Dublin to get a €20m launchpad for early-stage life sciences innovation

6 Oct 2021

Rajiv Patel and Toby Reid. Image: Julian Behal Photography

Spear Street Capital will invest in a purpose-built life sciences campus to be managed by the UK’s We Are Pioneer Group.

About €20m will be invested in building a brand new launchpad for early-stage life sciences companies in south Dublin. The 30,000 sq ft facility will be built at The Campus in Cherrywood and operated by We Are Pioneer Group (WAPG), which is already responsible for several similar facilities across the UK.

The backing for this ambitious project comes from Spear Street Capital, a San Francisco-headquartered real estate investment company that owns and operates properties across North America and Europe.

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com from San Francisco this week, Spear Street president Rajiv Patel said the goal is for WAPG at The Campus to become the “epicentre of life sciences activity for Ireland”. It will have specialised lab, office and collaboration space with the capacity for more than 100 people, or 15 to 20 companies. This will include shared and private wet labs, starter labs, medium-scale labs and office units.

‘You need more than a beanbag and a MacBook and a beer fridge to get started in life sciences’

The design of WAPG at The Campus goes beyond the workspace to include amenities, an outdoor conference space and a main street with sunken gardens. The idea is to create an environment that will be attractive to life sciences talent across Ireland.

Patel explained that Dublin was chosen for the site owing to its existing life sciences and start-up ecosystem. He cited an influential report from US analytics company Terrain Analytics, which ranked Dublin sixth out of 20 best European cities for life sciences, with one of the youngest talent pools available.

As well as partnering with WAPG, Spear Street is connecting with existing stakeholders in Ireland’s life sciences ecosystem to kick-start this new community. Locating at Cherrywood makes neighbours of major life sciences companies such as APC, Mater Private, Genuity Science and Zoetis, as well as broader STEM industry players such as Dell and Accenture, and Elavon Financial Services.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) is in discussions to establish a satellite lab and operation at Cherrywood. And Insight, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for data analytics, will also establish a footprint at The Campus to directly connect with this new focal point for the life sciences industry.

Overall, Patel said this new incubation and acceleration space will benefit start-ups, academic institutes and large corporates combined.

‘The goal would be that We Are Pioneer Group helps incubate the next generation of successful companies and we have the infrastructure and the scale to house their headquarters and their growth’

Catalysing the development of this new life sciences cluster will be WAPG, which formed earlier this year following the £120m acquisition of BioCity Group by Trinity Investment Management and Harrison Street Real Estate Capital. Since this merger, WAPG is responsible for more than 2.6m sq ft of science parks and facilities across nine locations in the UK, including BioCity Glasgow, Cardiff Edge, Edinburgh Technopole and Manchester’s Hexagon Tower.

Becoming part of this community gives WAPG at The Campus access to a network of more than 600 life sciences companies, not to mention mentors, scientists, entrepreneurs, technologists and connections in major life sciences multinationals.

As well as a valuable network, WAPG offers early-stage life sciences companies a lower barrier to entry. “Start-ups in our space can’t operate like start-ups in the digital space,” said WAPG executive director Toby Reid. “You need more than a beanbag and a MacBook and a beer fridge to get started. You need fully functional labs with the right equipment around them and people who understand the work that you’re trying to do.”

WAPG gives life sciences innovators the space to tinker with early-stage ideas at pay-as-you-go wet labs – basically a one-metre lab bench rented by the month with all the equipment you need to experiment. This will enable early-stage start-ups and student entrepreneurs with little-to-no capital behind them to secure a few weeks or months in a lab for vital development work. A lot easier than trying to work out a three-year lease with six months’ funding, as Reid put it.

Further to this, WAPG is committed to helping shape scientific ideas into high-potential start-ups. “Good quality early-stage businesses don’t just happen,” said Reid. “There’s lots of really clever science that never becomes good businesses.”

WAPG offers help to shape new life sciences start-ups to “survive and thrive”. Its development programmes will challenge the commercial viability of new ideas, advise on routes to market, and help to frame opportunities in a way that VCs will understand – and, more importantly, buy into.

A first pre-accelerator from WAPG will likely take place in Dublin before its opening at The Campus next spring.

‘There are IDA reports going back a decade suggesting that we badly needed this kind of facility’

Ronan Furlong, executive director of the Dublin City University start-up hub DCU Alpha, has been advising Spear Street on this project since summer 2020. For him, Spear Street is “unlocking a market opportunity that’s been crying out for someone to unlock it”.

“It’s fixed a market failure that exists in an Irish context. There are IDA reports going back a decade suggesting that we badly needed this kind of facility,” he said.

The IDA, Ireland’s State agency responsible for foreign direct investment, stands to benefit from this development as it will likely make Ireland more attractive for future and further life sciences investment. Of course, if you were to map Ireland’s current pharma, biotech and medtech landscape, you would find a concentration of companies in the west of the country, not solely in the capital.

But Furlong is already working to connect east with west. Conversations with Tyndall National Institute in Cork and BioInnovate at NUI Galway are already taking place, and Insight’s Galway team is a key driver of its relationship with WAPG. “They see a real opportunity for their customer base or their ecosystem in Galway to plug into this facility,” said Furlong.

“It’s the start of something that could become nationwide,” he added. “I think this could be the catalyst, potentially for a number of these facilities dotted around the country.”

For now, expansion is already a long-term prospect at the Cherrywood facility. Patel concluded that there is ample square footage available to continue building out the life sciences campus as this south Dublin suburb itself continues to grow.

“The goal would be that We Are Pioneer Group helps incubate the next generation of successful companies and we have the infrastructure and the scale to house their headquarters and their growth, and then the We Are Pioneer Group space continues to incubate the next generation of great companies,” he said.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.