Securing the Right Space for Your Biotech Start-up
This is a guest post by Steven Lee, Senior Scientist in the Life Sciences Group at Environmental Health & Engineering (EH&E)
Once you have the idea and the funding for a biotech start-up, you may think the biggest challenges are behind you. However, without proper planning and considerations, the environment you choose for your laboratory facility could put an end to your plans for innovation — before they even have a chance to begin.
Depending on the unique demands of your research, you’ll need to make sure you think carefully about must-have specifications. Taking the time to plan upfront can help you avoid making a hasty decision and getting locked into a problematic lease or a facility that does not meet your research needs.
Beyond ensuring you don’t sign a lease before considering every important detail, upfront planning can also limit misunderstandings between you and your landlord. Clarifying responsibilities before you move into your space will help keep everyone on the same page.
With these tips in mind, let’s delve into some practical steps to help you secure the right space for your biotech start-up.
4 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Lab Facility
What biosafety level is necessary for your laboratory?
This depends on the types of biological materials you’ll be using in your lab. Certain materials require a higher biosafety level (BSL) and may require a certain type of facility design (e.g., sink for hand washing or negatively pressured), which will need to be considered when choosing a space that best suits your needs. For instance, if you’re working with human blood or cells, you’ll need a laboratory space that is suited for BSL2 level work.
What chemical requirements will your laboratory have?
Think carefully about the storage needs of the chemicals you’ll be using. Depending on the types and amounts, you’ll need to consider ventilation and safety equipment requirements to safeguard the health and safety of your researchers while using these chemicals. Since some spaces will make this process easier than others, answering this question before you commit to a facility will help you avoid complications down the line.
What type of equipment does your laboratory need?
Some of the equipment you need will likely be basic laboratory equipment — like a glass-washing station, emergency shower and eye washes. While the more specific equipment may evolve over time, the more you can think ahead now, the better. Start by considering what types of equipment you’ll need to safely perform your work in each planned support space, like the chemical hazardous waste storage space. Take your time thinking through the processes of your facility and get feedback from your team to make sure you haven’t overlooked any crucial functionality.
What utilities and services capabilities does your laboratory need?
The equipment you’re using may have specific electrical requirements that a potential facility may not meet. Or, if you need access to reverse osmosis deionized water (RODI), you may be required to install an active pH neutralization system.
Make sure none of your utility and service needs rule out a particular facility before you sign the lease.
Once you think you’ve found the right space for your biotech start-up, the next step is making sure the lease agreement includes a clear outline of responsibility between you and your landlord.
6 Details to Discuss with Your New Landlord
Permits and Approvals
Do you need to obtain the necessary permits and approvals, or will your landlord handle this very important process? Either way, make sure you know where your responsibilities end and your landlord’s begin.
Move-out Costs and Decommissioning Requirements
Even though you’re more focused on moving in than moving out at this point, your lease needs to clearly outline the moving out process, including any potentially costly obligations on your part. If you’re working with hazardous materials, your lease will need to include a stated process for decommissioning that protects the property and ensures it is a safe space for the next tenant. This may require your lease to be in compliance with ANSI/ASSE Z9.11 – Laboratory Decommissioning Standard.
Your landlord may have the capability to help you with operations support, such as equipment inspection, waste removal and emergency response support. Discuss these potential capabilities in advance and make sure any obligations are documented thoroughly in your lease.
Back-up Power Options
Find out if you have access to emergency power generators — before you have any cause to use them.
Wastewater Treatment System
You need to have a clear understanding of both the capabilities of the laboratory’s wastewater treatment system and any obligation you have as the tenant to maintain it prior to moving into your new space.
There may be hazardous materials or other materials left behind from a previous tenant. Placing an indemnity clause in your lease protects you from incurring any cleanup costs for removing these materials.
Your new laboratory environment should work with your biotech start-up — not against it. Don’t let the excitement of getting started overshadow due diligence. By asking the right questions and taking the time to make the necessary plans, you can enter into your new lease agreement with confidence and clarity.
About the author
Steven Lee is a Senior Scientist in the Life Sciences Group at EH&E. With over 15 years of experience he provides expert environmental health and safety (EHS) guidance and support to research institutions during all stages of growth, from start-ups to leading global biopharmaceutical companies. Currently Steve is directly responsible for the daily, onsite management of EHS programs for clients including the Harvard Institutes of Medicine/New Research Building and Partners Research Building. Steve has also helped many start-ups with setting up laboratory operations including obtaining regulatory permits, providing EHS training and preparing required regulatory documents.
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