This story is from the 2018 Access FYI: FedEx Young Innovators List. Explore more from this issue
Start-up labs

Labs: Giving Start-ups a Head Start

A new breed of incubator is supplying start-ups with expensive equipment and other critical infrastructure.

Start-up labs

Battleships, including the U.S.S. Arizona, were once built in the 84,000-square-foot Brooklyn Navy Yard building now home to New Lab. While prototyping and manufacturing remain as top functions at this industrial facility, the output today is more likely to focus on robotics, connected devices or artificial intelligence (AI). And it’s not coming from New Lab itself, per se, but from its 95 member start-ups and the 500 or so start-up employees working on site every day.

One of those start-ups is Farmshelf, which is using sensors and software to develop automated hydroponic growing systems, enabling anyone to grow food where they live. As a member of New Lab, Farmshelf has low-cost access to 3D printers, laser cutters and other manufacturing equipment.

It also has access to the exchange of ideas from like-minded high-tech makers, not to mention opportunities to tap investors and learn how to manage intellectual property.

The model is taking shape across industries and around the world. Johnson & Johnson Innovation, for instance, operates several JLABS facilities in the U.S. and Canada, including JLABS @ Toronto (photo above), recently featured in the Access story “Innovation in Action: Leading Three Cities Into the Future.” The life sciences incubator — home to nearly 50 resident companies working on innovations in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, health technology and consumer health — provides entrepreneurs with state-of-the-art laboratories, specialized instrumentation, and operational and resource support, not to mention scientific and capital funding experts. The no-strings-attached model provides early-stage start-ups with the advantages and resources of a big company while preserving those start-ups’ equity and freedom to drive their innovations forward.

Other labs, though smaller in scale, provide members with similar resources. Among them are Fab Labs (where “Fab” is short for “Fabrication”). Nearly 1,200 Fab Labs in more than 100 countries — many located at community colleges — provide start-ups with access to 3D printers, laser cutters, and related tools and software. Here, innovators can quickly prototype and even produce finished products — without the expensive prospect of investing in the equipment themselves.

PHOTO ABOVE: Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS @ Toronto

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