Flex space

Flexible lab spaces: an experiment in innovative real estate

In the world of medical research and pharmaceutical development, an innovative trend is fast gaining traction — flexible wet lab space. Drawing on the concept of coworking and space-as-a-service, this model is revolutionizing the way scientists, researchers, and startups access and use lab space. 

Understanding flexible wet lab spaces

A "wet lab" is a laboratory where scientists conduct experiments that involve liquids, such as water, various chemicals, or biohazardous materials. These labs usually require specialized plumbing, ventilation, and safety equipment. The cost of maintaining a wet lab can be a significant barrier to entry for many startups, small companies, and independent researchers.

Enter flexible wet lab spaces, a paradigm that allows multiple users to share one or more fully-equipped wet labs. This is similar to the shared office spaces that have become commonplace in many urban areas around the world. By leveraging the space-as-a-service model, these shared lab spaces provide affordable, flexible, and resource-efficient solutions for the scientific community. 

The economic upside of shared lab spaces

Shared lab spaces offer immense economic benefits. For one, they drastically cut down on costs. Building, equipping, and maintaining a wet lab can run into millions of dollars, a prohibitive expense for many. By sharing a lab space, these costs are distributed among multiple users, making it more affordable for everyone involved.

Secondly, shared lab spaces allow for flexibility. This means users can rent out lab space for the exact duration they need, whether that's a few hours for a single experiment or several months for a longitudinal study. No more paying for unused space or being locked into long-term leases.

“In a flexible lab space, scientists can get faster results, in large part because they can initiate new studies faster without having to wait for major renovations,” noted JLL. “More flexible design can also help companies navigate the current shortage of suitable lab space in many U.S. markets. As an added benefit, when lab spaces can be re-arranged on demand, they support more engagement and collaboration between researchers, and make a facility more appealing to talent.”

Shared lab spaces foster innovation and collaboration. Researchers working in the same space can network, share ideas, and collaborate on projects, accelerating scientific discovery and fostering a vibrant community of innovators.

“Owners and developers of real estate generally have to walk the fine line between seeking to attract maximum prospective tenant interest through things like amenities and unique spaces, and creating the highest possible return on investment based on a projection of what the future holds,” said Adam Harper Senior Associate, Gensler. 

“The life sciences industry presents a unique opportunity and challenge to create a space design that can adapt to the market. Given the lifecycle of a life sciences company is very different from a typical office user and is less likely to live out a full seven or 10+ year lease in a space, it is important to make sure that the second generation space will be just as attractive to the next tenant. It is similarly important to make sure that, if the demand one day is for biology space but in five years servers and storage for digital health machine learning development is the market driver, a building can pivot to serve the needs of those companies.”

Use cases of shared lab spaces

The potential use cases for shared lab spaces are vast, catering to different needs across the scientific community. Biotech startups, for instance, can take advantage of these spaces to conduct preliminary research and development before they've secured enough funding to establish their own labs. 

Furthermore, academic researchers can use shared lab spaces during periods of peak demand, when their institution's labs are fully booked. This ensures research continuity and promotes efficiency.

Pharmaceutical companies can also leverage these spaces for specialized projects that their in-house labs may not be equipped to handle, such as cutting-edge gene editing or nano-engineering experiments.

Several successful models of shared lab spaces have sprung up globally. BioLabs, a U.S.-based network of coworking labs, provides a stellar example. Their labs in cities like Boston, San Diego, and New York offer turnkey solutions for life science startups, complete with fully-equipped lab spaces, office spaces, and communal areas. 

BioLabs offers co-working spaces for life science startups — unique places where biotech companies and entrepreneurs can test, develop and grow innovative solutions and approaches. The BioLabs team consists of entrepreneurs and investors who know exactly what the pain points biotech startups face. “Our goal is to change how scientific entrepreneurs do business by building an ecosystem that empowers bio-innovators to grow quickly, while maximizing capital efficiency.”

The Ohio State University Wooster Campus Laboratory building utilizes fixed cabinetry along the perimeter of the lab and the interior benchtops were free-standing and flexible. As the team at Hasenstab Architects said, “In this environment, Ohio State can remove or reconfigure any section of casework in a matter of a few hours without having to obtain outside contractors for that work.   

Coworks: flexible operating software for shared lab spaces 

Managing a shared lab space requires a certain level of sophistication, given the delicate nature of the work being conducted and the costly equipment involved. That's where Coworks space management software comes into play.

The Coworks platform is a dedicated operating system designed to streamline the operation and management of flexible workspaces, including shared lab spaces. It offers easy to use booking and scheduling features, ensuring all users can access and reserve the lab spaces they need, when they need them. It also features permission-based booking, so species and equipment that require specific parameters are shown to the correct people.

Coworks offers a mobile member app, so your shared lab users can schedule meeting rooms, lab space, resources, and equipment from anywhere. They can also access FAQs and a searchable member directory

From an administrative perspective, Coworks is designed to streamline the backend operations of your flex lab space. Get occupancy reports and usage trends. And, of course, Coworks can integrate with various door access systems, helping to streamlining the experience of the users of the space as well as the configuration of your tech stack.

Overall, Coworks software facilitates a seamless, efficient, and safe environment in shared wet lab spaces. By leveraging technology, it helps maximize the benefits of these spaces, fueling innovation, collaboration, and scientific advancement.

The future of scientific innovation is flexible

Flexible wet lab spaces are a testament to the power of sharing resources and fostering collaboration. They democratize science, making cutting-edge research facilities accessible to a broader range of scientists and innovators. With platforms like Coworks, managing these spaces becomes effortless, further propelling this trend forward. As we continue into the 21st century, it's clear that shared lab spaces will play a significant role in the scientific advancements to come.

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