Robert Chavez, executive director of ProjectLift Miami, works with accelerator companies in the Miami Innovation Center at the UM Life Science & Technology Park. Photos by Alex M Sanchez of the Miami Herald staff.
By Karen Burkett, firstname.lastname@example.org
Many U.S. cities are competing to bring biotech companies and jobs to their communities, places like Phoenix, Buffalo, Gainesville and of course, Miami. They all want to develop an industry cluster, and while cities like San Diego and Boston have already successfully grown theirs, Miami’s efforts are still somewhat nascent.
Less than a year ago though, the Miami Innovation Center opened its doors for business at the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park. The Miami Innovation Center caters to startups and small businesses with a mix of offices, labs and co-working spaces.
UM’s Life Science & Technology Park sits on about 10 acres near Jackson Memorial Hospital and UM’s medical school, between Northwest 17th and 20th streets and between Seventh Avenue and Interstate 95 in Miami. The signage for the Life Sciences building is prominent, visible to most highway drivers, but it doesn’t tell the full story of just who owns what. This is a project very much born out of partnerships. The university owns the land, but Wexford Science & Technology developed the building. So far, the developer says 75 percent of the office space has been leased, and tenants are mostly from the biotech sector. One of the most recent companies to locate in the park is DaVita, which focuses on kidney disease and dialysis treatments.
Dr. Joshua Hare, the director of the UM Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, and his company Vestion, is also one of the tenants. Vestion is focused on developing regenerative therapies for conditions like heart attacks.
Richard Schuchts, co-founder of the Miami Innovation Center, describes Hare as one of the research park’s superstars. “I think one day we’re going to tell children there was a time people died from heart disease and we didn’t have stem cells and children won’t believe it,” says Schuchts.
Not only is Schuchts, who has a background in commercial real estate, sold on the wonders of science and research, but he’s bullish about the physical assets of the Life Science & Technology Park building and its location. The facility offers equipment specifically designed for research scientists: an autoclave, an industrial ice machine, an emergency shower and eye wash, and ventilated fume hoods.
The land was strategically chosen in the area now referred to as Miami’s Health District, not simply because of its proximity to UM and Jackson but also for sheer numbers. Between those two systems, Ryder Trauma Center and the VA Hospital, Miami’s Health District is the second-largest in the country, serving more patients than any other metro area besides Houston.
Every company in the Life Science Park does not have to be a health or biotech company, as there is also a push to diversify the mix of tenants to create a dynamic collaborative overlap. K Hage, a Brazilian-owned fashion technology company that leased office space last year, is one example of a non-science business whose employees walk the halls. The Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, which serves local minority entrepreneurs and businesses, also has offices in the building.
The park, which also hosts technology, entrepreneurship and healthcare-related events, is also home to more than just seasoned entrepreneurs. Six weeks ago, five startups entered the facility’s inaugural seed accelerator program, called ProjectLift Miami, which is located within the Miami Innovation Center. ProjectLift initially intended to accept 15 startups but realizes now how much more attention the smaller number of companies get.
“Leadership wants to shepherd all of them now,” says Robert Chavez, executive director of ProjectLift Miami. “If there were 15 in this early stage, mentors would have probably focused on one or two companies.”
The crew of entrepreneurs went through rigorous testing and an extensive application process to make sure their ideas were solid and their personalities were flexible. Companies selected get a package of funding, mentoring, services and work space in exchange for 7 percent equity.
Chavez says he has learned a lot working with this first class, but he wanted to be sure he evaluated the businesses on the potential for job growth and industry impact. Venture capital raised comes much further down on his list of priorities. “This is the healthcare sector. If they’re saving lives and creating jobs, dollars will come,” says Chavez.
The five companies have about 90 days to get instruction and mentoring, business resources, technology services, warm introductions and access to the health district.
Crystal Ice, CEO of Alert.MD (pictured here), was living off savings and faith until ProjectLift came along. She and partner Dr. Dale Taylor, the company’s chief medical officer, didn’t necessarily consider themselves “businesspeople” when they got started.
Ice and Taylor developed their Alert.MD emergency identification system because of professional experiences.
As a resident, Dr. Taylor remembered having to care for patients without any information about their medical history. He thought what if there was a button you could just push.
“If an elderly person were to come in the ER and we just have a license to go by we have no one to contact to let them know they’re even in the hospital. Much less find out past medical history, medication allergies,” says Taylor.
Alert.MD is an app for your cellphone.