Biomedical, life sciences, and biotech startups are increasingly flocking to the Tri-Valley. Many startups and growing companies have been drawn to Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley for the area's highly educated workforce, affordable office space, and supportive network of national laboratories, world-class local universities, industry organizations, and existing companies. But not all of the entrepreneurs and business executives who could benefit from locating in the Tri-Valley are aware of its benefits. That is part of the reason why i-Gate Innovation Hub and East Bay Bio Network presented the First Annual Tri-Valley Life Sciences Summit in October.
The summit, which took place at Veeva Systems at Hacienda, attracted more than 100 attendees. Many of them were executives from companies already established in the area, while others came from outside the Tri-Valley. That was a win, according to East Bay Bio Network Founder Yolanda Fintschenko, as drawing entrepreneurs from outside the immediate area was one of the goals for the summit.
The i-Gate Innovation Hub and East Bay Bio Network joined together for the Life Sciences Summit to help educate attendees about the industry. "There is so much going on right now in the life sciences in terms of growth of existing companies, new companies, and getting investment," says Fintschenko. "There are more resources available. Those resources include having a local investment firm like Tri-Valley Ventures and having the incubator space now in Livermore at The Switch that can actually host life sciences companies. That is huge."
Switch Labs, an incubator for "hard tech" startups developing science and engineering-based technologies as well as biotech company, was added to i-Gate's existing Switch incubator as part of i-Gate's move to a new location. The move added 9,000 square feet of lab space for hard tech and biotech. This laboratory space is an important resource for companies that do not have access to affordable laboratory space at a university, for example. The need for lab space often makes hard tech and biotech "really hard industries" for starting a new company, according to Fintschenko.
Biocom, a life sciences trade association, has also noticed the industry growth in the Tri-Valley and Bay Area. "We now have over 400 member companies with a presence in northern California and a team of four," says Michelle Nemits, Biocom's Senior Director of Business Development. "This summer we decided it was time to open an office in South San Francisco that could serve as a kind of community center for the industry, and it has been quickly evident that this was a good decision."
The East Bay life science industry is strong and growing, according to Nemits. It is home to approximately 800 life science companies and institutions, and employs over 28,000 people. "The jobs in the industry are among some of the highest paid and fastest growing occupations in the Bay Area, and demand for talent is rapidly growing," she notes. "Venture investment has grown significantly from $386 million in fiscal year 2017 to $681 million through July 2018. There has been a rapid increase of startups that spin out of the universities and labs, and entrepreneurs and incubators to nurture those innovations."
The Bay Area boasts some 2,500 life science companies, according to Nemits, and they generate economic activity valued at $113 billion. With an average wage of $101,000 in the East Bay, the industry pays well and offers a range of employment opportunities. While many biomedical positions require advanced degrees, there is also demand for technical positions that require trained employees but no college degrees.
Bio-Rad Laboratories is among the top five life science companies in the world. Founded in the 1950s, Hercules-based Bio-Rad built its Digital Biology Center at Hacienda in Pleasanton. The headquarters of Roche Molecular Diagnostics, which develops and manufactures a wide array of innovative medical diagnostic products, can also be found at Hacienda, along with more than 20 other biomedical and pharmaceutical companies.
The City of Pleasanton has long been known for its cluster of biomedical or life sciences companies. These include biomanufacturing firms as well as pharmaceutical companies. Gritstone Oncology, for example, is headquartered in Emeryville. This innovative clinical-stage biotechnology company is developing the next generation of cancer immunotherapies to fight multiple cancer types.
The research and manufacturing done by Gritstone is exacting and urgent. When the company needed to build a new manufacturing facility, it worked with the City of Pleasanton and Hacienda to get what it needed. Gritstone's new 43,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at Hacienda includes multiple clean rooms, has the capacity for further expansion, and was built in compliance with current Good Manufacturing Practices standards.
"There is a large number of highly skilled, trained people in the East Bay, and more and more companies are recognizing that talent base and are locating in the East Bay specifically to benefit from the workforce," says Andrew Allen, Gritstone Oncology CEO, President, and Co-Founder.
"We have enjoyed setting up operations in Pleasanton and working with the city, which has been an extremely good partner, very collaborative," says Allen. "We are very happy with the decisions we have made and where we have located our facility."
City officials were happy to help Gritstone realize its plans for a new manufacturing facility. They are willing to work with any existing Pleasanton business as well as companies new to the city to expedite building and land use permits, which can speed up construction.
"While biomedical has an established place in Pleasanton's business community, we're excited to be advancing this sector with companies that are finding commercial success while developing and delivering life-changing technologies," says Pamela Ott, Director of Economic Development for the City of Pleasanton.
"Industry leaders like Abbott and Allergan, along with fast-growing startups like 10X Genomics and Unchained Labs, have found Pleasanton's market to offer valuable access to the spaces and talent that biomedical companies need to thrive."
10x Genomics, which builds technology tools for scientific discovery, is one of the many companies that make up the Pleasanton biomedical cluster. The successful startup is the Tri-Valley's first home-grown "unicorn," a company valued at $1 billion or more. When the company needed to open a second manufacturing facility, executives decided to move to a larger space while staying in Pleasanton.
"Pleasanton is the sweet spot where you get the talent from all across the Bay Area and rents aren't quite as expensive as San Francisco or the Peninsula," Serge Saxonov, co-founder and CEO of 10x Genomics, told the San Francisco Chronicle recently. The company's move, will give it a total of 200,000 square feet, should be completed in the summer of 2019. An estimated 200 new jobs are expected to be created as well.
Tri-Valley biomedical companies make a significant contribution to the economic health of the region and the State of California as a whole. In 2017, according to California Life Sciences Association, life sciences company revenues topped $178 billion in California, and more than 311,000 Californians were directly employed throughout the sector. The largest number of biomedical companies in California are located in the Bay Area, and an increasing number of them are located in the Tri-Valley.
"The biomedical industry has enormous economic impact," says Nemits. "Some of the biggest names in the life science industry are located in the East Bay, as well as world-class universities and national laboratories. The past few years have seen a rapid increase in startups spinning out of the universities and national labs, as well as companies moving to the East Bay and Tri-Valley area to take advantage of the highly educated local workforce and somewhat lower cost of living."
These developments have contributed to a "hotbed of innovation," according to Nemits, that has produced some of the most exciting research and commercialization breakthroughs in the industry. In addition to the economic impact, there is a lot happening in the Tri-Valley area and East Bay "that is critical to helping patients in need and that will improve human health around the globe," says Nemits.
For more information about i-Gate Innovation Hub and The Switch Lab, please visit www.igateihub.org.
For more information about East Bay Bio Network, please visit its Meetup page at www.meetup.com/East-Bay-Bio-Network.
For more information about Hacienda, please visit www.hacienda.org.