Anyone who works in the biotech industry knows all too well that even basic equipment can be prohibitively expensive. But what if companies could share equipment, and disperse those steep costs?
That question is the driving force behind Oakland Genomics Center, a Downtown Oakland-based shared workspace and incubator for biotech startups.
A Small Idea With a Big Impact
Organizationally, the center functions as an extension of founder Anitha Jayaprakash’s biotech startup, Girihlet, which develops DNA sequencing technologies to help diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases. After working in the biotech space for a number of years, Jayaprakash come up with idea for Oakland Genomics Center in 2015 when she noticed that one of the Girihlet’s biggest capital investments, its DNA sequencer, wasn’t being used a lot of the time.
“We had so much down time on our sequencer, it was like, ‘why can’t other startups just have access to my sequencer and still continue doing their work?’” says Jayaprakash.
The premise of Oakland Genomics Center was simple: in addition to sharing open lab space and basic wetware, member companies bring in specialized equipment that they agree to share with other members. Five years later, members have access to a multitude of biotech equipment, including second- and third-generation sequencers, analytic instruments for measuring nucleic acids, containment facilities for work with biological samples, and advanced robotics technologies.
“Together, we have all the resources we need, from instrumentation … [to] talent … [to] expertise,” says Jayaprakash.
Not Just Sharing Resources but Building a Community of Innovators
In addition to getting access to the equipment they need, Jayaprakash says that the capacity for sharing talent is what allows member companies to innovate at such a fast piece. “Biotech startups have to think very broadly, so having varied expertise in the same building helps us move much, much faster and helps us be innovative, because you’re literally bringing a group of innovators together in one building.”
Since 2015, Oakland Genomics Center has enabled more than 15 biotech startups to make Oakland their home. And those companies have created more than 60 skilled biotech jobs for the East Bay.
Startups that have outgrown the center haven’t gone far either, renting space in nearby office building. Oakland Genomics Center thus functions as a nucleus around which a major biotech industry could be built. “Each startup contributes to a community that will help each other grow,” Jayaprakash says.