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EDA Investment Supports Scientific Breakthroughs Today, Careers for Tomorrow

In the 2010s, Orange County, California found itself facing a demographic challenge. The county was experiencing a shrinking population in every age group other than seniors, a trendline that stood in contrast to the Golden State as a whole. Seeking to harness an existing pool of talent and stop the outflow of scientific innovation from the county, the Beall Family Foundation partnered with the University of California, Irvine (UCI) to create University Lab Partners (ULP). The non-profit life sciences incubator opened in 2019 in a 17,105 square-feet business center. It’s designed to support research-focused companies innovate in a collaborative workspace.

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Scientific equipment purchased with support from an EDA grant is seen in this photo from University Lab Partners. In the foreground is a refrigerated benchtop centrifuge used for cell harvesting and DNA precipitation.

The costs of outfitting such a facility, however, do not come cheap. With local stakeholders unable to completely fund the purchase of state-of-the-art scientific equipment needed to attract and retain key players in the life sciences sector, University Lab Partners turned to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) for help.

"Wil said bring me the proposal and let's see if we can get something done," recalls ULP’s Ecosystem Director Karin Koch, referring to EDA’s Wil Marshall, Economic Development Representative for Southern California.

The result was a $3 million Economic Adjustment Assistance grant issued by EDA for the purchase of centrifuges, PCR machines, shakers, and the outfitting of a microscopy room and two tissue culture facilities. ULP’s 8,000 square feet laboratory center houses the equipment, which its 26 tenant companies share to conduct cutting-edge research.

While ULP initially estimated its EDA grant would help create 55 new jobs in Orange County and generate $40 million in private investment, those numbers have already been greatly exceeded. According to Koch, $50 million in capital was raised and 84 new positions created among ULP’s tenant companies in the 12 months since the grant was awarded. The new positions are at cutting-edge firms like Novoheart, which is working to engineer bioartificial human heart prototypes, and SiO2 Materials Science, whose technology to create a unique type of unbreakable medical-grade container saw it named one of Fast Company’s “10 most innovative manufacturing companies of 2021.” And, in October, ULP was selected by Boston’s Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation & Technology to partner in a project to support the National Institutes of Health Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative, which launched to accelerate the deployment of COVID-19 testing technologies.

Breakthroughs Today, Careers for Tomorrow

University Lab Partners’ EDA-funded equipment is not only paving the way for new high-tech jobs and scientific breakthroughs today but is laying the groundwork for the innovators of tomorrow.

Recently, ULP launched the Medical Innovation Research and Entrepreneurship program, a nine-week STEM course for Orange County high school students designed to showcase career pathways in life sciences research. The program gives students access to hands-on exploratory programs in ULP’s state-of-the-art facility and culminates with a competition that challenges participants to develop a proof of concept that they pitch to industry leaders. Students can earn college credits transferable into the University of California System for their participation in the program.

“We’re a community-serving organization,” explains Koch. “Workforce development is very important to us.”

EDA’s Economic Adjustment Assistance program provides a wide range of technical, planning, and public works and infrastructure assistance to regions experiencing adverse economic changes due to changing trade patterns and other factors. To learn more, and to see how others are using EDA grants to support local economic development, visit the success stories section of EDA’s website.

Tags: Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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