Niche Coworking: 3 shared workspaces for scientists

Niche Coworking: 3 shared workspaces for scientists

The coworking scene is still so often associated with desk-based industries and work. But, as those of us who work in the sector already know, it’s proving increasingly popular with practical specialisms – including, but not limited to, life sciences.

Rising costs and economic uncertainties have been pushing scientific research and development organisations to become more agile. 

You need a lot of capital to build and furnish a lab from scratch, and getting tied into a long-term lease just isn’t always viable. Enter shared lab spaces. 

A growing number of science startups are renting a portion of a shared lab space on flexible contractual terms. They get access to the equipment they need to accelerate timelines, and opportunities to source talent and collaborate with others. 

For a niche coworking space to be successful, it has to be designed with its members’ specific needs in mind. Erik Lustgarten, a global leader in Gensler’s Sciences practice, says that leading lab coworking companies typically embrace these core principles:

1. “Let the scientist just do science”

A coworking environment should be conducive to productivity. Members want to know that their monthly outgoing is worth it because they’re making a return on investment.

“Removing the challenges of building out labs, procuring scientific equipment, securing environmental permits, and developing vendor relationships allows entrepreneurs to put investment capital directly into the idea,” says Lustgarten.

2. “Connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to grow”

Location is very important. As well as somewhere with good transport links, it’s important to situate a shared workspace in an area that provides members with ample access to talent, and investors who might be interested in funding their research. 

“It’s no coincidence that most coworking labs are located in strong academic and science clusters where an established support network of suppliers, advisors, and investors can be engaged to generate a robust network of supporters with a shared interest in advancing science,” Lustgarten continues.

3. “Cultivate a distinct, supportive culture”

It’s important to pay attention to the non-lab areas of the building too. Lustgarten says that the leading lab companies take inspiration from hospitality-style settings. 

“Scientific partnerships are often based on not only value, but also on trust forged through social interaction. Hospitality inspired spaces for meetings and events reinforce a shared commitment to accelerating scientific discovery, enable rewarding social experiences, and nurture a culture of collaboration and entrepreneurship,” he adds. 

Image credit: CDC

In the words of Erik Lustgarten, “let the scientist just do science”.

Focus Innovation Studio, San Francisco

The San Francisco Bay Area has a reputation for innovation and research, and is renowned for its life sciences clusters. Focus Innovation Studio is located in downtown San Francisco. It’s home to over 6,000 square feet of shared facilities and 13,000 square feet of open workspace. 

The studio is the result of a collaboration between the Gasser Family Trust and Innovation Properties Group. Adolph Gasser was a prominent businessman and pioneer in the photographic industry, designing the Big Eye sports camera, developing special enlarged photographs and inventing a strobe unit used in an unopened Egyptian Pyramid.

Like “regular” coworking spaces, Focus Innovation Studio provides flexibility. Life science, technology, and R&D businesses can start with one bench and take on more space as they grow. The list of shared lab equipment is extensive and includes:

  • Laminar flow hoods

  • Centrifuges

  • Incubators and CO2 incubators

  • PCR Thermocycler

  • Spectrophotometer

  • RO Water

  • DI Water

  • MilliQ Water

  • Gel Electrophoresis set-ups

  • Autoclave

  • Lab Glassware

  • Sonicator (wand and bath)

  • Oven | Vacuum Pumps | Peristaltic Pumps

  • Microscopes: Digital Image Capturing

  • Dissecting Scope

  • UV Transilluminator

  • -80C Freezer, -20 Freezer and 4C Fridge

  • Liquid Nitrogen Cryostorage

Bruntwood SciTech, across the UK

The Bruntwood Group operates 100 buildings across the Midlands and North of the UK. Its portfolio includes 11 specialist science and technology clusters (Bruntwood SciTech), making it a leading science and tech specialist property provider.

Bruntwood SciTech is committed to driving the growth of the science and technology sector. On 11 May, it unveiled a £30m transformation programme at Glasgow’s Met Tower. The 14-story building, which has been vacant since 2014, is set to become a new hub for tech and digital businesses.

Buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. As leaders in innovation and technology, it’s only right that science-based coworking spaces make driving down their own operational and embodied carbon output a priority.

Bruntwood is helping lead the way in green building infrastructure. It was the UK's first commercial property landlord to commit to the World Green Building Council's Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, including their whole life carbon requirements. Bruntwood has pledged to make each of its buildings net zero carbon by 2030.  

OpenCell and BioHotel, London

“We make the process easy so that they can get on with the science.”

OpenCell was founded in 2018 to make it easier for graduates to get their first lab up and running. It provides shipping container labs for biotech startups in the White City area of London. What started out as 3 shipping containers now encompasses 70!

OpenCell’s members are working on projects that involve synthetic biology, CRISPR, DNA sequencing, therapeutics, biologics, hardware, bioelectronics, software, biomaterials, bioplastics and a range of other practices. 

In Q2 2022 OpenCell is set to open BioHotel in a 15,000 square feet former retail venue, also situated in White City. 

The large facility will contain a cluster of labs designed for up to 50 biotech startups and labs will be available to rent on a short-term basis. Members can utilise a selection of shared services and facilities worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, including an integrated consumable store, auditing, clinical waste and cold deliveries.

We’ve written about how the coworking movement can be a vehicle for inclusivity.

In keeping with this ethos, OpenCell is helping to break down the access barriers to biotechnology and make it more accessible to a wider range of startups. Early-stage, investor-backed, biotech startups (SEIS eligible) will be able to access the BioHotel free of charge for their first three months. 


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