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The New Orleans BioInnovation Center, an incubator aimed at jump-starting the city’s biotech sector, has won a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration aimed at kickstarting its stalled efforts to turn promising startups into fully-fledged growth companies.
The center, often referred to as NOBIC, was one of 29 organizations nationwide to win a “2020 Venture Challenge” grant from the EDA, which is part of the Department of Commerce. The Baton Rouge Health District also won a grant of nearly $600,000 under the program, it was announced on Wednesday.
In awarding NOBIC nearly $1.5 million, the EDA noted that “Louisiana’s biotech sector has gained significant momentum since NOBIC opened its facility in 2011, (but) this momentum has stalled due to the lack of robust wraparound support services available for researchers seeking to commercialize their technologies.”
Last year, NOBIC, which leases specialized labs and office space to biotech startups at its Canal Street building, was in danger of having to shut its doors after years of seeing its sources of funds depleted.
The organization was founded originally in 2002 with a mandate to foster entrepreneurship in the life sciences sector in New Orleans. Its location amid the science and medical campuses of downtown universities was expected to make it a lynchpin in the budding “biodistrict,” even after its state funding was pulled in 2014.
However, the center struggled and last summer had to be rescued by Louisianan Economic Development and a consortium of universities comprised of LSU Health Sciences Center, Tulane University and Xavier University. LED and the consortium pledged to work closely with NOBIC and secure funds to ensure it would be able to continue its original mission.
The EDA’s grant will be matched by $1.8 million in funds from local public and private sources.
The purpose of the money will be to smooth the way for budding entrepreneurs coming out of local universities and starting businesses, the EDA said. NOBIC will help them apply for grants, find customers, build manufacturing, reach export markets and other things necessary to get their businesses off the ground.
The grant money is aimed especially at fostering job growth. “NOBIC anticipates creating or retaining 650 jobs and attracting $75 million in private capital during the award period,” according to the EDA.
Kris Khalil, who has been interim president of the center as well as managing director of the related $4 million BioFund, said the new money will underpin current efforts to find a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
“Working alongside our partner research universities and LED, we will empower Louisiana innovators seeking to commercialize their technologies and continue to support the development of novel medical countermeasures to combat COVID-19, sepsis and other infectious diseases,” Khalil said.
Tulane, which is investing heavily to develop and grow its downtown campus, has deepened its ties to the BioInnovation Center in the past year, with the university’s chief operating officer, Patrick Norton, becoming NOBIC’s chairman.
“By providing Louisiana-based biotech companies with these customized commercialization services, such as assistance with local tax incentive programs and technology assessments, coupled with premier facilities and a comprehensive support network, NOBIC’s efforts are not only dramatically enhancing economic development here in the state, but also improving health outcomes globally,” said Norton.
“The Center will thus be able to expand its impact beyond the 350 innovators who have already received specialized support to create new high-growth businesses such as Advano, Axosim, Fluence Analytics, and more that have emerged from Tulane and other local institutions,” he added.
Tulane President Michael Fitts has in the past couple of years made it a priority to double the university’s science grant-aided research over five years and to deepen its ties with the city’s biotech sector.
“This (EDA grant and matching funds) will also allow the city to attract companies to do business in — or relocate to — New Orleans. But we want to do more than just attract companies to New Orleans; we want to grow the innovations and businesses built here,” Fitts said.
Quentin Messer, CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance, the New Orleans economic development agency, noted that the new leadership at NOBIC has broadened its focus to more than providing real estate.
“These non-real estate assistance can take on a number of forms: business plan development, business model redesign, facilitated introductions to venture capitalists and programming that puts local companies in front of international pharmaceutical companies as examples,” Messer said.