Building a Start-up Ecosystem for Utah Biotech Entrepreneurs

By Tina Larson & Christopher Gibson

Building a company from the ground up is hard. Building a biotech from the ground up can be even harder. Without access to expensive equipment and laboratory space to test critical scientific ideas, few biotech startups would get off the ground.

Founding Recursion in 2013 started with a shoestring budget and an all-night drive from California to Salt Lake City with a moving truck full of very used lab equipment. Recursion leased space from the University of Utah and deferred major equipment purchases by paying the University to use some of their expensive equipment. Realistically, Recursion was lucky to make it through the first two years and the ‘valley of death’, which can be doubly deep in the world of biotech startups. Early resource constraints prevent the vast majority of potential entrepreneurs from bringing their ideas to fruition.

That’s why we’re proud to announce the launch of an important collaboration with the University of Utah’s Center for Technology and Venture Commercialization (TVC) to convert Recursion’s old headquarters into an incubator for tech and biotech entrepreneurs here in Utah.

Located in the University’s research park, the space encompasses over 14,000 square feet of office space and state of the art life science laboratories. In this unique collaboration, Recursion will continue to cover the lease for the space, consistent with our ongoing obligations, and TVC will upgrade the space and support operations. And we hope the collaboration will grow into the future.

We’re excited because this project embodies many of our passions. For starters, it’s all about innovation in tech and life sciences, and it’s a great addition to the startup community here in Salt Lake City.

We’re excited because this project embodies many of our passions. For starters, it’s all about innovation in tech and life sciences, and it’s a great addition to the startup community here in Salt Lake City. We love Salt Lake City as a place to live, play and build a new company. But as one of the few biotechs in the area, we also understand the challenges of breaking new ground outside the hubs on the Coasts. Lowering the bar to innovation, and enabling entrepreneurs, is an important step toward strengthening Salt Lake to help it become a robust biotech start-up community.

More importantly, we’re establishing this incubator with a mission to support women and individuals from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and entrepreneurship. Working at the intersection of biology, computer science, and engineering, we understand the importance of a diversity of views; we also understand how hard it can be to build diverse STEM teams today. As a small step towards greater inclusion, this incubator will work to identify and support applicants from underrepresented groups (including women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community the world over), along with University of Utah entrepreneurs.

You may be wondering, how did this all come about? A constant reality when building a transformative start-up is anticipating how fast we will achieve milestones and need to scale. As it turns out, Recursion’s growth accelerated far beyond our expectations as the team very quickly made major breakthroughs in developing our technology, discovering new potential medicines, and securing partnerships- we quickly outgrew a space we had leased for several years. This is not uncommon with scale, and a great problem to have!

Instead of letting our old lease go to waste sitting empty, we decided to repurpose it to give back to the entrepreneurship community. And finding a partner in the University of Utah, from which Recursion was born, made a lot of sense. We give a lot of credit to President Ruth Watkins, VP of Research Andy Weyrich and head of the TVC Keith Marmer for seeing the potential here and acting quickly.

We know that the success of this project will further support Recursion’s mission by enabling industry-changing startups and elevating a community of new leaders from historically underrepresented groups.

We know that the success of this project will further support Recursion’s mission by enabling industry-changing startups and elevating a community of new leaders from historically underrepresented groups. And with the amazing quality of life found in Salt Lake City, we are confident that this can be another important element in helping the state’s biotech ecosystem grow!

While this project began with a physical space, Recursion and TVC are committed to mentoring the company founders — remotely and in-person — and helping them succeed by tapping into the strength of our wider networks. Recursion will participate in sourcing startups and in a joint advisory committee with TVC to select the right mix of entrepreneurs. Further, Recursion employees, who are experts in their respective fields, will be invited to play a role in teaching companies at the incubator. These important leadership activities will, in turn, strengthen our team through community leadership opportunities.

The incubator is expected to open in late Summer and more details will follow. Today, we’re proud to announce this important step to spread the unique culture of innovation through diversity of thought into the Salt Lake City community. We’re even more excited for these ideas to take shape in the next generation of entrepreneurs and start-ups changing the world.

How can potential applicants get more information? Follow Recursion on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates on the incubator’s progress!