The pool is getting larger. It’s a very cool thing for Minnesota.

Q: How do you account for that? What are some of the drivers?

A: I’d point to efforts like Launch Minnesota, through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which has funded more than 25 of our UEL companies from $25,000 to $35,000. It’s actually not very much, especially for a bio-tech company, but it’s enough to get them to the next level where they can start raising money. Most of our start-ups have two to three founders. Think of it as organization building, not whether your technology works but what you need to start building a business around that. That’s understanding visibility, marketing, supply chain management and scale and manufacturing.

Q: How would you describe the start-up climate in Minnesota, and what role does UEL play?

A: We saw the need for connective tissue across the start-up eco-system. You have start-ups, risk capital or funding, education like marketplace awareness and start-up support organizations and university courses, government, and corporations — do they support or suppress start-ups from entering the market?

Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.