Tuesday, February 2, 2010

University of Minnesota and developers

plan $20 million venture fund

to anchor major science park

This sounds interesting...

From Thomas Lee in MedCity News:

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — The University of Minnesota is teaming up with private developers to establish a major venture-backed commercialization hub next to the school’s Biomedical Discovery District.

Construction could begin in 2011 on The Minnesota Center for Life Science Technology Commercialization, a 60,000-square-foot building designed to convert ideas and technology from the university biomedical researchers into viable start-ups. A key component to the center is a $20 million private venture capital fund that will support the companies.

The center is the first step in establishing the Minnesota Science Park, a planned $750 million, 500,000-square-foot series of facilities adjacent to the Biomedical Discovery District on private land jutting southeast from the TCF Bank Stadium on the east side of the Minneapolis campus.

“The development of this public-private partnership represents recognition of the value of our innovations,” Mulcahy said. “People want close access to our people and technology. It will plant a firm anchor in the area and increase the density of companies in close proximity to the U. These are essential elements of an innovation ecosystem. You don’t have to look very far to see the potential,” a reference to the University of Wisconsin’s successful research park across the Mississippi River in Madison.

The key words from Mulcahy’s remarks are “close,” “proximity” and “density.” Minnesota has tried to build incubators before but with little or no success. Bianco [Bianco is spearheading the project.] should know: He was the first CEO of the University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL) in St. Paul.

The $20 million facility, which opened in 2004, was meant to jump-start a “biosciences corridor,” by commercializing technologies from the U. But UEL suffered from several problems. The facility was located at least 20 minutes by car from the main Minneapolis campus, precluding easy interaction between investors, researchers and entrepreneurs. At the time, the U’s tech transfer office was in disarray, which meant UEL had nothing to incubate. Finally, the UEL had no money, relying instead on corporate contributions and rent from tenants that had little or no connection to the school.

However, major obstacles remain. Facing state budget cuts, the U has limited financial resources. In order for construction to start, the school must lease a good portion of the commercialization center and commit tech transfer and research assets to the facility. So far, the university and developer have not reached an agreement.

“Construction planning can begin at anytime once we have agreement on where the [money] will come to create the space and co-locate those assets in one location,” he continued. “If we get this agreement, it would likely be nine months to having a spade in the ground.”

Mulcahy is cautiously optimistic.

“There’s nothing there yet,” he said. “But it’s an important step in the right direction. I like to think that this could be the start of big things for us.”

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