Devices & Diagnostics

Cleveland Clinic-led cardiovascular technology incubator aims high

The Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center incubator building is beginning to fill up. The $19-million, 50,000-square-foot building on the southern edge of the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus opened quietly in April. The goal of the Ohio Third Frontier-backed incubator is to house and feed fledgling companies that are developing products and services to diagnose or treat […]

The Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center incubator building is beginning to fill up.

The $19-million, 50,000-square-foot building on the southern edge of the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus opened quietly in April. The goal of the Ohio Third Frontier-backed incubator is to house and feed fledgling companies that are developing products and services to diagnose or treat cardiovascular disease, according to its website.

Third Frontier — Ohio’s $2 billion economic development project — also wants to see the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center (GCIC) incubator drive heart-related products to the market, adding jobs and prosperity to the state’s economy.

“The thing that attracted us most to the Clinic and the GCIC was its blending of science and technology with the drive for commercialization,” said John Griffin, director of the Science and Innovation Division of the Ohio Department of Development. Griffin advises the Third Frontier Commission and Advisory Board.

The GCIC incubator also fits neatly into an emerging trend among industrial incubators: Single-technology incubators — in this case, cardiovascular — which can create cooperative industry clusters within their own walls.

The center’s staff and a complementary staff of Cleveland Clinic Innovations professionals moved across campus to the state-of-the-art laboratory and office space in late April. The center has signed eight company tenants, which are leasing seven of the incubator’s 20 laboratories.

“We’re in negotiations for eight more,” said Mark Low, the product and market development professional who leads the center as managing director. “So that’s 15 out of 20 labs, or 75 percent, that are occupied now, or in late stages of negotiation.”

Out of 35 office and office suites, 22 are leased. “And we’re in negotiation for 11 more. That’s 95 percent of the office space,” Low said.

Space in the incubator’s offices and labs goes for between $20 and $24 a square foot. The space is furnished and fully equipped with gas supplies, exhaust hoods and other things scientists need to develop products. Common areas include ice machines, ovens and bottle washers. Multimedia meeting rooms accommodate presentations and one, video conferencing.

Biomedical space — especially wet lab space — is scarce in Cleveland, according to Baiju Shah, president and chief executive of BioEnterprise, the healthcare business development organization in Northeast Ohio. Incubator space in BioEnterprise’s building, which goes for around $20 a square-foot, is completely filled, Shah said.

The Baker Electric Building on Euclid Avenue, redeveloped by Dick Pace for mostly biomedical companies, also is largely leased, Shah  said. “We continue to have demand that we can’t meet,” he said.

Many of the companies housed in the Clinic’s Innovations incubator are transferring to the GCIC incubator. “In doing that, we stretched our definition of ‘cardiovascular’ a little bit,” Low said. “But it’s for the purpose of getting the whole incubator community going here.”

The incubator recently landed Explorys Medical Inc., the medical research data management company spun off by the Clinic last year. Explorys is building a computer application that assembles, manages and leverages burgeoning medical data — including cardiovascular data — to speed research discovery and bridge clinical information gaps.

Explorys and its 15 employees grew out of their University Circle office front, said CEO Steve McHale. The company plans to stay in the GCIC incubator for about a year, then likely move into its own space, McHale said.

“Our focus is cardiovascular,” Low said. “But to bring in some companies that are up-and-running, a little bit further along and will graduate sooner than the startups really helps us establish the incubation model.”

The GCIC incubator also is leasing space to service providers that could help its emerging cardiovascular companies. For instance, a “virtual tenant” — one that uses incubator space only part time — is the office of a company that helps startups do clinical trials. And down the hall are 25 or so Cleveland Clinic Innovations commercialization, business development and operations, and project managers.

For Jim Cossler, CEO and chief evangelist of the Youngstown Business Incubator — another single-technology incubator — creating a cardiovascular community could be the most important work of the GCIC incubator. “The single-most important thing is to get people out of their labs and talking to each other,” said Cossler, whose incubator works solely with software companies. “Serendipity is the biggest driver of innovation I know.”

In addition to the incubator, the innovation center also makes grants to help companies get going and to develop and commercialize their products. So far, it has made 47 grants — at an average $300,000 — to 28 companies and nine institutional projects, Low said. The companies have created 130 jobs and attracted an additional $125 million in investments.

The GCIC set aside about half of its $60 million grant from the Ohio Third Frontier for commercialization grants. It also set aside some money for attracting companies. So far, it has attracted several companies to Cleveland, including Cleveland Heart from North Carolina, Proxy Biomedical from Ireland and Evolva from Switzerland.

Third Frontier chose the Clinic-backed GCIC as its only “megacenter” of innovation partly because its professionals are well versed in helping biomedical companies, which take more time and skill to successfully incubate.

“The GCIC and Cleveland Clinic Innovations have proven to be quite adept at supporting those companies through the prolonged period of time required to get their technologies into the marketplace,” Griffin said.

The incubator’s Third Frontier grant eventually will run out, likely within two or three years. So the GCIC’s staff of five already is identifying ways to generate operating revenue or grants to keep the incubator and its programs going.

“We’re beginning to turn our attention to what’s next,” Low said. “We’ll continue and expand the programs we’re running. We’ll look to bring in new funding to sustain us. We have concepts for expansion and moving to later stages of investment.”

Perhaps more important than physical space, GCIC professionals offer their know-how to medical startups.

“What we’ve brought to the table is our industry background,” Low said. “We’re bringing a broad and deep experience that’s hands-on, commercially oriented. The feedback that I’m getting from the companies is, they find this invaluable.”