Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a multi-part series reported by Jason Parker exclusively for WRAL TechWire about how the Triangle region’s startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem is adapting to the “new normal” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The COVID-19 pandemic has brought more attention than ever to life science research and development as scientists search for a vaccine and better means of treating the deadly virus. And companies from startups to multinationals that operate in Research Triangle Park are part of that effort, but the pandemic has created plenty of challenges as well as opportunities.
Long considered one of the world’s top biotech hubs, RTP is adapting. Here’s what the “new normal” is shaping up to be at the grassroots level across startup hubs.
Life Sciences still at the center
Life science companies everywhere have pivoted their research to COVID-19 or related work, and the companies based in the Triangle are no different, said Vivian Doelling, Ph.D., vice president of emerging company development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
“As expected,” said Doelling, “some research has slowed down due to the temporary closures of some laboratories and contract facilities.” That includes the coworking library at the NC Biotechnology Center, which has been closed since mid-March along with their rental program for daily private office space and also conference room facilities.
The Biotechnology Center reopens today, as a part of a phased opening plan that as of now does not include a public reopening, though appointments can be made with Life Science Intelligence staff to access library-based support, said Doelling.
Down the road, the First Flight Venture Center welcomed a new president, Krista Covey, and continued to operate through the pandemic. In fact, First Flight recently announced that there are additional spaces available at the incubator facility and encouraged young science-based companies to set up their own office and lab space.
“To build a successful company, you need a supportive community,” said Covey in a statement. “And that is very much a part of how we help our members build through the programs and services we offer.”
One such service is Hangar6, a do-it-yourself prototyping facility next door to the main building that includes laser metal cutters, large 3D printers, and CNC milling machines. And, through the competitive LiftOff program, companies benefit from subsidized grant-writing services provided by First Flight.
The Frontier, a coworking and private office facility managed by the Research Triangle Park Foundation, remains closed, as it has been since March 12, 2020, due to COVID-19 and the organization is providing resources to members of the public through their website.
Venture X, which already provided a virtual office solution, has remained open though with limited access and precautionary measures in place. The organization also published a blog post about practicing safe coworking.
Since March, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center has supported companies as they applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and also extended repayment plans as necessary with companies along with engaging companies interested in additional funding. And, the organization provided an extensive resource dashboard for life science companies relating to COVID-19.
Alexandria LaunchLabs, an incubator and coworking space for agricultural technology companies, could not be reached for comment prior to publication.
So where is work occurring in the center of the Research Triangle? Life science companies continue to operate, said Doelling. “Continuing to develop their technologies and to engage investors.”
“We have not seen a decline in support over the past three months,” said Doelling, rather, support has increased to meet the needs of the life science community.
That support could come at a cost, suggested Doelling, as there may now exist concerns regarding diminished funding opportunities down the development pipeline if investors are now supplementing funding to their current portfolio companies rather than pursuing new investment opportunities.
North Carolina has long been a leader in the life sciences, said Doelling, who expects the Triangle region to continue to be a global leader in research and development. “The extent of collaboration required to aggressively move forward was and will continue to be valuable to the North Carolina life science industry.”