NYC Mayor de Blasio puts up first cash for ambitious life sciences project

Incubator at 180 Varick Street will house lab and office space for up to 35 startups.(Google Streetview)

New York City's bid to become a life sciences hotspot took another step forward this week with the help of a $5 million grant from the mayor's office.

The grant is the first tranche from Mayor Bill de Blasio's $500 million LifeSci NYC program, which was launched last December with the aim of helping life science startups with cash boosts and tax incentives. The grant will create 16,000 new, well-paying jobs in the city.

The money goes to [email protected], a new incubator for life science startups that, as its name suggests, is a partnership between BioLabs—a specialist in setting up incubator centers—and NYU Langone Medical Center. Another $5 million is earmarked for one or more as-yet unidentified incubators.

The 50,000-sq. ft. hub is due to open at the 180 Varick Street center in Manhattan later this year and, when fully operational, is expected to host up to 35 startups in "affordable" lab and office space that will house up to 1,000 workers, said the Mayor's office.

The incubator will occupy two floors in the building and will include 48 benches in an open lab space, as well as three private labs, three semi-private labs, nine small private labs and 30 offices, with accompanying conference rooms and event space. Companies that claim space in the incubator will start with a package of tailored laboratory equipment and supplies, according to BioLabs.

"With this grant we are investing in New York's emerging life science economy, one that benefits New York workers and encourages collaboration between our great research institutions, innovators and startup businesses," said de Blasio.

The city has more than 100 research foundations and nine academic medical centers, but despite that has been unable to match Massachusetts and California in fostering a life science cluster. One of the main reasons has been a shortage of affordable commercial laboratory space, which according to BioLabs, "has made it hard for New York City to hold on to young companies spinning out of its research institutions."

However, with 16% growth in jobs since 2009, the life sciences sector "is among the fastest growing in the city," according to the Mayor's office, which said New Yorkers hoping to secure a career-track job in a growing industry—and struggling with the rising cost of living—will have access to "1,000 paid internships, new training programs and job placements in a field with average salaries of $75,000" as a result of LifeSci NYC.

LifeSci NYC is part of a broader New York Works initiative, a 25-point plan that is targeting the creation of 100,000 jobs over the coming decade.

Other projects in the pipeline include a $100 million investment in an applied life sciences campus—either along Manhattan's East Side or in neighboring Long Island City—and a $50 million investment program to expand the capacity and capabilities of NYC's existing academic medical centers and research institutions.

LifeSci NYC will also provide $20 million a year in matching seed and growth funds to support early-stage businesses, and $300 million in tax incentives.