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Milwaukee research alliance sees need for incubator

The Milwaukee County Research Park could see some competition soon.
A coalition of research and metropolitan groups in the Milwaukee area is making plans for an incubator for start-up biotech companies.

The Milwaukee County Research Park is straining to fit new companies in, said representatives of the Milwaukee Biomedical Technology Alliance, so the area needs more room to attract companies to the area.

Guy Mascari, director of development at the research park, which includes an incubator, disagreed. He said he had not heard about the new project.

“We have a lot of capacity right now. We just graduated three of our major tenants, and we're building out a significant amount of laboratory space,” Mascari said.

He said there might have been some confusion about what type of facilities the area needeed. "Some people call things incubators that really aren't incubators," he said.
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Investment firm Mason Wells brought a new biotech company, ZyStor, to the research park recently. "There was a dearth of laboratory space available for laboratories to move in," said Dan Broderick, a managing director of Mason Wells.“For Milwaukee to compete, we need an incubator,” Broderick said. “We’re supportive, because we plan on investing in the state of Wisconsin for a long time to come.”

Lane Brostrom, managing director of investment firm TechStar, said the Milwaukee area needs more space to use its strengths in many fields of biotechnology, and that it has an academic population similar to that of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only spread out among five institutions: the Medical College of Wisconsin, the UW Milwaukee and Parkside campuses, Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

“We’ve seen very fast growth from our existing research institutions in their R&D expenditures,” he said.

No site for a new incubator has been chosen yet, said Bill Hendee, vice president of the Medical College of Wisconsin, though several are being looked at. He estimated that a 20,000 square-foot basic incubator could hold five to 10 companies with different laboratory needs.

Brostrom said to expect more developments in early January as the partners in the project further their collaboration with area organizations and the governor’s office.

The alliance, he said, would likely develop into a larger planning group to ensure the region can support research in the long term. Hendee said the question for now was where resources and money would come from, but more space is necessary.

“We’ve got the cart before the horse here,” Hendee said. “We have to find ways of being able to take advantage of opportunities before they arise.”

Mascari said the space available might not be the limiting factor to growing the number of companies in the area.

“If you even look at Madison, the pace of starting new companies is at a relatively low level, certainly compared to other places in the country. And that’s not a problem of the capacity of the research park in Madison or the reseearch park in Milwaukee,” he said.

Jason Stitt is WTN’s associate editor and can be contacted at jason@wistechnology.com.

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