After a period of successful business incubation, three biotech companies have graduated from the Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR) at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2020. In their place are three new companies that have chosen to locate laboratory R&D operations onto the northern Nevada campus as of July.
The recent graduates are Bioelectronica, NexTech Batteries and LactaLogics. Each conducted its business-startup operations in on-campus laboratory space managed by NCAR, which is supported by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). While the three have relocated all or some operations to private, commercial space, two of them – Bioelectronica and NexTech Batteries – remain in northern Nevada and continue to do work with NCAR through a fee-for-service agreement.
NCAR works with faculty and researchers to make the University’s world-class laboratories, equipment and expertise available to industry, startups, entrepreneurs and collaborators. Created in 2015, NCAR has engaged with more than 110 companies and agencies. With the investment of $6.2 million in Knowledge Fund grants awarded through GOED over the past four years, NCAR has achieved the following results:
- $20 million in venture capital investment earned by NCAR-affiliated companies,
- More than 90 jobs created by NCAR-affiliated companies,
- $23.6 million in grants, contracts, investments, gifts and agreements generated to the University,
- 13 companies currently working on campus.
“The ultimate benefit for the state’s economy is the strengthening and growth of companies through innovation leading to the creation of high paying and sustainable jobs of the future for Nevadans,” said Governor Steve Sisolak.
“NCAR was an attractive place for us to incubate and then scale,” said Jonathan Hull, co-founder of Bioelectronica which grew from two employees to 12 while based in the NCAR-managed labs, and continues to operate in Reno. “We started with a single lab bench and grew from there. Most of our hires have been from the University. The proximity made it easy and they are talented employees.”
“We want to be part of putting Reno on the map for Biotech. It’s about fostering an ecosystem that can help build this sector,” said Hull.
Meet the graduating and incoming businesses
After achieving entrepreneurial success in California's Silicon Valley and contributing to the next generation of DNA sequencing, Roger Chen joined with Hull to found Bioelectronica, where the team is inventing new tools to accelerate drug discovery. The interdisciplinary team uses computer vision, biochemical reagents and consumer electronics to build its Hypercell® platform. In January 2020 the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening selected Bioelectronica’s Hypercell technology platform as the most innovative new product from around the globe.
NexTech Batteries grew from two employees to 14. Headquartered in Carson City, NexTech is developing next-generation technologies for lithium sulfur batteries, based on licensed technologies developed through a cooperative research agreement with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
LactaLogics grew from two employees to nine. The company has relocated to Florida, growing into a 64,000 square foot facility where it continues high-quality laboratory and manufacturing operations of human milk-based biopharmaceuticals and medical foods for neonates. LactaLogics is currently conducting clinical trials.
With these graduations, three new companies are working in the NCAR-managed labs as of summer 2020. This includes Ethox Chemicals, an established company based in South Carolina that has chosen to locate R&D operations in NCAR-managed labs, and two startup businesses, Disruptor Scientific LLC and rBio.
Spurring collaboration on campus
In addition to managing these laboratories which are all located in the University’s Applied Research Facility, NCAR manages the Shared Research Facilities and Core Labs. This program provides centralized access for industry, entrepreneurs and other research organizations to the wide-array of research facilities, equipment and core labs and centers across campus, and also facilitates access to the expert staff who operate equipment and labs, design and conduct experiments and analyze data.
“UNR has been supporting GOED’s vision for the creation of Applied Research Centers at Nevada’s research universities of which NCAR is a formidable and leading example,” said Michael Brown, GOED executive director. “NCAR is providing highly innovative fast-growing companies an access point to the university and its resources, for instance, faculty expertise, intellectual capital (IP), critical equipment, infrastructure like the Living Lab, and vital laboratory space for their development. NCAR is providing businesses with a safe zone to foster their growth as well as offering innovation on demand.”
Part of Research & Innovation at the University, NCAR also develops and coordinates large, multidisciplinary research initiatives involving coalitions of public and private stakeholders. This includes current University research initiatives in advanced autonomous systems, robotics and water innovations. One project, Intelligent Mobility, tests synchronized mobility concepts in complex and real-world environments known as Living Labs.
The NCAR footprint
On the international front, NCAR is part of one of the Joint Undertaking research consortiums driven by the European Union (EU); NCAR is the only non-EU partner in the initiative. NCAR is also part of a “smart city ecosystem” initiative with Seoul National University Global R&DB Center.
Director Carlos Cardillo describes NCAR as following a triple-helix model as it benefits and collaborates across academia, industry and government. Cardillo has been invited to numerous conferences in the U.S. and abroad to explain the NCAR concept and outcomes, and other universities have visited campus to see the unique program in action. NCAR was named a national finalist for the University Economic Development Association’s 2019 Award of Excellence and Cardillo received the University’s 2020 Foundation Innovation Impact Award.
“NCAR is enhancing faculty success and competitiveness, regional and international collaboration, and connections between industry and workforce development,” said Mridul Gautam, vice president for research and innovation. “We are very appreciative of the regional collaboration and GOED support that has allowed for this to happen.”