As coworking becomes more popular among freelancers and small business professionals, the biotechnology industry is also seeing new opportunities to leverage the model.

Madison-based Forward BIOLABS is a biotech coworking space that allows biotech startups to get off the ground without the overhead and supply cost. On average, Forward BIOLABS helps reduce the time to startup by six to nine months without the hefty overhead price tag of getting a lab up and running.

The coworking space includes offices and a fully equipped life sciences lab. Most of the equipment in the lab is used sporadically, explained founder Jessica Martin Eckerly. By sharing that space with other startups, Forward BIOLABS makes more efficient use of the expensive equipment.

The “membership” is month-to-month. It costs startups $1,750 for the first bench per month and $1,000 for every additional bench. Since Forward BIOLABS launched its pilot in 2018 and has since gone to a larger footprint, five startups — and one more this month — have graduated into their own space, she said.

Each company that enters is at a different stage in their work, for example, getting funding, filing a patent, working on a technical issue, trying to resolve a scientific hurdle in product development, building a customer base or making connections.

“There’s nothing like this, there is nothing like Forward BIOLABS in the Midwest,” Eckerly said, adding that while coworking lab facilities are new in the grand scheme of things, more exist on the coasts.

Supporting entrepreneurial ambitions in Wisconsin through the coworking model is instrumental in keeping biotech talent in the state. Currently, 16 startups are using the space in a variety of disciplines from gene therapy to food science and medical devices to agriculture technology. Almost all of them are based in the Madison area.

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