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IU incubator helps fledgling biotechs find footing

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Even biotech companies with big ideas and sophisticated technology need to learn to crawl before they can walk. At the Indiana University Emerging Center for Technology, ambitious startups get to do just that. The center is a nonprofit business incubator geared toward getting newly formed life sciences companies up and running. The center's CEO, Mark Long, believes that, unlike quicker-to-develop IT or Web-based businesses, young biotechs need more time to get their business legs under them. "It's a longer level of return to develop the research and actually develop a product, so I think they need a little more hand-holding and a little more support," he says. "So this kind of model works well for them."

The center, which was launched in 2003, is now at almost 100 percent capacity with some 26 tenants. Residents include Eli Lilly's proteomics startup, Indiana Centers for Applied Protein Sciences, and Endgenitor Technologies, the state's first commercial adult stem cell company. The center provides the startups with guidance on writing business and marketing plans, as well as help putting together those "dog-and-pony" shows for venture capital presentations, Long says. He also emphasizes that all of the executive staff maintain an open door policy if companies need help with making payroll, or even filing taxes. Interns and investigators are recruited by the center to assist any of the tenants should they require extra help.

The requirements for admission are two-fold. First and foremost, the science has to be strong. The center works in conjunction with scientists from local companies such as Eli Lilly, Roche Diagnostics, and Dow Agro Sciences to review applicants' proposals and research to ensure that the work is solid. The other factor requires not only a strong business plan, but a "business concept and a willingness to accept advice and direction," Long says.

Most of the companies are independently funded through federal SBIR grants and a combination of angel funding or venture capital. Once the operations have outgrown their allotted 5,000 square feet, or they've been profitable for longer than 18 months, they are considered ready to move out into the real world and fend for themselves, Long says. "I think it's important for people to understand that this is where the new biotech companies of tomorrow are coming from," he adds. "They don't just happen by themselves. They all need a little help."

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