One of the biggest shortcoming in the Sacramento region in terms of economic development is a lack of wet lab space in the region. This shortcoming has prevented companies from moving to the region and has led to some companies having to leave.
Wet labs are spaces that allow researchers to test biological or chemical material. An article in the Business Journal last fall identified a key problem as cost.
AgStart is hoping to help alleviate this problem. Last week, the nonprofit, based in Woodland, announced that it was starting a public-private collaboration that will created a shared-use innovation incubator in Woodland just east of the new court house in the Wiseman Building, which will support innovators and startup companies in agriculture, food and health.
When complete, the $1.3 million Lab@AgStart will feature a fully equipped shared-lab and kitchen space as well as a co-working office space. Around since 2015, AgStart developed out of a project of SARTA (Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance), and John Selep, the president of AgStart, kept the company going by creating its own 501(c)(3) and locating in Woodland.
Companies that join the new lab will not be required to do anything other than become a member of AgStart.
“We’re going to remain as a non-profit helping to grow companies in our region,” Leanna Sweha, the program director of AgStart told the Vanguard. “We believe we will be a big draw particularly from the Bay Area where lab space is virtually non-existent and very expensive.”
The lab is going into the three-story building that once housed the Superior Court’s annex. Renovating that space to accommodate a wet lab will be quite an undertaking, Sweha said. “We hope to open the beginning of the year.”
One of the problems for the region in terms of attracting and helping startup companies in the technology space grow is the lack of wet labs.
The Business Journal last year, for instance, noted that the lack of wet lab space is impacting UC Davis as well, where professors cannot get the space that they need, forcing the university to lease space off campus. But that space is scarce and expensive.
The AgStart project which is creating a public-private partnership could be the key to creating more wet lab space that is also affordable for startups and small companies looking to come to the region and expand.
“Over the last few years, there has been a couple of wet labs that have come on line,” Sweha stated. One is at UC Davis—the UC Davis-HM Clause Innovation Center. That came on line in the last few years and created a 3100 square-foot off-campus facility that is administered and owned by HM Clause, one of the leaders in seed production.
There is also the Bayer Collaborator which opened in West Sacramento a few years ago.
But, despite these spaces, Sweha said that “basically it’s full.” She said, “We just talked to somebody who’s interested in the lab at AgStart and he said before he learned about the lab at AgStart, he was concluding that there’s no lab space left in the state.”
While a slight exaggeration, Sweha noted “that’s how bad it is.”
Woodland’s proximity to the university will make this a prime location for university spinoffs. Faculty members and graduate students will also have space to do their work, not governed by university intellectual property rules.
“This is going to be the biggest shared-lab space in the entire Central Valley when we open,” Sweha said. The total size will 4800 square feet of shared wet lab, food lab, and co-working space.
“Our region has struggled with a lack of laboratory capacity to support emerging companies pursuing science-based innovations,” explained Michael Teel, chief visionary officer of Raley’s and head of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council’s Food and Agriculture Innovation Council. “Expanding our region’s capacity to support science-based Food and Ag technology innovation strengthens our region’s leadership as an ag-food-health innovation hub.”
Woodland is in one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions, but a region threatened by shortages of water and workforce availability. This creates opportunities for innovation—new drought-tolerant plant varieties, less-labor-intensive harvest techniques, and new foods and food ingredients—that could transform our food system.
“This land is both our past and our future, and we can’t wait to see what comes next. That’s why we’re proud to contribute significant funding for this project through our Doyuti T’uhkama partnership,” said the Tribal Council of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Native American Tribe centered in nearby Brooks, California. “The Lab@AgStart will be all about creating what comes next.”
“In recent years, the prominence of UC Davis research in agriculture, food science, and human and animal health, and the strength of California’s Central Valley agricultural economy have generated an explosion of promising startup companies pioneering innovations to improve the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of our food system,” said John Selep, president of AgTech Innovation Alliance, the nonprofit sponsor of the AgStart program.
He added, “Developing these new solutions involves scientific testing, development, and refinement, requiring laboratory facilities, which are scarce throughout our Central Valley region. As a result, available laboratory facilities in the Greater Sacramento region have been filled, and new lab capacity has been quickly absorbed.
“When it opens later in 2020, the Lab@AgStart facility will be the largest shared-use wet-lab facility for startup companies in the entire Central Valley region,” said Selep. “Construction on the improvements necessary to outfit the lab will commence this fall and the Lab@AgStart should be ready for occupancy around the end of the year.”
A broad coalition of public and private funding sources have been assembled to finance the $1.3 million dollar Lab@AgStart project.
“The U.S. Economic Development Administration made the right call in supporting AgStart. Their strong work to support burgeoning companies across the health and agriculture industries will lead to innovations that bolster our nation’s food system,” Congressman John Garamendi said in the AgStart relese.
In addition to the Economic Development Administration, the city of Woodland and Yolo County have committed financial support to the Lab@AgStart project as well.
—David M. Greenwald reporting