In the News...Take a look inside Johns Hopkins' new FastForward accelerator

Mar 14, 2017

Baltimore Business Journal
By: Morgan Eichensehr

A new 40,000-square-foot accelerator space for Johns Hopkins is officially online in East Baltimore, and set to be home to nine startups by April.

FastForward is housed in the newest, $65 million building in the Hopkins biotech park, at 1812 Ashland Ave. It was designed to help young companies with all of their growing business needs, from conference rooms to office space to lab space. The new space replaces the former six-office hub near the Hopkins medical campus.

The space features 16 rentable desks and 10 offices of different sizes. Elizabeth Smyth, a senior director with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, said the space is intended to be a very temporary home to startups, a place where they can mature and stabilize their business for about a year or two. She said it's not the goal to have the FastForward space fully rented and, in fact, the intent is to keep some spaces vacant so that companies have room to grow.

Rent for a single desk starts at around $275 per month and ranges up to about $2,025 for a six-person office. The open concept floor plan also includes collaborative workspaces, lounge areas, convertible conference rooms, phone booths and a kitchen area, all open for use by resident entrepreneurs. The space has a modern, industrial feel with comfortable furniture, bright colors and lighting, glass doors, a white noise system and dry erase walls.

The Technology Ventures staff is also housed in a next door office to help support the startups as they work to build their business and commercialize products. Companies began moving into the space this month.

"We really wanted the space to be open, and flexible. And not just beautiful, but very functional for the kinds of companies we work with," said Mark VanderZyl, operations manager for FastForward. "This is the largest space we've ever had and we can't wait to see these offices filled and all the activity that will happen here. It's exciting."

But more valuable than affordable desk space, VanderZyl said, is affordable wet lab space. Many of the startups coming out of the Hopkins medical and university campuses have a life sciences focus and need access to lab space for their work.

Rentable lab spaces can cost well over $4,000 per month to start. Plus companies have to pay for all their own supplies, equipment, waste removal, wifi and some rentals require a multi-year lease. It can be an extraordinary expense for a young company, VanderZyl said, and Hopkins recognized the need that exists among its innovation community for more affordable options.

Responding to the need, two-thirds of the FastForward floor plan — an entire second floor — was designated for lab space. There are 25 individual workbenches, available at a starting rate of about $900 per month, and 17 different sized labs. The largest lab, which can host about six benches, will cost about $5,700 per month. And rent includes access to microscopes, fume hoods, waste removal, wifi and desk spaces, centrifuges, liquid nitrogen and other lab amenities.

Non-Hopkins companies are also able to rent out space at FastForward and Smyth said the space was specifically designed to allow for collaboration, so older companies can help their younger peers along.

"We know that real estate facilitates impact," Smyth said. "We wanted to be able to meet the demand we were seeing...to be a one stop shop for all of the lab needs a company might have."

FastForward is also dedicated to making sure ventures that start here have the space and support they need to grow and establish a presence in Baltimore. Hopkins doesn't want to keep losing companies and jobs to places like Cambridge, Mass., and Silicon Valley, she said. And she hopes the new space and all of its features will help create an attractive environment for startups and help them put down local roots.

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