Senate approves funding for MU’s life sciences incubator

Monday, September 8, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:06 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Columbia business leaders and MU officials who are backing a proposal to build a small-business incubator on the MU campus received some good news last week.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., announced that the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $250,000 to the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission for the proposed Life Sciences Technology Incubator.

The incubator project has been a top priority of university officials and business leaders for the past several years. Supporters say the incubator will aid in the commercialization of MU life sciences research and create jobs.

“An incubator helps the university by allowing it to get its discoveries into the marketplace and have an impact,” said Tom Sharpe, executive director of MU’s Office of Technology and Special projects.

The building, which Sharpe said is likely to be near the research reactor on campus, would be designed to enable start-ups to receive management assistance and share ideas and administrative services with other young companies.

Garry Taylor, director of the planning commission, said his organization has yet to determine what the $250,000 will be used for.

“We will be sitting down with the people at REDI (Regional Economic Development Inc.) and the university next week to decide what the money will be used for,” Taylor said. “We anticipate that these funds will be used to do some engineering or some planning for the incubator.”

REDI is a group of public and private organizations that works to promote economic expansion in Columbia and Boone County.

Bernie Andrews, president of REDI, said the Life Sciences Coalition, a partnership among MU, the city and the business community, plans to submit an application for $2.5 million in federal grant money within the next few months.

The total cost of building the incubator is expected to be around $5 million, Andrews said. The rest of the money will likely to come from private investors and MU.

A similar small-business incubator, the Nidus Center for Scientific Enterprise, already exists in St. Louis. Divergence Inc., a company that focuses on finding environmentally safe methods for pest control, is one of the center’s start-ups.

Derek Rapp, the company’s chief executive officer, said Divergence has benefited significantly from its experience at the Nidus Center.

“We have really nice facilities now,” Rapp said. “It means that we are able to focus on the science aspect of things—we can focus our attention where it could create value for our shareholders.”

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