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Building a Vibrant Biotech Startup Home in Central Massachusetts

4 min read 27 Mar 2023

When you ask biotech professionals where the top biotech hubs in the U.S. are, Boston is at the top of most lists. But the Massachusetts biotech scene is much more than just Kendall Square and the Greater Boston metropolitan area. 

Far from the long shadow cast by Boston, Central Massachusetts, particularly the city of Worcester, has grown into a robust and vibrant biotech hub of its own.

“If Worcester were in any other state, it would be the powerhouse cluster of biotech companies, workforce, and lab space,” exclaims Melina Reid, Operations Associate at Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI), whose goal is to build up Worcester and the Central Massachusetts region into an energetic and unique centre for biotech startups. “Because we’re so close to Boston,” she continues, “We are sometimes dwarfed by its reputation and size.”

In innovative fields like biotech and biopharma, bigger isn’t always better. Over the past few decades, Boston has become a hotbed of competition for lab space, skilled personnel, and attention where only later-stage companies and global corporations can engage. For these larger companies, being in Boston is essential. As a result, early-stage startups with tighter budgets and “outside-the-box” ideas start at a significant disadvantage, overshadowed by established behemoths with heaps of money and resources to maintain and expand their footprint.

Establishing Infrastructure and a Thriving Ecosystem

The MBI is focused on making Central Massachusetts a welcoming home for creative startups with solid ideas. To help them get their footing in the industry, the MBI provides cost-effective, high-quality laboratory space and support services. Assistance goes beyond the “seed stage,” as MBI doesn’t limit how long a company can spend in its incubator space. Furthermore, they offer a graduation space to support startup growth further as they advance toward commercialisation.

“Our approach has been successful,” Melina observes. “As the Commonwealth’s longest-running non-profit startup incubator, MBI has supported over 175 companies through graduation from their space, with more than 14 companies going on to IPO or getting acquired by companies such as Pfizer, Perkin Elmer, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Charles River.” 

Over the past few years, the MBI has expanded its capabilities and initiatives to fill the many needs of biotech startups. They were pivotal in bringing the Reactory – a high-quality, cost-effective, custom biomanufacturing facility – to the Worcester biotech community. They are currently building a pilot Biomanufacturing Center that will provide lab space for companies to go from “concept to clinical trials.”

The MBI has also launched initiatives to establish a skilled and excited workforce, with partners like AbbVie, to support Central Massachusets’s growing life science community. “We’re heavily involved in increasing diversity in STEM through partnerships with local middle and high schools and community and state colleges,” explains Melina. “For example, we’ve helped Quinsigamond Community College establish their Biomanufacturing Technician program for adults looking to break into the biotech field. By encouraging the next generation of young minds to pursue science careers, we are doing our part to create a solid workforce for the continued growth of Central Massachusetts biotech.” 

Accordingly, Worcester was chosen as #15 on the Top 25 Life Sciences Research Talent Clusters list, just below mega-metropolitan areas such as Houston (#13) and Atlanta (#14).

Fostering More Efficient R&D for MBI’s Startup Community

While the MBI is constructing a framework in Worcester and Central Massachusetts to support community growth, the infrastructure inside the lab needs to be solid to enable efficient and effective management of a startup’s most important asset: its data. 

To this end, the MBI has partnered with eLabNext – which provides digital data management platforms to laboratories – so that startups and later-stage companies can fully digitise their operations

“We’re excited to be a preferred vendor for MBI,” says the Head of eLabNext in the Americas, Zareh Zurabyan. “Our Digital Lab Platform (DLP) helps labs of all sizes improve the efficiency of their workflows, quality of their data, and security utilising LIMS/ELN features and even AI/ML tools for data science in the day-to-day. Ultimately, we see that defining the lab’s digital strategy right from the beginning, through lab digitalisation, accelerates timelines and drives progress for the many startups making Central Massachusetts their biotech home.”

The eLabNext platform serves various life science and chemistry laboratories in government, academia, and industry, making it a perfect fit for MBI’s startup environment, which includes companies in cell and gene therapy, chemistry, and other scientific specialities. 

Through this partnership and the ongoing efforts of the MBI, Central Massachusetts is positioned to continue its expansion as a vibrant ecosystem for biotech startups. 

To learn more about the unique environment that the MBI has built and the biotech community in Central Massachusetts, please visit massbiomed.org

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