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MINNEAPOLIS-The nonprofit University Enterprise Laboratories, a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the City of St. Paul, has raised nearly $8.3 million of the $9 million it needs to start renovations of the some 80,000-sf of lab space at the 125,000-sf building near the near the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus. Renovation work has already begun on the office portion of University Enterprise Laboratories’ building at 1000 Westgate Dr., and Cima Nanotech plans to move into about 12,000 sf of office space there Sept. 1, says Bob Elde, head of the effort and dean of biological sciences at the University of Minnesota.

Of the some the 40,000 sf of office space, tenants are lined up for all but 4,000 sf, he adds. Other tenants include Ewald Consulting, and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson Venture Enterprises and its office of business development.

The renovation work includes design work by Architectural Alliance of Minneapolis, and Kraus Anderson, the locally based general contractor. But the University Enterprise Laboratories’ incubator is at least a year behind initial expectations as to when it would open. The opening date keeps moving back as the enterprise has had trouble completing its fund-raising. Elde now hopes to have the incubator space ready for move in by March or April of next year.

Competition is developing. The former Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Building at 1246 University Ave.–called Menlo Park St. Paul–is the new kid to the party as far as Twin Cities biotech incubators go, has already signed several tenants. In addition to University Enterprise Laboratories, Elliot Park Life Sciences Institute, a 61,000-sf project on the eastern fringe of Downtown Minneapolis, is under development by the Midwest Orthopedic Research Foundation.

Biotech incubators are key to a plan spearheaded by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to attract hundreds of millions of dollars to build a biosciences industry in Minnesota. The idea behind the incubator is to provide startup biosciences firms with cheap lab and office space, shared business services and a place to share ideas with similar entrepreneurs.

Sometimes these facilities also house related professionals such as patent attorneys, fund-raising experts and business consultants. The expectation is that the successful firms will outgrow the incubator and expand in surrounding zones, which also offer tax credits and other incentives.

Incubators are risky propositions, however, especially for landlords. Designed for companies with little cash and marginal prospects, incubators often must be able to provide subsidies and handle attrition among their tenants.

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