Building by scientists for scientists

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Photo Archives, University of North Carolina Wilmington 

The newest University of North Carolina Wilmington marine biotechnology building, top, is now open for leasing and research.

The newest University of North Carolina Wilmington marine biotechnology facility is now open for leasing and research as the six-year process nears completion.
Dr. Dan Baden, director of the Center for Marine Science and the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Marine Science, said final inspections are happening on the marine biotechnology building (MARBIONC) and described how it all started.
“Three scientists who have together probably 100 to 110 years of experience collectively in laboratories, and sat down with the architect who said, ‘OK in all of the buildings in all of the places that you’ve been, what are the things you don’t like?’” Baden said.
So movable tables and benches, utilities that come from the ceiling and floors sloping toward drains were incorporated.
The total cost of the MARBIONC building, located in the Campus for Research, Entrepreneurship, Service and Teaching Research Park on Masonboro Loop Road, is not finalized, but the original proposal was for $30 million.
It was funded 50/50 by federal and university monies. MARBIONC, the company, receives federal and state money to operate.
The building is for translation sciences, translating what scientists do into what corporations do, Baden said, adding that the university will hold patents for anything created.
“What we’re trying to do is get to a stage where a company wants the product to develop to a marketable form,” Baden said.
The four scientists and one patent attorney with MARBIONC, the anchor tenant, moved into the facility mid-September.
Another scientist, Dr. Jeffrey Wright, MARBIONC principal and research director and Carl B. Brown Distinguished Professor in Marine Science, made several trips back and forth from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Raleigh.
“It helped in terms of convincing the legislature to invest recurring funds in MARBIONC, marine biotechnology in North Carolina, with the view to exploit the resources of the ocean,” Wright said. “There’s a lot of stuff out there other than fish and shellfish. … We’re looking more at health-related products, things that could be used or could be linked to cure human disease.”
Within the new building six labs are for university research and 13 labs are open for leasing.
The modular units include office and laboratory space. Tenants will have access to conference rooms, a cafeteria, freezers and refrigerators, storage areas for large equipment, additional power sources and washing stations.
Tenants will also have access to security features to protect intellectual property and to university personnel who can help analyze data. The shared spaces will provide opportunities for “chit-chat” and collaboration.
“That synergy is invaluable,” Wright said.
The university administration is excited about the university and corporate world coming to partnership agreements in a variety of areas, Baden said noting the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that opened in early September as an example.
“They’re ideation if you will,” he said. “… We’re actually more in the do the research and when you get the results say, ‘What does that mean?’”
Via the skyway bridge, the MARBIONC building links to the Center for Marine Science. For a fee, this connection allows tenants to use key MARBIONC facilities and equipment they may not be able to afford. University students will also have the chance to work with companies as interns.
“You can’t put a price on that,” Wright said. “It gives the student real life experience … and it gives the companies an opportunity to evaluate these young people.”
About 20 unique companies have looked at the facility, with some repeats, and most visiting during the past year.
“A substantial proportion of those are from outside of the state of North Carolina,” Baden said, listing Florida and Virginia as examples. “We think that’s a really important concept to look at is new businesses to North Carolina.”
The goal is to have tenants pay $34 per square foot, totaling nearly $30,000 for the minimum 880-square foot dual modular space.
The first tenant will move in Oct. 15. Another local marine biotechnology startup company, Carolina Algae LLC that processes algae to create vitamins, nutraceuticals and other products has looked at the facility multiple times. 
The 69,000 square foot two-story building is also LEED Silver certified and has 24/7 power with backup protection the size of a locomotive that can run independently for three days.
The building was constructed to a 75-year university standard, and must adhere to the private-public partnerships principal for 20 years.
The federal funding came from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 grants, and the building was constructed to Buy American standards. 
Factors like adhering to recovery act standards, choosing a drier location and upgrading materials when possible delayed the process.
“If you look around, it’s right … but it took a little bit longer than we anticipated,” Baden said. “… There’s no other facility like this in southeastern North Carolina.”

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