“Our goal with the Innovation Center at Ohio University is to help startup companies break down the barriers that would impede their launch and growth.
The Center started in 1983. The University’s president at the time and another leader realized they needed to leverage the resources we have here to benefit the regional economy. They came up with a model that was really ahead of what was happening at the time–it was only the 12th university-based incubator to open in the country.
Since then, we’ve stayed true to that mission. The building that houses the Innovation Center opened in 2003: we have 36,000 square feet, we have 10 biotechnology labs, about 30 offices, and five conference rooms. We also have client community spaces, like a kitchen and lounge area.
While the Innovation Center is a building, we also provide wraparound services, things like executive coaching, connections to investors, business development, and technical assistance.
We have an executive coach on site, walking entrepreneurs through their value proposition, sales pitch, how to build a website, and how to get their financials in order.
We also have what we call anchor tenants. Those are groups that help us to assist our startup clients. The Athens Area Chamber of Commerce is in our building, along with the Athens County Economic Development Council, and our area Workforce Development Board. They can all provide connections and resources for our clients, anything from tax incentives to grants and loans for employee training.
We also have the Business Assistance Center, and they’re able to help companies get woman-owned certification and access all sorts of different state and government resources that enable businesses to grow. They are a good partner and have great resources for clients as well.”
“The Innovation Center has had a lot of successful graduate companies. The biggest winners have been in the biotech space. A few years ago, we did some market research and recognized that there was a lack of biotech spaces not just across the state, but across the Midwest in general. There are two main hotbeds – Boston and San Francisco – that have most of the biotechs. We had been getting a lot of inquiries for lab space and saw an opportunity.
A company formerly known as Diagnostic Hybrids, which was acquired by Quidel, makes testing kits for things like flu and herpes, and they were one of the first companies to receive FDA approval for a COVID-19 test.
We’re looking to replicate success stories like that by offering lab space. We have about a million dollars of biotech equipment, all of which our clients can access. If you’re a founder with a great idea for drug development but have to go out and get all that equipment on your own before even getting to market, you probably wouldn’t launch. By providing that equipment, we can help them succeed.
The university has a great research facility called Edison Biotech Institute. They have some ideas spun out of there that could be commercialized. There is also a great opportunity for our companies to partner and collaborate with researchers, as well.
One company that we’re working with now that’s pretty cool is a medical device company called OsteoDx. Their device measures bone density to diagnose osteoporosis before fractures start, and it actually came out of research at the university.
Essentially NASA each year evaluates startup companies and companies they think would have a great impact on NASA’s work are selected. OsteoDx was selected by NASA as the winning company in Ohio and top five in the country.
The thinking from NASA is that they’re going to be able to use this diagnostic technology to monitor if space travel has a negative impact on bone density or creates things like osteoporosis in astronauts.
In terms of the state as a whole, what’s really exciting right now is that JobsOhio is on the cusp of starting to invest in earlier-stage companies and that’s something they’re going to continue to do, particularly around the biotech space.
In 2021, the system created about 249 jobs, generating $18 million in employee compensation and $49.7 million in economic output. What we’re most proud of is that the jobs that we are focused on creating are jobs that pay more than twice the average wage in our county. These are truly jobs that change families and change lives. That’s our intentional focus and it’s been rewarding.”
“As a result of the pandemic, many have shifted to working from home. It has raised the question; ‘Why do I need to live in an urban center and pay an exorbitant mortgage or rent when I could potentially have a better quality of life in a small town?’
In particular, people realized the value of work that has meaning and purpose. We have a lower cost of living and a great quality of life. You can live in a place like Athens and still work for your company on the coast, but you can bike to work, you don’t have any traffic, and there’s no smog. You can go hiking on the weekends. That’s part of the overall attraction to small communities and I think some of the lifestyle and industry priorities that have shifted during the past two years are enabling people to leave the city centers.
And here in Athens, you can be part of a small community but access high-level resources like the Innovation Center. Place-based incubation, or even just co-working, is important. A lot of great things happen in our hallways, over coffee in the kitchen with the clients, who might be wildly different sectors but they all can share their similar experiences. There is a lot they can learn just by talking to each other, they’re able to share resources and best practices.
People that are working from home, but maybe want a bit of connectivity, should look out for places like the Innovation Center where they can have an office and have that engagement a few times a week, or whatever works for them.”
—Stacy Strauss, Director of the Ohio University Innovation Center, Athens
Athens, Athens County