A group of Johns Hopkins Hospital nurses is taking part in a pilot project using smartphones to monitor chronic wounds, but how the technology develops as a business will hinge in part on activity in new office and laboratory space next door — the second commercial incubator the university has opened in three years.
"We're really excited," said Kevin Keenahan, a Hopkins-trained biomedical engineer and CEO of Tissue Analytics, which rents one desk for $200 a month in the business accelerator FastForward East. He said the relatively inexpensive space will help the company get through what he calls the "Death Valley days" as they develop their product.
The place just opened in the Rangos Building on North Wolfe Street, a block north of the medical campus, and already the six offices are taken and there's a list of fledgling companies waiting for laboratory space on the sixth floor, inculding enterprises from Boston and Chicago. Demand for space is one reason why the university decided to open a second incubator less than three years after opening one near the Homewood campus, said Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser on enterprise development to Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels.
"There's a real opportunity for the city to be a hub of biotechnology," said Wyskiel, sitting in one of the offices equipped with a plain white desk, chairs and a wall the color of guacamole that you can write on with dry erase markers. "No reason we shouldn't have the next Google right here."
The two-level space on the ground floor includes the offices, working space for 28 people, a shared conference room, common space and a kitchen. The two wet lab suites on the sixth floor have room for six companies, but only one lab bench remains available.
In June 2013, Hopkins announced the opening of its first incubator, which actually had launched quietly the year before. Located in the old Stieff Factory Co. building on Wyman Park Drive, FastForward's 12 offices are all taken, Wyskiel said.
Once that first incubator was operating, "the floodgates opened" with companies and researchers — including Hopkins faculty members — seeking space, said Robert G. Snyder, president of the Maryland Business Incubation Association.
"You had this pent-up interest on the part of the faculty to do this," Snyder said.
He said Hopkins — which just marked 35 years as the country's top university for medical, science and engineering research spending at $2.2 billion — has been criticized for not turning more of that research into business ventures. For years, Snyder said, Hopkins has not stacked up well in commercializing research compared with such top research institutions as Stanford, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
That's changed, he said, and the results are likely to be impressive.
"It's the greatest medical research campus probably in the country," he said. "So the potential for creating new companies there is enormous."
Much as Montgomery County, through its proximity to the National Institutes of Health, became headquarters for such successful biotechnology companies as MedImmune, Snyder said Baltimore could stand to benefit from the development of new businesses associated with Hopkins.
FastForward is one of 29 business incubators across the state on his association's membership list, Snyder said. The organization's website estimates that the incubators have generated nearly 12,000 jobs since the organization was established in 2002.
Keenahan said Tissue Analytics, with three Hopkins graduates at the top — two biomedical engineers and a surgeon — first developed at an incubator in Philadelphia, and he hopes to have a similar experience at FastForward, with access to lawyers, entrepreneurs and others who can help shepherd the product to market.
Its technology is meant to improve care of chronic wounds by providing information compiled over time that a doctor can see on a computer screen, he said.
At FastForward, Keenahan and his partners will be working alongside Justin Hanes, a professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute and director of the Center for Nanomedicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Hanes founded a company called GrayBug to develop eye medications and products that can make existing medications more effective.
Hanes said the company soon expects to move into an office on the ground floor and a lab upstairs at FastForward East. He said a medication to treat adult macular degeneration will be starting clinical trials next year and could be approved for the market by 2020.
"It's a great opportunity for folks like us in Baltimore," Hanes said.
Not all the researchers are Hopkins graduates or professors. Some just want to be close to university resources.
For Scott Winn and his two partners in tech startup Strajillion, FastForward East is a chance to leave the local coffee shop circuit for more comfortable quarters where they can meet and get expert advice from faculty and graduate students.
"It's hard to find an office that has all those amenities," said Winn, CEO of a company developing technology to help parents monitor their children's activities online. "You end up spending a few thousands dollars."
He and his partners from Baltimore County and Silver Spring had been shuttling from Wegmans and Panera Bread in Hunt Valley to Stone Mill Bakery in Timonium. Now they have an office with three desks for $750 a month.
"We looked around, [and] this just really popped as the place we wanted to be," Winn said. Not least for the stable space and the "access to those big brains."