MU business incubator establishes European partnership

Friday, December 18, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Jake Halliday is excited about the new partnership linking MU’s business incubator to BioCity Nottingham, a business incubator in the United Kingdom.

“They’re not London, and we’re not New York or Boston,” Halliday said. “We’re pretty pleased to be selected.”

Halliday, president and chief executive officer of the MU Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place, said the agreement between the two incubators has been about a year in the making.

He said the idea for the partnership started when a Nottingham-based company, PetScreen Ltd., opened its U.S. headquarters at MU’s business incubator earlier this year. PetScreen was drawn to MU after working closely with Carolyn Henry of the College of Veterinary Medicine on canine cancer research. Halliday said PetScreen made introductions between the managements of both incubators, and then Columbia and MU representatives made several trips to Nottingham, northwest of London, to meet with their counterparts.

The deal was officially sealed in November.

Halliday said both incubators are compatible in part because neither is located in a major city.

“We both have an underdog approach,” Halliday said. “We’re both very strategic and face very similar challenges.”

Bob Black, former chairman of Regional Economic Development Inc., went to Nottingham several times to help ensure the partnership got up and running.

He said both incubators specialize in housing high-tech companies, which is another point of compatibility.

“It was serendipity,” Black said. “Everyone felt good about the agreement.”

Halliday said the new partnership has two main benefits. First, MU’s business incubator now has access to more companies like PetScreen that might choose Columbia as a U.S. base for their operations. Second, companies at MU’s incubator now have access to Europe and can get reciprocal support at BioCity.

Business incubators are vital for startup companies, Halliday said. A large proportion of new businesses fail, but the odds of their survival dramatically change when they become part of a business incubator, which provides not only mentoring but also facilities that are typically not available to young companies.

“Incubators are important because economic development through new venture creation is a team sport,” Halliday said. “There’s a tremendous sense of support in the incubator community.”

MU’s business incubator, which is on South Providence Road in the Research Park area of campus, allows companies to lease space in its facility. In exchange, those companies have access to amenities such as conference rooms and office space. Incubator tenants can also utilize equipment in various university departments for research and development purposes, depending on what the specific company does.

Halliday said MU’s business incubator can learn a lot from BioCity, considering MU’s is less than a year old and BioCity was started several years ago.

With no more partnerships in the works, BioCity Nottingham is currently the only gateway to Europe for MU’s incubator.

Black, who is still on Regional Economic Development’s board of directors, said he and Halliday have planned another trip to Nottingham in April to further nurture the relationship.

“We’re making contacts over there so that we have a good pipeline of influential people that can help us meet companies interested in starting up in the U.S. market,” Black said.

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