FastForward is Johns Hopkins' new incubator space for tech and biotech startups. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
The Johns Hopkins University's newest business incubator, set to open formally at the end of April, adds more office and lab space to spur the school's ongoing effort to commercialize research.
FastForward 1812, located in the East Baltimore development area at 1812 Ashland Ave., offers a home to startup companies trying to build products that grow out of research at the univeristy or its medical school. It's also open to other Baltimore-area entrepreneurs.
New patents, licenses and startups created with Hopkins technology have been on the rise.
Last year, the university reported $58 million in licensing revenue, three times more than the year before, according to Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, the university's commercialization office. The spike largely reflects Hopkins' share of a $300 million deal Japanese company Astellas Pharma struck with Immunomic Therapeutics, which is developing a new type of vaccine based on Hopkins research, and university leaders are optimistic such revenue will continue to grow.
"If we really want to [further] impact human health, we have to do more than research," said Christy Wyskiel, an adviser on commercialization to university President Ronald J. Daniels. "We have to build" products from the research.
Companies founded on Hopkins technology have raised about $1.1 billion in funding since 2012, yet about 85 percent of them are no longer in Maryland, according to the commercialization office. Wyskiel said startups founded in Maryland often leave the area in search of better office and lab options, and to be closer to investors.
To stem that tide of departures, Hopkins has built up a network of incubators and resources intended to keep companies in Baltimore. The university's FastForward East is across the street from the new incubator. This summer, Hopkins will relocate its original FastForward incubator, which opened in 2013, from the Stieff Silver Building near its Homewood campus to the nearby R. House in Remington.
FastForward 1812 was designed to offer not only the co-working space, offices, conference rooms and other shared amenities that have become standard for business incubators, but also 13,000 square feet of so-called "wet" lab space, including a shared lab and 17 individual labs.
Wet labs allow for the handling of chemicals, drugs and biological materials, requiring ventilation and specialized utilities, but that capability also makes them expensive, Wyskiel said. Such labs are a scarce resource for the kind of companies coming out of the university that Hopkins is eager to retain.
"When you're a young company, raising money is really hard. You don't want your first dollars going to expensive equipment," Wyskiel said.
Each lab includes a fume hood, biosafety cabinet and sink with purified water.
Monthly rent ranges from $900 for an individual bench in the shared lab to $6,000 for the largest private lab. That price also includes access to hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of shared equipment, such as specialty microscopes, centrifuges, liquid nitrogen and refrigerators hooked up to backup power, so that stored biological specimens won't be lost in a power outage.
While the labs are downstairs, accessible only to those renting the space, the incubator's main level houses offices and co-working desks available for rent with flexible lease terms. Monthly rents range from $275 for a single desk to $2,025 for a six-person office.
The facility also has a long menu of support services available to members, such as legal help, business development experts and a venture manager whose job is to connect companies to potential investors.
FastForward 1812 was an obvious choice for WindMIL Therapeutics, a cancer immunotherapy company, said CEO Brian Halak.
"By moving into FastForward, you can get up and running in a brand-new company very quickly without fumbling around, trying to find office space, get the internet connected, order the furniture," Halak said. "All those things you absolutely need and can take a significant amount of time. They don't necessarily move the science forward, which is ultimately what the goal of these companies is."
WindMIL is developing a way to treat cancer using bone marrow cells that are capable of attacking cancer in ways a patient's immune system can't. The company's work is based on research at Hopkins by Ivan Borrello and Kimberly Noonan, who have studied how these cells can be extracted and activated, then returned to patients to fight cancer.
Borrello and Noonan spun out the company with an investment from Domain Associates, a venture firm where Halak is a partner. Since launching in May 2016, WindMIL has raised about $11 million.
Aside from offering the combination of private lab and office space WindMIL needed, FastForward is an easy 15-minute walk from Borrello's university lab. That proximity is critical at the company's early stage, Borrello said.
Tenants began moving into FastForward 1812 at the beginning of the year and it currently houses 19 companies.
The majority of the startups there have been spun out of Hopkins, but the space is open to applicants from elsewhere in the city.
Brian Stansky, the incubator's senior director, said he's looking for companies with ideas that can make a difference and a team that is dedicated to building a company.
FastForward 1812 adds to a growing network of incubators and office spaces dedicated to startups in Baltimore.
Among the recent additions are Impact Hub and Open Works, both near Penn Station, and Spark, a co-working and office space for post-incubator startups in Power Plant Live. Impact Hub and Open Works are among the most recent additions. In 2015, Sagamore Ventures, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's private investment arm, opened City Garage, a former bus depot converted into a hub for startups and makers alongside an Under Armour innovation lab.
"Getting these universities involved is such a great complement to the other programs we have in the market and, I believe, will lend itself to the vibrancy of entrepreneurial activity," said Christopher Helmrath, managing director of SC&H Capital, a Sparks-based investment banking advisory firm that helps companies raise money and negotiate business deals.
Betamore, a startup resource based in Federal Hill, is doubling the amount of office space it has for startups and entrepreneurs by expanding into 8,000 square feet at City Garage, where it will be able to accommodate an additional 90 people.
Betamore CEO Jen Meyer said the organization needed to expand to accommodate growing demand. She said she's not worried about competition from Hopkins because each of the incubators and office spaces cropping up in Baltimore has its own niche.
"I think it's going to be great for us, from a pure community and ecosystem perspective," Meyer said. "We're all working toward our strengths and that's going to bode really well for Baltimore in the coming years."