Panelists and speakers at the 4th Tri-Valley Life Science Summit at Unchained Labs new corporate headquarters in Hacienda Business Park (the former Shaklee headquarters) made that point. Prior to that time, major life science companies such as Roche, Abbott labs, Clorox and Thermo Fisher had major facilities here, but there were few home-grown startups.
No more. 10x Genomics and Unchained Labs are among the poster children for local companies moving from start-ups to multi-million companies. Unchained Labs, CEO Tim Harkness said, now is a highly profitable $100 million company having consolidated three buildings in the Bernal Corporate Center into its 120,00-square-foot building.
Panelist Tim Tarasow, representing the experienced executive on the panel, grew up in San Ramon and eventually returned to a great job in life sciences at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. He’d worked for two private sector companies before joining the lab and then left to join another private sector firm and has been involved in five start-ups since then. During the height of the pandemic lockdown, he and Bill Colston, who spent 18 years at the lab, founded Sestina Bio, LLC to solve a vexing problem in synthetic biology—bringing it to scale.
After two years, the company was acquired. Tarasow shared that when they were founding the firm, locating it in the Bernal Corporate Center was a no-brainer. Unchained Labs, 10x Genomics, Quantalife and other successful start-ups all grew out of that park of mostly 1-2 story buildings.
Both are examples of the life sciences start-up ecosystem that has grown in the Tri-Valley.
Sam Rad, COO of Life Foundry, is moving his company here from central Illinois after finishing his doctorate in Urbana Champaign. Like the 10x Genomics founders, his team took a look around the Bay Area at life science hubs and concluded the valley was the best location. As one panelist observed, it’s counter-commute or a BART ride from San Francisco or the inner East Bay, there’s abundant free parking, plenty of good restaurants and places to get outside and enjoy the weather. Throw in older buildings and lower rents and the area is in a sweet spot.
It contrasts favorably to paying for parking and fighting commute traffic to the Emeryville hub. And, it was pointed out that most of those employees live elsewhere in the East Bay, not close to their labs/offices.
In the fireside chat segment, Harkness interviewed John Hanna, former CEO of Apton Biosystems. Hanna led the company into an acquisition by PacBio after partnering with the company to demonstrate its equipment could work with their chemistry. He observed that Apton had achieved significant progress while being very efficient with its cash—a factor in its favor. He also noted that what CEOs want is options and they preserved their options for as long as they could before deciding to take a stock deal with PacBio.