Just six years after the Quebec Biotechnology Innovation Centre (QBIC) opened in the Laval Science and High Technology Park, the incubator is recognized throughout the world as a model biotech program. By adapting industry best practices to the particular needs of its researcher-entrepreneurs, QBIC has developed a program worthy of its reputation.
Founded as the Montreal area’s first biotech incubator, QBIC provides lab space, scientific equipment and mentoring services to start-ups in the fields of health, environment, agri-food and forestry. The incubator acts as a broker of expertise by outsourcing many professional services. This minimizes its operating costs and assures clients access to experts in accounting, information technology, communications and other specialties.
The incubator’s 28,635-square-foot facility houses 20 wet labs and 19 offices, and provides cold, dry and chemical storage space. Perhaps most attractive to its clients is QBIC’s equipment park, which offers biotech start-ups access to a wide range of scientific equipment on a time-share basis. Providing this equipment on site allows new companies to delay costly purchases, reducing their financial risks and freeing up funds for product development and marketing, QBIC Executive Director Normand de Montigny says.
QBIC leases space to start-up ventures in its pre-incubation and incubation programs. During the pre-incubation phase (typically six to nine months), staff members help clients write business plans, negotiate intellectual property agreements and seek investors. Clients enrolled in the incubation program continue to build their businesses, completing product development and bringing their products to market. The incubator drafts individualized graduation plans for each client based on the company’s accomplishments and goals. Upon graduation, QBIC also helps companies locate new premises and potential sources of financing.
De Montigny says his staff’s ability to respond to the unique needs of biotechnology start-ups is one of the reasons both the program and its clients have grown. "We’re flexible in implementing our services," he says, noting that QBIC’s five-member staff is known for its "plug and play" approach to working with entrepreneurs. "Because of our lean administrative structure, we’re able to respond efficiently to the needs of our resident companies."
This responsiveness has helped the incubator maintain 100 percent occupancy for almost two years and has secured its reputation in the biotechnology field internationally. Since 1996, QBIC has graduated six businesses, including two that have set up operations abroad. The incubator currently houses 11 start-ups, two of which were recruited from outside Canada. The incubator hopes to continue to expand its international network, increasing global networking opportunities for clients and the number of foreign companies that locate at QBIC.
QBIC started with a five-year business plan to guide staff toward specific and measurable goals. By 1999, the incubator had met — and in many cases exceeded — its initial objectives. For example, when the incubator opened in 1996, it generated only 28 percent of its operating expenses. QBIC’s business plan called for an increase to 62 percent by 2001. By the end of last year, QBIC actually financed 72 percent of its expenses and now is targeting a figure of 80 percent by 2005. In July 2002, QBIC will begin acquiring an equity stake in client companies — to start generating revenue in 2005-06 — which will increase self-financing levels and contribute to an incubator contingency fund.
De Montigny attributes much of the incubator’s success to a strong client selection process, a knowledgeable board of directors and good partners who support the program financially. QBIC partners with four universities in the Montreal area and the governments of Canada, Quebec and Laval. The incubator’s board of directors is composed of representatives from the business and scientific communities. Thanks in part to its rigorous selection process and QBIC’s strong mentoring services, all current and former clients remain in business. As of December 2001, QBIC clients and graduates had more than US$87 million in assets and had created 539 jobs.
One successful QBIC client is BioEnvelop Technologies Inc., which entered the incubator in 1998. Active in both the North American and European markets, the company produces biodegradable protein-based coating and packaging for the agri-food sector. Its star product, Longevita™, can be sprayed onto prepared foods such as pizzas, quiches and pies to extend their shelf life. The company is one of two QBIC clients listed on the CDNX, the Canadian small-cap stock exchange. BioEnvelop Technologies closed an initial public offering in the difficult economy of the second half of 2001.
De Montigny says winning the Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year Award has been a great motivator for his staff. "Receiving international recognition of what our incubator is doing by the home of business incubation best practices (NBIA) is wonderful," he says. "Oftentimes, our staff gets caught up in the day-to-day process of serving new businesses, so we don’t always see a lot of recognition. This is like receiving the gold medal in the Olympics."
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