News Feature | March 25, 2014

Biotechnology Business Incubator Boasts New Home In Rejuvenated Harlem Building

By Liisa Vexler

Harlem’s gentrification in recent years has welcomed chain restaurants, retail and upscale grocery like Whole Foods. Less evident changes are also taking place, like the renovation of old buildings into new, warehouse-chic office space. One such new arrival is Harlem Biospace in the renovated Sweets Building, a structure once used as a confectionary research laboratory.

Harlem Biospace is a new incubator focused on businesses in the biotechnology sector. It is located on West 127th Street between Amsterdam and Convent Avenues. The location is strategically positioned between Columbia University and City College, in the hopes of accessing scientific and entrepreneurial minds of these two colleges.

The new economic investment serves as a symbol of change for the once downtrodden and struggling Harlem. Harlem Biospace, which opened in November 2013, is the brainchild of Columbia’s Samuel K. Sia, a professor of biomedical engineering, and his wife, in partnership with Harlem’s Economic Development Corporation.Lab space in the building is available to rent on a project basis to scientists and entrepreneurs alike. Current projects include an endeavor to create antimicrobial polymers to be used in sock manufacturing and a novel allergen detecting process.

Twenty-eight year old chemistry graduate student Tyler Poore is the developer of the antimicrobial polymer. Harlem Biospace has made it possible for him to remain in New York where he has already developed contacts. He explained, “There are places like Boston or San Francisco that have cheap lab space, but we have all of our contacts here. Without Harlem Biospace I don’t think it would have been possible to do the work in New York City.”

Columbia University is in full support of Harlem Biospace. “Having a strong bioscience entrepreneurship community as close as possible to the university can only help the creation of this kind of start-up ecosystem in New York City,” said Orin Herskowitz, executive director of Columbia Technology Ventures.

Founder, Mr. Sia believes in giving back to the community. He and his wife Christine Kovich, launched an after-school program called Hypothekids to do just that.