Biomedix has had a good run as a start-up, developing instruments to test food pathogens for several companies, including the owner of the El Torito and Acapulco restaurant chains.
What especially stands out, though, is its location: California State Polytechnic University's Innovation Village technology business park.
"For a young company, it's a very dynamic place to do research and build a business, and a great source of the best potential young employees," said Claver Bundac, Biomedix's founder and chief executive of the biotech company. He's surprised that more companies haven't discovered it yet.
Thirty miles west of downtown, the four-year-old Cal Poly-affiliated park is a surprising success story for Los Angeles, where higher profile efforts at USC and other institutions to get a biotech park off the ground have foundered.
And despite the continued challenges of being in a somewhat remote location, there are signs that the 65-acre complex is starting to make traction.
Dallas-based developer Trammel Crow Co. is expected to start construction on a 120,000-square-foot multi-tenant building. In addition, catheter developer Biosense Webster, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary now based in Diamond Bar, is set to open a small customer service facility next month while it decides on whether to build a new headquarters there too.
All told, university officials say that the park is on schedule in the next few years to approach the halfway mark in leasing 1 million square feet of entitled building space. "It's emerging as a remarkable public-private partnership," said Julie Holland, executive director of business services for the College of the Extended University, the university's continuing education program located at the park.
Cal Poly's development, which got a jumpstart in 2003 when the American Red Cross built a 201,000-square-foot blood processing and research facility there, offers one of the few opportunities for a biomedical company to locate close to a major academic or medical research facility in the L.A. area.
City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte is in discussions with a developer for a facility on undeveloped land it owns. And the University of Southern California has been in discussions with city and county officials for several years over how to best acquire land near the campus for a biotech park. So far, USC is only planning a 80,000- to 100,000-square-foot building on its Health Sciences Campus in East Los Angeles, presumably the first phase of a larger complex.
A recent study commissioned by Cal Poly estimates that once built out over the next eight or so years, Innovation Village would employ 2,000 to 3,000 people and provide $500 million in annual economic benefit to the local, regional and state economies.
As with similar biotech parks, the idea is to both create a revenue stream from unused university agricultural land and foster closer business relationships that can enhance the learning experience on campus. The campus offers the only biotechnology undergraduate degree in the Cal State system, so there's a special emphasis in recruiting life science companies.
"We want to attract companies that are not just interested in a great piece of dirt, but also are attracted to our human capital our students, faculty and staff and our facility," said Edwin Barnes, the university's associate vice president for executive affairs, who has shepherded the project from the beginning.
First conceived in 1995, the university business park was approved by trustees in 1999, in an arrangement where the Cal Poly Foundation Inc. leases the land from the university, then in turn, provides ground leases to tenants.
The initial anchor was a three-building complex that was a collaboration of the foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The complex includes NASA's Commercialization Center, which originally specialized in technology developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory but has since expanded its focus and been renamed AccelTech.
Steve Lauzier, the development's director of real estate, said that after build out, there's the potential to expand Innovation Village into part of an additional 150 acres that the university has reserved for future campus expansion. He also has been in discussions with the cities of Pomona and Industry about redevelopment of private land near the campus that might attract a large biomedical company requiring more land than the university can offer.
While praising the Cal Poly complex, Ahmed Enany, chief executive of the Southern California Biomedical Council, believes it may only have limited appeal.
"There are compelling reasons to locate a business near where the original technology came from," Enany said. "You ask 99 percent of researchers from USC, UCLA, City of Hope or Cal Tech and that's where they want to locate their companies. That's why it's so important that these efforts at USC and at City of Hope get off the ground."
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