J&J, fueled by $17M in state cash, starts work on 30-startup JLABS incubator to address NYC lab shortage

Johnson & Johnson is set to open a JLABS incubator in New York City. The 30,000-square-foot lab, which is supported by $17 million in state funding, is due to open in the New York Genome Center in 2018, providing a home for 30 startups in a city where space is in short supply.

New York has long looked at biotech hubs such as Boston and the Bay Area and questioned why, when it has such riches in terms of academic institutes and NIH funding, it has failed to build a startup scene of note. A lack of affordable lab space in a city where land is at a premium typically features high on the list of reasons. That is why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has allocated $17 million to bring J&J and its fast-growing JLABS initiative to the city.

J&J has secured 30,000 square feet of lab space in NYGC, another component of the city’s ongoing attempt to grow its life science sector. When open in 2018, the incubator will provide space for 30 startups in SoHo in Manhattan, a stone’s throw from the Holland Tunnel that links the island to New Jersey.

New York joins San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, Houston and Toronto on the list of cities where JLABS is active. The overarching concept at each site is the same: Provide access to lab space and connections to expertise, investors and third-party services on a no-strings-attached basis. The model attracted the interest of another group that is trying to get a biotech scene going in NYC: VC shops.

“[These VC firms] have been asking us to come into the market. They’re like ‘this is what we need—we can give them the money but there’s no place [for them] to go,’” JLABS Head Melinda Richter told Xconomy.

JLABS @ NYC is part of a broader effort to address the need for biotech startup space in the city. Separate incubators are already up and running in Brooklyn and Manhattan, while a real estate developer is working to add a third.

Cuomo is seeking to spur more initiatives by committing $200 million to investment in wet-lab and “innovation space.” The governor is also making 4.2 million square feet of space and 2,038 acres of developable land at 62 colleges and universities across the state available on a tax-free basis.