Ohio University’s Innovation Center: Incubating Appalachia’s Biotech Startups

Behind every thriving community is small business. Behind a lot of successful small businesses are incubators, which provide the support and resources startups need to succeed. For 38 years, Ohio University’s award-winning Innovation Center (IC) has offered much-needed space for Appalachian Ohio’s innovators, helping them bring ideas and economic opportunities to life.

IC’s 36,000-foot custom built facility offers business services, additive manufacturing, discounted vendor contracts, flexible facilities for conferences and meetings, and access to an expansive network of public and private industry experts. Together, these resources significantly increase the chances of business success by cutting costs for entrepreneurs, allowing them to focus on growth, and eventually become economic anchors in their community.

Prior to COVID-19, IC was already using ARC support to upgrade its biotechnology and manufacturing offerings, as this sector was proving successful for incubation clients. The onset of the pandemic, however, showed IC just how useful its capabilities could be to regional and national response efforts. The facility quickly moved to secure funding from the Economic Development Agency’s Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance program, which is being used to add three additional biotechnology laboratories to IC’s seven existing labs. These rare laboratories meet the National Institute of Health’s biosafety regulations. Within three years of its completion, the project is expected to create 10 new businesses and 100 new jobs, many of which will likely pay higher-than-average wages for Southeastern Ohio. IC is also now able to provide business coaching specific to the biotech and life science sectors.

Place has always mattered for businesses, as the inability to access resources is often why startups fail to fully develop. Offering a place and space for biotech and life science startups to safely operate and flourish in Appalachia is an exciting new level of entrepreneurial incubation. IC hopes the outcomes of its continued sector-specialization in biotech will help the Region and nation more nimbly respond to health crises like COVID-19. Given IC’s track record of supporting hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs, all of which are helping to anchor local economies, this will likely be the case.