To the naked eye, a half-dozen science geeks sipping margaritas in the back room of Nacho Daddy restaurant may not look like Nevada’s economic future, but they are.
Or could be … if the plan they’ve hatched during these weekly gatherings comes to fruition. They are the people behind Parallel Innovation Labs and the SciTech Hookup, a nonprofit business incubator and networking event designed to breathe life into Nevada’s bioscience industry—and thus help deliver the state’s golden fleece of economic diversity.
The group believes the recent arrival of big players like the Cleveland Clinic and Spectrum Pharma to Southern Nevada signals promise for biotech—promise that’s hampered by a lack of infrastructure and support for entrepreneurs in the field.
“I had nowhere to conduct experiments—no wet lab that independent researchers could access,” says the group’s co-founder Chandler Marrs, president and CEO of women’s health research company Lucine Biotechnology.
This observation evolved into a mission for Marrs and co-founders Vicki Burnett and Jeff Saffer of biomedical search engine Quertle. Building on a popular meet-up, the trio organized around two basic needs: a place for science and technology researchers to work, and a formal networking structure for businesses and entrepreneurs in the sector.
The Parallel Innovation Labs project would solve the first need. The group’s vision is to build a 55,000-square-foot, FDA-compliant laboratory for scientists conducting high-level research.
“It costs $600 to $800 per square foot to build a facility for proof-of-concept research,” Marrs says. “You can’t do this type of work in your garage.”
Parallel Innovation Labs, she hopes, would draw Nevadans out of their garages and out-of-state facilities, and into a local environment where they could commercialize their work.
That’s where the second focus area, networking, comes in. Matchups with collaborators and investors happen not only during casual gatherings like the one at Nacho Daddy, but also at the annual event, SciTech. This year’s second installment is scheduled for October 24 at the World Market Center, and the group is expecting 300 attendees.