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Closed bioscience center created prospering companies

Biobusiness center gave firms a start

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When Teena Enriquez was looking to establish her medical diagnostic manufacturing company in 2006, she worried about the money to do so.

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Teena Enriquez, the CEO and president of Integrated Science Systems, is thankful for her business's new facility, which is located off Wheeler Road. The company participated in a bioscience business accelerator program to help it grow.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Teena Enriquez, the CEO and president of Integrated Science Systems, is thankful for her business's new facility, which is located off Wheeler Road. The company participated in a bioscience business accelerator program to help it grow.

To get Integrated Science Systems off the ground, Enriquez turned to the Georgia Medical Center Authority, which had just started the Augusta BioBusiness Center on Broad Street as a means of assisting and growing start-up life-sciences companies. The building offered Enriquez a 2,100-square-foot turnkey lab and affordable rent.

“Starting the company from the ground up, it gave me the opportunity to have the equipment and the resources necessary to do the work that I needed to do in order to grow the company,” said Enriquez, whose company produces kits for hospitals and clinical labs.

In February, Integrated Science became the last of three companies to graduate from the medical center authority’s business accelerator program before state funding was slashed.

THE CENTER CLOSED in early March after the $122,000 in state-allocated funds were cut. Funding, once $400,000 annually, had dwindled throughout the years – dropping to $200,000 in 2011.

The decision to eliminate state funding, effective July 1, was made because there aren’t any biotech businesses currently in need of the center’s services, said Stan DeHoff, the executive director of the medical center authority.

The lease for the building on the corner of Broad and 10th streets was not renewed, DeHoff said.

“We want to be good stewards of taxpayer funds,” he said. “We did not want to pay rent on an empty building.”

In early March, Penny Houston, the chairwoman of the House economic development subcommittee, proposed dissolving the authority because there weren’t tenants in the building. The medical center authority did not issue bonds last year to help other biotech companies.

The authority will continue, DeHoff said, by partnerning with other state agencies and communities to work toward issuing bonds to assist research, development and manufacturing facilities within the life-sciences industry in Georgia.

Though funding has been cut for the program from the state level, Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he would like to see private investors keep such an operation going.

“I think now that local investors have seen what can be done here in Augusta through the development of these types of companies that it opens it up to more private investment,” he said.

In addition to Integrated Science, the center supported HealthTronics Laboratory Solutions and REACH Health. HealthTronics focuses on urologic pathology, and REACH Health is a telemedicine business that consolidated in Alpharetta, Ga., in July.

Enriquez moved her business to a former doctor’s office off Wheeler Road near Doctors Hospital, where she has room to expand and pays about $1,000 less in rent than she did at the Broad Street building.

Before graduating from the business incubator, Enriquez said she was able to increase her revenue by about 20 percent and added two-full time employees to her five-person staff. In the span of six years, Enriquez has doubled the number of kits manufactured there from about 350 to 700 monthly.

The company’s FDA-approved staph infection test kit is sold in the U.S. and Canada. Enriquez also recently patented an inoculation loop to be used in microbiology labs in the U.S. and China. She has also obtained rights to sell the company’s kits in Europe.

“They did all they could with the limited resources that they had to try to help us grow or be able to step out on our own,” said Enriquez of the medical center authority. “It’s impossible to help a small company grow if you don’t have anything to help them grow with.”

AT THE END of the program, the businesses collectively had doubled their revenue to about $10 million and created 60 biotech positions in the state, DeHoff said.

“That’s exactly what we wanted to do,” he said. “We showed that it can work.”

Two of the three graduating companies, HealthTronics and REACH Health, got their start at the biotech incubator on Georgia Regents University’s medical campus before moving onto the BioBusiness Center. That incubator will continue to operate on state funds.

At the BioBusiness Center, HealthTronics co-founder Dr. David Booker said, he was able patent a biopsy kit with patient safety technology and develop a more productive workflow for the company.

The business, sold to a pharmaceutical company in 2011, had grown to about 17 employees with a sales team for both the East and West coasts.

HISTORY OF THE AUGUSTA BIOBUSINESS CENTER

2005: Opened in a 6,000-square-foot space in Enterprise Mill

2007: Moved to a larger office building at 10th and Broad streets; Integrated Science Systems, ClariPath (later becoming HealthTronics Laboratory Solutions) and REACH Health moved in

2009: State funding cut from $414,000 to $300,000 in July

2011: State funding cut to $200,000 in July

2012: State funding cut to $122,000 in July; HealthTronics graduated from the program in March, and REACH Health graduated in July

2013: Integrated Science Systems graduated in February; state funding eliminated for the program, effective July 1

ANOTHER NAME CHANGE AT GRU

The Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development at Georgia Regents University is now known by a different name ­– The Office of Innovation Commercialization, according to a news release.

“We are actively marketing and commercializing new technologies which promise to change the future for the better, so this name makes more sense,” said Dr. Chris McKinney, the associate vice president of innovation commercialization at GRU. “It’s a name that reflects how we, as a comprehensive research university, are creating the future of innovation-based new business development by inventing that future and bringing it to the marketplace.”

The Office of Innovation Commercialization focuses on maximizing the value of intellectual property developed by GRU innovators. Through the office, GRU holds a number of commercial licenses with industry partners, an expanding base of patents, and maintains a special focus on promoting innovation commercialization in the Augusta region.

The office also is host of the Life Sciences Business Development Center, a 10,000-square-foot facility that includes wet labs, offices, shared equipment and common areas. It can house up to five entrepreneurial businesses and offers start-up biotech companies a risk-reducing approach to growing their businesses.


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