By Linda F. Jarrett
When IT Enterprises opened its doors last summer, the expectation was that it would be a home for future entrepreneurs to hone their craft before taking the plunge into the information technology world.
According to Nasser Arshadi, vice provost for research at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the facility is operating as expected.
“We have leases either in place or in the process of being leased for three companies,” he says. “Two of them are biotech companies and one is IT. We have several other prospects also. Our space has more wet labs than office space, so I expect to see, within the next six months, more biotechnology-type companies that require computation.”
IT Enterprises rests under the umbrella of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is located two miles west of the campus. The venture has provided a relatively new concept to the St. Louis region in that as an incubator, it provides computation with faculty available to help test hypotheses.
“Biotech companies located in other incubators don’t have access to computation capacity,” Arshadi says. “Ours provides that capacity and I think that’s important for those companies who decide to join us.”
Besides providing space and support for entrepreneurs, ITe also provides computation capacity to other businesses outside the facility.
“We can remotely provide this so people don’t have to be in our facility to use the computation high performance computing center,” Arshadi says.
The 56,300-square-foot incubator features 42,200 square feet of rentable space for multiple offices along with wet and dry labs, and has space for 12 to 15 companies.
While IT has not been immune to the far-reaching effects of a pinched economy, Arshadi says there is an upside to the current problem.
“Venture capital funding is a bit more difficult these days, and more start-ups use venture funding, so that is more complicated in the short run,” he says. “But, in the long run, the picture may be a lot rosier because, historically, a recession provides more incentives for new start-ups. More people decide to start their own companies, so people who get laid off from large companies often end up establishing their own.
“So,” he says, “eventually, I think we will have a lot more vibrant start-ups, but funding sources are a bit more problematic these days.”
Part of Arshadi’s job as research officer is to help the faculty go after federal, state or private grants for research purposes. The initial investment for ITe was approximately $5 million, one million of which Arshadi got from the Small Business Administration.
Other funding sources include a $850,000 grant from the Missouri technology Corporation, a $530,000 grant from the Ameren Community Development Corporation, and a private contribution of $200,000.
“We are using the facility as a research operation,” Arshadi says. “Meaning that our faculty who apply for grants requiring computation use IT Enterprises as their base. So we are applying for multiple grants as we speak. Again, we are always finding grants for the center itself, but the time line is usually rather lengthy, from six to 18 months to learn the outcome of these proposals.”