Yocha Dehe Lab Opens in Woodland – Already Half Full


By David M. Greenwald

Woodland, CA – AgStart this past week launched their operations on their shared wet lab (Yocha Dehe Lab), food lab (Raley’s Food Lab) and co-working space—the only facility of its kind in Northern California.

The lab as previously reported in the Vanguard is a private-public partnership that renovated an old office on Main Street in Woodland to transform it into a lab and co-working space.

“The Lab@AgStart represents a unique public-private partnership that came together to fund the $1.5 million wet and food innovation lab space, creating a shared-use incubator for innovators and entrepreneurs in the Ag, Food and Health industries,” a press release stated.  “The 4,800 square foot space in Woodland was made possible through support from multiple public and private organizations.”

The Yocha Dehe Lab is one of only four wet labs in the region focused on supporting start-up companies.

“The Bio-Safety Level 1 facility will address the immense demand for wet lab space for start-ups by adding 2,500 sq.ft. of wet chemistry laboratory space and capacity for 28 dedicated laboratory benches,” the release continued.

“It’s a true incubator now,” Leanna Sweha, the program director of AgStart, told the Vanguard in a phone interview Monday.  “We’ve really expanded from being a mostly virtual type incubator with a coworking office space to a fully equipped wetlab food lab, coworking space.”

This space, Sweha said, is what is “really needed in the region. Just reasonably priced.”

While the lab just opened last week, they have been working on this since it was first announced last September.  “We’ve been recruiting companies for some time.  The vast majority of them are from the region and have either outgrown their space at one of the other local incubators, and they’ve known about our facility,” Sweha explained.

The 28 lab benches provide space simply not available at other facilities in the region.  Leanna Sweha pointed out that places like HM Klaus Innovation Center and the Bayer Collaborator both have long waiting lists to access space.

One of the problems for the region in terms of attracting and helping start-up 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.

Last September Sweha told the Vanguard that existing labs are basically “full.”

She told the Vanguard back then, “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.”

Sweha also noted Woodland’s proximity to the university, which will make it a prime location for university spinoffs as well as the need for growing Bay Area companies looking to grow and needing affordable space.

“Equivalent space in the Bay Area would be probably double, if not more the cost, if you’re talking again about shared wet lab space,” she explained.

Ag Tech companies have the advantage of moving closer to the growers, Woodland is a big food processing center, and, in this region, they would have better access to capital.

In addition to the Yocha Dehe lab, a wet lab, the Raley’s Food Lab is “a certified food facility where innovators can develop new food products, ingredients, and recipes for taste testing, sampling and small-volume sales.”

The facility is fully outfitted with kitchen and food preparation equipment and will be reservable for use by established and aspiring food entrepreneurs.

The release noted, “It is the only food lab of its kind in Northern California, making it ideal for food entrepreneurs to experiment and test new foods and food ingredients in a region renowned for its vibrant agriculture and food innovation ecosystem.”

The facility will also provide co-working space for “lab users and other entrepreneurs to conduct meetings, phone or video conferences, as well as a place to convene over a coffee in the break area, in order to build a community of creative collaborations among fellow entrepreneurs. “

Most of the companies looking to come to the lab are small start-ups.

“We’re not built to provide space for established firms—large established firms that are fully commercialized,” Sweha explained.  “We partner with those firms.  You look on our sponsors page, you can see all the firms that have sponsored us.  Those are large established agricultural and food processing or food tech type firms.”

They partner with the larger established firms to provide “very reasonable priced facility for start-ups” and “early stage companies.”

“So that’s the model,” she said.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “Yocha Dehe Lab Opens in Woodland – Already Half Full”

  1. Matt Williams

    Given the plethora of commercial real estate vacancy signs that have popped up all around Davis like mushrooms, there should be nothing to prevent Davis from pursuing a similar lab of its own … thereby bringing that particular vacant commercial real estate property into a much more desirable usage category.

    The existence of this article poses the following interesting questions.  Has  anyone ever seen the City of Davis Economic Development Plan?  Does the City actually have such a Plan?  If there is such a Plan, why wasn’t it shared with the public during the discussions of Measure B (the DISC innovation center vote)?

    1. Bill Marshall

      City of Davis cannot, should not “pursue”, a lab… they should not stand in the way if a property owner wants to create one… nuance…

  2. Ron Oertel

    One of the The primary problems for the region in terms of attracting and helping start-up companies in the technology space grow is the lack of wet labs public and private subsidies needed to make it feasbile.  Even for a modest/small lab such as this one.  

    Such operations do not “pencil out” on their own.


    But if more space is ultimately needed (beyond the spaces that already exist throughout places like Davis (as Matt mentioned), Woodland, and West Sacramento (in Yolo county alone), I’d suggest checking out the following (which still has no announced commercial tenants that I’ve heard of, several years after failing in Davis and “moving” to Woodland -while also adding 1,600 housing units). And which still hasn’t broken ground, despite that city’s all-out commitment to it.



    1. Tim Keller

      Incorrect.  These operations do pencil out – they just need help getting going.  I should know.  Inventopia is very similar to the Ag Start lab, we are larger, and as of writing, only have one vacancy left in our lab space.

      Yes, we needed a loan in order to get set up, and we are now repaying that loan.  It’s not that much different than starting any other commercial enterprise – there is capital required up front, but over time, the effort can support itself once it gets to some level of capacity.

      The woodland park you mention, and most commercial real estate in general, is a VERY different animal by comparison.   Commercial real estate like that is a mis-match for companies in their earliest stages.  They dont have revenue yet, they have zero credit, and they have no place signing a multi-year lease.   The way woodland park is positioned, it is only for established, profitable companies who are looking to expand.

      Thats why spaces like AgStart and Inventopia exist.   And we are not anywhere near meeting the demand for spaces like this.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I am not familiar enough with your operation to comment on it, but the lab described in this article received significant private and public subsidies.  Also, they “moved” from Sacramento as I understand it, so it’s not like they haven’t been around for awhile (with existing clients).

        I view articles like this as part of the Vanguard’s continuing advocacy for a proposal like DISC, and/or the one that failed and moved to Woodland (and added 1,600 housing units in the process).

        Operations such as yours (and the one described in this article) have plenty of space to exist (and expand), without doing so on peripheral land.  Would you like to join me and David for a tour of potential sites?  I suspect we could spend a day in Davis alone, doing so. Before moving on to the vast commercial areas in Woodland, West Sacramento, etc.

        Of course, you’d be more qualified than I am, to then point out the reasons that “this one is too hot”, “this one is too cold”, and without ever finding one that’s “just right” – unless it’s on peripheral farmland, it seems. (And at the point, I’d point you to the one that failed in Davis and moved to Woodland, adding 1,600 housing units in the process. Which to date still hasn’t broken ground, nor has it announced any commercial tenants that I’m aware of.)

      2. Bill Marshall

        Good points, Tim K…

        Other things that “don’t pencil out”, if the pencil is used prior to “doing”… yet they can be highly successful and reap hundreds-fold of benefit…

        Dating; marriage; having children; buying a home; choosing a career; getting a job; etc., etc.

        Many of which need ‘subsidies’ initially, but those can oft be repaid, with interest, if successful…

        Lots of unknown variables that cannot be predicted… variously called, “risk”, “venture”, “investment”, “commitment”, “opportunity”… “life”…

        Subsidy = Charity?  Sometimes… but agriculture is a good example… you have to put time, effort, money to start… you are not sure what weather, markets, etc. will be… no guarantees… often need start up funds from a lender, family, etc.  But it oft works, and oft reaps harvests far beyond the initial investment, even after repayment of the “start-up” ‘subsidy’…



  3. Ron Oertel

    But, I do have a possible suggestion to make such labs “pencil out” on their own.  “Narrow” their agriculture focus within that industry, to the one which was recently-legalized by the state (and which is threatening the Capay valley, in the eyes of some). 

    In any case, there seems to be plenty of money, there. Maybe enough to cover the entire county with “research labs”. 🙂

    1. Alan Miller

      You may have realized this when you wrote this with tongue in cheek, not sure.

      Look at the name of the lab; look at the name of the golf course behind the casino; look at who the primary opposition is to the particular crop you mention.

      I don’t think the lab is going to ‘pencil out’  😐

      1. Ron Oertel

        They wouldn’t need that particular “sponsor”.  They might be fighting that sponsor, under that scenario.

        The only sponsor they would need is themselves.

        Now, if we could only legalize meth (and who knows what else). 🙂

        Though I’d acknowledge that what I initially described at least has some purported legitimate uses. And, who is to say that “recreation” is not legitimate, for that matter?

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          They are a non-profit. Funded through grants and some big sponsors. One of the reasons they did that was to make it affordable for start ups without huge amounts of capital. Not sure why you see that as a bad thing.

        2. Ron Oertel

          The sponsors are listed in the link I provided.

          I don’t see that as a “bad thing”, though I do (generally) have concerns regarding the types of organizations that qualify for non-profit status. I believe that some have a very naiive view, regarding what can qualify.

          But, “lack of space” (as you consistently claim) is not holding back anyone.  I’m pretty sure that I can point out oodles of space that’s available, throughout cities in Yolo county.  Let me know if you’d like a tour – as it’s painfully obvious to anyone with eyes.

          And even with massive amounts of commercially-zoned land and vacancies throughout these locales (with more to come – including the one planned on what’s currently farmland in Woodland), organizations such as this still need subsidies to be viable.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            You’re thinking of lack of space on a single dimension. The lack of space was prior to this, if you were a start up company needing a lab, you couldn’t get physical lab space in the Sacramento region. And for the space that was in existence, without the funding, was costly for a start up.

        3. Ron Oertel

          You’re conflating your definition of “space” to that which already consists of “lab” space.  That’s absurd. There will never be a bunch of abandoned “lab” space just sitting-around, waiting for “mad scientists” to occupy it.

          There is plenty of space to accommodate labs.  I’d suggest a tour around Davis (and the nearby cities in the region), to see how much available “space” can be found that would accommodate labs.

          There is probably “too much” space to even take an inventory within a single city, within a day.

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