39 North Innovation District Plan Unveiled
The Science in Our Food
By: Carol Enright, Posted 09/23/13 1:58 pm
“Yes, it is,” said Sam Fiorello, COO of the Danforth Center. “And there are a lot of data points that give credence to that.”
The biggest data point is the physical concentration of biotechnology companies and research facilities, particularly in Creve Coeur, where the Danforth Center and its BioResearch & Development Growth (BRDG, pronounced “Bridge”) Park, a space for post-incubator biotech companies, the Helix Biotech Incubator and Monsanto are all within about a 1-mile radius.
If you zoom out from this dense neighborhood of biotech activity, you will find a robust research and startup community in the CORTEX bioscience district in the Central West End. CORTEX is a nonprofit effort backed by Washington University, Saint Louis University, BJC Healthcare, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the Missouri Botanical Garden to turn the area into one of the country’s leading research districts.
The glue holding all of these players together and driving the continued growth in plant and biosciences is collaboration.
“We work with Monsanto. We work with St. Louis County and Denny Coleman (CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership). We work with Wash U. We work with SLU,” said Fiorello. “And we sit around the table, and it really is a situation where we hope that one plus one equals three and four – that the whole is really worth more than the sum of its parts.”
The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, a new organization focused on business development in St. Louis City and County, owns the Helix Biotech Incubator, which provides early stage plant and life science companies affordable lab and office space as well as access to shared equipment.
Beth Noonan, vice president of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the Partnership, said, although the Partnership supports business development across industries, “we know that there is real potential for early stage companies in the biotech area.”
And the Partnership is helping to fuel that potential by co-investing in some early stage biotech companies through the $1.5 million Helix Fund.
A growing national and global reputation
Without a doubt, St. Louis has developed into a fertile environment for biotech innovation. But just how far-reaching is its reputation?
Fiorello said it’s still “a little inside baseball,” but industry insiders know that St. Louis is a biotech powerhouse.
“Whether they’re in Mumbai, India, or Sydney or Sao Paolo, Brazil, or Austin, Texas, you ask folks, ‘Have you ever heard of the Danforth Center, BRDG Park and what St. Louis is doing?’ Every single person will say, ‘Yes, of course we have. You’re global leaders in the space.’”
Fiorello said the Ag Innovation Showcase “helps to reinforce the brand that we’ve created – that St. Louis is the pre-eminent place if you’re in the ag innovation space.”
Noonan said the Ag Innovation Showcase is based on a solid history and highlights the recent buzz St. Louis is getting as a biotech hot spot.
That history includes longtime corporate leaders, such as Monsanto and Sigma Aldrich, and research institutions, such as Washington and Saint Louis universities. Even the Danforth Center has been around for a decade. All of these players have cultivated the soil, so to speak, that is now yielding an impressive crop of new biotech businesses.
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