There is a high level of activity at the lab incubator ShareLab, and now capacity is even better. At the same time, the first companies are on their way out of the "nest".
"ShareLab helps newly established companies to get through the infant stage. If we are able to help a company move out to its own lab, it is a success," says Esben A. Nilssen, leading partner at ShareLab.
The right time: When Esben A. Nilssen was a student, the innovative environments of Silicon Valley were far away, and the activity in the Park was lacking. Now, it's a whole different story.
The life science incubator has existed since 2018. And while the first years were quite quiet, there is now full activity in the two floors ShareLab has available in the Park.
'When we opened, we had a hypothesis that few biotech start-ups establish and succeed due to a lack of lab space. Labs are expensive to build, costly to operate, and you need expertise to run it. When you start a business with two-three employees, it's quite a challenge to make investments in the millions,' says Nilssen.
At ShareLab, companies have access to fully equipped labs from day one without needing to invest themselves. Instead of a small office space for two or three people, the companies have an innovative environment where it's easy to ask for advice and get prompt help.
Around 30 companies are affiliated with ShareLab, with a total of 100 life scientists and entrepreneurs working to create new products in diagnostics, medicine, and veterinary medicine.
Aim to grow even more
The 24 work stations in the lab are fully occupied, and demand has been so high that the incubator has expanded. In addition to the large lab, there are now six lab suites available, with all the necessary equipment. The lab suites opened on August 1st and have been fully booked since then.
"We have a large lab with dedicated benches where people work in a community setting. It is best suited for smaller companies with a few employees. As the companies grow and hire more staff, there is a need for more space, space for their own equipment and access control. The companies that succeed have grown rapidly and need larger lab space," explains Nilssen.
Initially, the capacity has increased from 300 to 500 square meters, but the hope is to grow much more.
"We have a desire to expand to 800-1000 square meters of lab space. We strongly believe in bringing the small companies together and keeping them together across our two floors. You don't get the synergy and the magic that can arise from interactions between people when you are spread out. Our hypothesis from five years ago seems to be proving true."
Growing: ShareLab has increased from 300 to 500 square meters and has acquired six new lab suites that are already in use. The goal is to eventually be able to grow even more.
Valuable lab activity
Engaging in life sciences research is expensive. According to Nilssen, around 12 billion Norwegian kroner are spent annually on life sciences, primarily supported by the government. However, little is converted into businesses.
"We need academic research, but there is a mismatch between the life science investments we make in Norway and the societal value they generate. Our role in ShareLab is to create more jobs and more commercial products based on this research. The fact that the labs are full is a signal that we are moving in the right direction."
At ShareLab, it is not just about the lab and community but also about recruitment and financing.
"It's important in our industry; we need both risk-taking researchers and more capital. It can cost a few hundred million before one can test a medicine on the first patient, and then you often need a billion to reach the market."
Thriving environment: Around 30 startups have access to ShareLab. Now, three of them are on their way out to establish themselves in their own premises.
While some companies have just begun their journey in the life sciences field, others are leaving the "nest." For the first time since its inception, three companies that started at ShareLab are on their way out of the Research Park to establish themselves in Oslo with their own facilities.
"They have reached exactly where we want them to be. Now they are debuting outside of us and setting up in Oslo. We hope that more can follow in their footsteps in the future."
Esben himself is a biotechnologist and wishes he were a student to be a part of the vibrant environment at the Park. As a biotechnology student in the 80s, he was actually ahead of his time.
"The climate wasn't right back then; Oslo Science Park was a dead place. We read about innovative environments in California and Silicon Valley at that time, but it took over 20 years for things to take off in this country. Now the whole world is talking about innovation."