Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Manhattan outpost of its startup incubator, JLabs, is the new kid on the NYC-health-tech block.
First opened in June, JLabs host startups looking for a space to grow their businesses – whether that be developing drugs, coming up with new medical devices, or applying new technology to the world of healthcare. In addition to NYC, there are JLabs in San Diego, San Francisco, Toronto, Houston, Boston and Belgium as well as another planned in Shanghai.
The incubators provide J&J, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, with a front-row view of what’s happening at the startup level. Though J&J doesn’t take an immediate stake in the companies, it does end up investing in some in the long-run. The relationship works like this: J&J will provide all the infrastructure, operation management, network, and programming, and the startups just have to bring new and innovative ideas.
It’s part of J&J’s plan of looking to the future and adapting to become more nimble as it evolves for the new generation of consumers.
“We’re the leading healthcare company,” Kate Merton, head of the NYC and Boston JLabs, told Business Insider. “In the future we want to be the leading digital healthcare company.”
Take a look inside JLabs’ NYC digs, which with its coffee-shop vibes looked unlike any startup space we’ve ever seen.
The 30,000-square foot facility is located on the 3rd floor of the New York Genome Center in New York’s trendy SoHo neighbourhood.
Right when you come in, you see the investor hub, where incubator companies can meet with potential investors as well as mentors. This front of the house layout is the same in many other JLabs across the country, which are designed by architecture and design firm Gensler.
On the wall next to the reception desk is a presentation of all the companies housed at JLabs. There are 25 presently. The companies living at JLabs have a wide-ranging set of interests and ideas – from Curie Co’s biologic enzymes intended to replace abrasive chemicals in our cosmetics and drugstore products, to Nanowear’s high tech undergarment equipped with sensors that can monitor heart conditions.
Sitting next to the reception desk is a white room built for video conferencing and meetings. Inside, the space design is white and minimalistic, and the wall on the far facing end holds two large screens along with motion sensing cameras.
The hub is where “office hours” are held to help entrepreneurs find investors and partners to raise their Series A funding rounds. It’s a free resource offered by JLabs where residents can connect with consultants and specialists recommended by Johnson and Johnson to take care of the more technical aspects of business operations and filings.
Building out the incubator took a lot of adjustments. “We actually went back and cut out big holes all of the walls so as much light comes through as possible,” Merton said.
To get into the private conference rooms and labs, you need a key fob for access. After a short stretch of traditional-looking offices and desk spaces, you enter the general meeting space. This is a public work area, and it’s designed to be filled with natural light.
“I call it the speakeasy-Starbucks, because by day, it actually looks like a Starbucks where you would come and hang out and have coffee and work,” said Merton. The rustic-vintage vibe is complete with jewel-toned couches and chairs and antique-looking bookshelves.
Phone rooms that also feature exposed brick are sequestered to a private corner of the space.
The bookshelves along the perimeter are filled with some of Merton’s own textbooks. The space is designed to be easily reconfigurable. Furniture can be moved to suit the nature of the function or individual group meetings.
The kitchen area by night can turn into a bar space for happy hour meetings with fellow incubator companies.
The light fixtures can change colour, and are spread out in the shape of a J.
The meeting space connects to a room that was originally intended to be a touch-down space for different companies, but Merton has been approached by individuals wanting to rent the dry space.
Through the windows of the dry space, you can peek into the labs, which residents are currently moving into. The aesthetic here is supposed to recall the bridges that you cross coming from New Jersey — where J&J is based — to New York.
The dry area segues into the wet lab areas, where different entrepreneurs can rent out individual benches for their work.
This bench in particular goes for around $US3,000 a month. With that rent, the startups get access also to all the equipment around this space including shared freezers and fridges and fume hoods.
As companies grow and need more space, they can move into a private lab. There, the actual cost of the bench decreases, as J&J tries to make it cheaper for companies to grow. The price goes down to $US2,300.
Only half of the residents are fully moved in now, so the spaces will fill up more in the next few months. Different spaces have different equipment, so entrepreneurs can rent out the space that best suits their needs with testing and unique requirements.
A lot of the artwork on the walls are old J&J advertisements and designs.
The artwork includes an array of both black and white TV advertisements and coloured posters and newspaper ads for everything from kidney plaster (pain patches) to toothpaste.
J&J has a deal with manufacturers to provide the latest new lab equipment for free so their entrepreneurs can use the most high-quality materials. That way, when it’s time to move out, the companies might opt to buy their own machines from the manufacturers.
“When we were building this place, for some reason we had to have a wall here, which we found tragic that we blocked out the view to the World Trade Center and everything else,” Merton said. To remedy this, they commissioned a local artist to come in two days before they opened, and she replicated the view that could have been on the wall in just one night.
The hope of the incubator is to provide more space for NYC-based companies to grow in the city. A few months in, the startups are still getting settled in, but already JLabs has cemented its place in NYC’s biotech and health-tech scene.
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