LAWRENCE – On the cusp of a major expansion, the Bioscience & Technology Business Center at the University of Kansas has earned two federal grants to help fuel business acceleration, innovation and economic growth in northeast Kansas.
For the fourth time in five years, the BTBC at KU has been awarded $50,000 by the U.S. Small Business Administration through the agency’s Growth Accelerator Fund competition, which supports outstanding business accelerators, incubators and other entrepreneurial ecosystem models that are playing major roles in their region.
A second grant, from the Economic Development Administration, will fund a feasibility study for a STEM-focused digital fabrication lab in connection with the BTBC’s Phase III development plans. The $21,000 boost comes from the EDA’s Planning and Local Technical Assistance Program.
“During this important stage of our Phase III development – and in planning the broader Research & Business Park in KU’s West District – this funding not only helps us expand our work with local entrepreneurs, but will also help us identify additional resources and amenities needed to build a sustainable infrastructure of entrepreneurial support,” said G.R. Underwood, president and chief operating officer of the BTBC. “These grants represent a vote of confidence in our community’s recent success in growing its high-tech economy and in the BTBC’s ability to direct resources where they will have meaningful local impact.”
The BTBC is one of 60 winners of this year’s SBA Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. In 2014 – the first time the BTBC applied for SBA funding – it was home to 24 companies and 108 jobs with an annual payroll of $6 million. Today, the BTBC’s Lawrence facilities are 100 percent full, and its Lawrence and KU Medical Center campuses are home to 55 companies that provide 338 jobs and $20.4 million in payroll each year.
The $50,000 prize from the SBA will help the BTBC continue to provide focused assistance to entrepreneurs, including support for company formation as well as education on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The BTBC is located in a federally designated Opportunity Zone, which provides tax benefits designed to increase economic development and job creation. More than 60 percent of the prize money will support entrepreneurs and companies located in or working out of that zone.
The $21,000 Economic Development Administration grant will help the BTBC determine whether Lawrence could support a commercialization and innovation makerspace for entrepreneurs, researchers and business owners as they develop and refine new technologies. The feasibility study will investigate the lab’s potential value as a venue for collaborating on innovation and prototype development, sharing prototyping equipment and software, providing technical skills training and sharing community resources for STEM education.
At the core of the study, Underwood said, will be a thorough market analysis to determine whether there is sufficient need in Lawrence to support such facilities and to identify the capabilities that would provide the most value to the various entrepreneurial, business and academic communities in the region.
“An important step in eliminating the barriers to business creation and growth is to first identify what those barriers are and how we can collaborate as a community to overcome them,” said Bonnie Lowe, Lawrence Chamber CEO. “We are excited for the results of the study, which will provide another opportunity to better understand the needs of the local businesses and entrepreneurs that help drive our economy.”
“The City of Lawrence values its decadelong partnership with Douglas County, the University of Kansas and the Lawrence Chamber – working together through BTBC to build a thriving ecosystem of support for entrepreneurship and innovation in Lawrence/Douglas County,” Mayor Lisa Larsen said. “These grants further enhance BTBC’s ability to leverage the region’s existing economic assets to support high-growth industries in our area.”
Top photo: BTBC at KU's main facility in the West District.
Right photo: A rendering of BTBC's Phase III expansion, a 70,000-square-foot building directly adjacent to the main facility.