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Published November 20, 2018
As part of the University of Wyoming’s new Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE), a Health and Bioscience Innovation Hub will help entrepreneurs and researchers develop next-generation health and wellness solutions.
“We believe that Wyoming has the potential to be a global center for health and wellness innovations,” UW School of Pharmacy Dean Kem Krueger says.
These innovations can include human and animal pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, medical devices, wellness and sports medicine solutions, and personalized and preventive medicine. The hub will serve as the interface for the human, physical and financial resources necessary to develop intellectual property, from initial idea to foundational research, through the launch of viable businesses that can enhance Wyoming’s economic diversity.
The biotech startup market is characterized by the need for expensive equipment, high failure rates and a regulatory approval process that results in a lengthy time from proof of concept to market. Establishing the hub as a nonprofit entity in Wyoming can serve as a catalyst to help entrepreneurs navigate these pitfalls, bringing together funding, advisers, investors and talent to generate a self-sustaining and growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition to its other services, the hub will potentially include laboratory spaces and equipment in several locations throughout the state.
The IIE calls on innovators from throughout the state as it works to instill entrepreneurial thinking to graduate the leaders of tomorrow. Adding needed programs and drawing together all UW colleges, business services and entrepreneurship competitions, the IIE serves as the university’s front door for the state’s entrepreneurs.
As more and more people flee expensive big cities, Wyoming offers a distinct and balanced lifestyle to entrepreneurs and bioscience professionals, IIE leaders say. The state already has much of what is needed to constitute an entrepreneurial ecosystem for innovations, and the Health and Bioscience Innovation Hub will help fill existing gaps, providing capital, expert advising, facilities, equipment and a high-skilled workforce. The hub also will serve as an oversight mechanism for investors and other stakeholders, vetting projects and ensuring approved projects progress to market by setting and reviewing specific benchmarks.
The Health and Bioscience Innovation Hub will be established as an independent, nonprofit organization and will consist of two parts that work synergistically to meet client needs at both ends of the product development cycle. One of the parts, SPARK-Wyoming1, will be based at UW and will serve clients with projects in the early preclinical phase of product development. The second part of the hub is an incubator/accelerator focused on human and animal health startup biotech companies.
The SPARK program started at Stanford in 2006, and SPARK Global now has affiliated programs at more than a dozen institutions worldwide.
“The mission of SPARK is to educate science researchers at universities to propel their ideas from bench to bedside,” Krueger says. This includes helping academics overcome obstacles, educating faculty and graduate students on the path to clinical application, and developing more cost-effective approaches.
As part of the SPARK model, a volunteer board of expert advisers helps screen projects and shepherd them through the process. Joining the network gives UW added resources and opportunities for collaboration.
“We believe we can build the support for business and scientific infrastructure. The idea is to create this biotech ecosystem whereby early-concept research comes to the university,” Krueger says. “That can help support graduate students who, in turn, build relationships with and learn to interact with private companies, in addition to traditional public funding opportunities. We’re diversifying not only our research funding stream but our opportunities for our graduate students as well.
“To this point, we believe that if we have sufficient funding and build in sufficient infrastructure like connectivity and broadband, this will allow a startup company to be housed in Jackson or Casper or Gillette or Sheridan rather than on the coasts.”
The hub already has its first client: a doctor from Gillette with an idea for treating and preventing sepsis who was in need of basic research for his proof of concept. He was paired with an expert researcher at UW whose lab can help.
In the future, the latest medicine to treat your condition or the latest medical device may come from right here in Wyoming.