First co-working space for biotech start-ups in Singapore to launch in November

Daphne Teo, CEO and founder, NSG BioLabs, poses for a photo at the lab co-working space on Oct 9, 2019. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
NSG BioLabs, Singapore's first and largest private co-working laboratory and office space will officially launch in Nov 2019. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - With pastel coloured walls, neon decorations and plush sofas, a co-working space in Biopolis can be mistaken for a cafe or a blogshop's retail outlet.

But NSG Biolabs, fitted with a sterile lab and high-tech equipment, is a 15,000 sq ft co-working space for biotech start-ups.

To be launched in November (2019), it looks set to play host to some of the nation's brightest minds.

Its founder, 36-year-old Daphne Teo, set it up after a biotech company she co-founded struggled to find a space to operate.

"It was very hard for us to find good lab space in Singapore. We already raised quite a large sum of money but weren't at the point where we should be spending millions on a lab space. But there were no options for us to move into," she told The Straits Times on Wednesday (Oct 9).

Her company, Engine Biosciences, was located at the premises of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, but grew too large to continue operating there.

Around May this year, she began to develop NSG Biolabs, with support from Enterprise Singapore and United States-based group Nest.Bio.

Ms Teo noted that Singapore has no privately-owned co-working spaces for biotech start-ups to operate from.

"Researchers who can't find a space can't validate their technology, and if they can't validate their technology, no investor will invest in them," she said.

Her facility, when ready, will serve as an incubator for small biotech start-ups, ranging from those with just one to two researchers to those with 20 to 30 people.

It has 120 desks, 96 lab benches, eight office suites and six meeting rooms.

A desk can be rented for about $500 a month while a lab bench, where two scientists can work at a time, goes for about $2,500 a month.

Companies will have access to a wide array of lab equipment, including microscopes, autoclaves and centrifuges.

Ms Teo said the provision of such equipment will give start-ups the flexibility to grow or adjust their size without having to invest substantially in equipment and infrastructure, which can be costly for a start-up.

"It's a very flexible way of validating your ideas and technology," she added.

As an incubator, NSG Biolabs will also provide funding and advice to start-ups in such areas as pitching, fundraising and going commercial.

Ms Teo is aware of the risks of contamination, theft and sabotage in a shared space.

To reduce it, each company's researchers will have their own lab bench that they will not share with others. As the tenants are trained researchers, they will follow standard lab protocols to avoid contamination, she added.

NSG BioLabs will also inform existing tenants of newcomers and those who are direct competitors will be rejected.

But the current three tenants - Engine Biosciences, Immunoscape and Acumen Research Laboratories - are not only getting along but have found ways to collaborate.

"It's something we're very excited about. We hope this space will bring people together. Our goal is to build a biotech ecosystem for Singapore."

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