Student using equipment in a laboratory

Cal State LA’s bioscience incubator will nurture start-up businesses while providing opportunities to students

Cal State LA’s bioscience incubator will nurture start-up businesses while providing opportunities to students.

For years, Cal State L.A. has been a leader in providing academic research and laboratory training opportunities for students who have gone on to earn Ph.D.’s in critical science-related fields. Those efforts received a significant boost last fall when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors awarded a $3.5-million grant to the University to help fund a bioscience incubator.

BioSpace L.A. will feature up to 20,000 square feet of lab space in the Physical Sciences building, where students and faculty can work with start-up businesses on innovative bioscience projects. The funding was championed by former Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who sought to jump-start the bioscience industry on Los Angeles’ Eastside and leverage the University’s proven track record of educating science students, especially those from underrepresented communities.

“Cal State L.A. has a long history of educating minority undergraduate and master’s students who go on to earn Ph.D.s at top research universities across the country,” Molina said during a visit to the campus in late November. “This diverse group of graduates reflects the makeup of the Eastside, and what better way to retain these talented students than to provide them high-quality jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities so that they can continue to live and invest in this community.”

Bioscience deals with the structure and behavior of living organisms and has become an engine of economic opportunity. As other industries shed jobs during the recession, the bioscience industry in Los Angeles County continued to grow.

The bioscience industry includes major areas such as agriculture, drugs and pharmaceuticals, medical devices and instruments, hospitals and laboratories, and research and testing. One industry giant, Grifols, develops plasma products on a site adjacent to the University on East Valley Boulevard. The firm has 850 employees, including about 80 Cal State L.A. alumni. Its president, Guillermo “Willie” Zuñiga, graduated in 1986.

The University is hoping to replicate its partnership with Grifols as it prepares to launch construction on the new incubator on the second floor of the Physical Sciences building, which has mothballed labs, offices and a conference room.

The building is just a short walk from the new Wallis Annenberg Integrated Sciences Complex and an area known on campus as “Innovation Alley,” where the NASA University Research Center and Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility are located.

Start-up ventures would be able to lease lab space at attractive rates and work with Cal State L.A.’s impressive students and renowned professors.

Students like junior chemistry student Maria Escamilla say the incubator will provide rewarding research opportunities.

“We’re planning to go off to graduate school, and seeing innovative and creative ideas being developed is something that we’re going to do as Ph.D. students,” Escamilla said during a presentation attended by Molina and President William A. Covino.

Covino is a proponent of active learning environments that are permeated with curricular, pedagogical and technological innovation. The new lab will become that type of environment, a space that offers students an invaluable experience, while also serving the community and the county.

“When the university is a hub for applied research and scholarship that produces new solutions,” Covino said, “the local community, the region, and students can thrive.”