UT and Collaborators to Open Commercial Laboratory Facility

The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy, the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) and the city of Austin have announced the creation of the UTech Dorm Room, a cooperative research laboratory designed to provide laboratory space for entrepreneurs to develop life-sciences technologies and evaluate their commercialization potential.

The UTech Dorm Room lab facility will be in the College of Pharmacy. While most labs at the university are devoted to the research of a particular faculty member, the UTech Dorm Room will enable bioscience entrepreneurs outside the university community to contractually reserve wet lab space for a period of time as they test and develop their technologies and potential products.

The city of Austin has committed $35,000 of economic development funds to assist in the purchase of equipment and preparation of the lab space, and will pay $20,000 toward the salary of a lab manager dedicated to the new partnership.

Individuals who have an idea for a life science technology may apply to the program through the college's Drug Dynamics Institute (DDI), which will oversee the lab. The companies who use the lab will retain their intellectual property rights.

"Austin is a community of thinkers and bioscience entrepreneurs," says Dr. Janet Walkow, director of the DDI. "People all over the city have ideas for novel products. Many of these great ideas are never fully developed due to a lack of lab space facilities, where new ideas can be tested."

Wet labs have the facilities such as water, ventilation and built-in safety features needed to test chemicals, drugs or other biological matter. They can be expensive to outfit and maintain. That's why the opportunity for entrepreneurs to "rent" this type of space is critical for developing ideas that could lead to discoveries, says Walkow.

The UTech Dorm Room plans to encourage interaction between life-sciences start-up companies and the university faculty, to reduce barriers to commercialization and to accelerate local and economic development by opening up the university to life-sciences entrepreneurs.

"An educational component involving both undergraduate and graduate students will be an integral component of the Dorm Room effort," says Lynn Crismon, dean of the College of Pharmacy. "Not only will this assist in developing students' entrepreneurial skills, it also will allow them to work with laboratory quality management practices."

The UTech Dorm Room is ATI's demonstration project to provide a commercial laboratory environment to accelerate start-up commercialization, says Dr. Cindy WalkerPeach, ATI-Biosciences director. "What we learn from the project will be coalesced with information from other 'best practices' lab incubators as part of ATI's Economic Development Administration grant to study a stand-alone facility to serve the Central Texas biosciences community."

"All of us at the city of Austin are very pleased with this new partnership with the university's College of Pharmacy and the Austin Technology Incubator," says Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "The life-sciences industry holds great promise as a future driver of Austin's economy. Working together to provide new resources like the UTech Dorm Room to our local life-sciences entrepreneurs, we can help realize that promise sooner rather than later."

"We've seen the success of our other technology incubator projects with The University of Texas at Austin," said City Manager Marc Ott. "This is a worthwhile investment to provide that same kind of support to innovative thinkers in the life sciences who may not otherwise have access facilities that can help them transform their ideas into reality."