Laboratory equipment, blue liquid

Tips To Choose The Best Lab Space For Young Scientists in SF


by Hannah Freeman, January 11, 2021

The explosion of biotech and advanced life sciences has touched off a scramble for lab space, with just 2% vacancy and little leasable move-in ready inventory. As companies grow and startups continue to emerge from research incubators, the lack of readily available lab space for young scientists is a significant challenge for companies and young scientists looking to establish their businesses.

Launching your own laboratory marks the beginning of a new and exciting phase of your scientific career, but it can also be overwhelming. Only a few of us have any training in the site management skills or the knowledge to select the best lab space in the Bay area necessary to build and run an effective business. 

In collaboration with Focus, Innovation Properties Group’s Real Estate Professionals share four important tips that young scientists should rely on and keep in mind when selecting their first (or a new) lab space:

A Young Scientist Lab Space With Room for Growth

Select an office and lab space for young scientists suitable for the company’s upcoming stages of growth. Biotech and advanced life sciences companies, especially when they are young, move through various sequences of growth phases, with all of them demanding different space requirements.

Based on the stage or nature of your research, but also funding sources, and the need for ancillary office and/or manufacturing space, a young scientist has to carefully select and decide on a space to start/grow their career. Identifying your lab and space requirements (wet/dry labs, clean rooms, equipment, and kitchens/coffee stations too) is refined through the understanding of scientists’ needs, through a survey of comparable science companies.

If your company is in an earlier phase, scientific incubators and shared spaces are ideal because they eliminate or minimize build-out expenses, offering private lab space as well as the shared communal space. A perfect and functional lab building has a shared kitchen, spaces for networking/event activities, separate meeting rooms, and common equipment such as freezer farms, glass wash, etc.

White laboratory office

Start With A Built-Out, Established Lab or Shared Incubator Space

The definition of the lab space needs of a scientist and their planned company growth include the size of space, percentage lab vs. office space, usually a typical number of employees, possible location preferences, and a type of building (multi- vs. single-tenant, single-floor vs multi-floor).

Focus has established a shared lab space in the Bay area, in collaboration with traditional co-working space. Lab members have access to their dedicated R&D bench as well as shared lab equipment. They also get the benefit of office space and conference rooms. 

Being a part of shared space is ideal for scientific companies because you can focus on your business rather than worrying about being an office manager. Utilize the conference rooms to meet with potential investors, have a dedicated desk or private office to work outside the lab, and pop into the kitchen for lunch or fresh coffee. 

One aspect of starting a lab is the sheer number of decisions that need to be made. From the first R&D project to your own dedicated lab, employees, first major purchases, and new scientific breakthroughs, founders have a lot on their plate. Focus has real estate professionals as well as biotech consultants on staff to help mentor your business decisions.

Location, Location, Location

Biotech and life sciences companies are uniquely sensitive to (re)location, as proximity to research facilities, suppliers and talented young scientists are critical to successful commercialization and growth. Through interviews and surveys, IPG Real Estate Agents identified the top locational requirements:

  • Access to skilled scientists and experienced workers;
  • Closeness to research institutions and similar life science firms;
  • Easy access to local and regional transit;
  • Amenities to support staff needs and business activities, such as restaurants, retail, hotels, and others.

Focus Scientific Labs is located in the downtown SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco. A downtown location offers many of the conveniences and amenities that are hard to come by at many lab spaces in the Bay area neighborhoods. 

Once the business advances its position from a start-up to a mid-sized or mature stage, making long-term commitments to a good and big lab space can mean no relocation and additional expenses. When selecting a city or neighborhood for your city to call home, It is important to consider factors outside of the building itself. Focus staff is available as a resource for members when they begin to outgrow a shared lab space, from identifying leasable private labs or serving as a special event and meeting space.

Young female scientist in the laboratory

Use a Real Estate Professional to Negotiate Flexible Lease Terms For Your Company

For a science-based start-up, flexible lease terms, such as month-to-month or year-to-year are ideal. These terms can be prolonged from 3 to 5 years once the start-up “graduates”, and then get 5 to 10 years when they achieve the capacity to expand or relocate to a larger space in the building with the same lease terms.

More established life science companies can get 7 to 10 years or more of the single-tenant build-to-suit lab and office suites. Landlords want an anchor tenant or multiple floors occupied by an established, well-funded business. 

When a scientific company gets to an established phase of their business, a real estate agent can use this to their client’s advantage by ensuring they get the most optimal lease terms. A real estate agent can position you as the ideal tenant when making offers to landlords. Due to the fast-evolving nature of this commercial real estate sector, data is continuing to illustrate the current and growing demand for high quality, modern laboratory build-outs. 

It’s normal to feel unprepared for this level of independent responsibility. After all, how is one to know who to hire, how many supplies need to be purchased, or the best type of equipment for yet-unknown research projects? This array of important decisions can be paralyzing, especially when combined with perfectionistic tendencies that are so common among scientists. 

That is why you need a well-prepared real estate agent with experience in life sciences to lead you through the process and guarantee the best possible outcome. At Focus, we are committed to the scientific community, our members, and their businesses. Our in-house real estate agents are available for you to consult with, and we can represent you in your next real estate lease at no cost to you.

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