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Two companies set to expand with lab space grants

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Two Delaware biopharma companies are set to expand their operations in the state with the help of newly developed graduate lab space grants.

Advanced Materials Technology (AMT), based in Concord Plaza north of Wilmington, and Sepax Technologies, based in the Delaware Technology Park in Newark, were approved this week for more than $1.1 million in combined taxpayer-backed grants to build new lab space and hire 70 new employees in the next three years.

Advanced Materials Technology’s unsuspecting headquarters and research lab in north Wilmington. | DBT PHOTO BY MIKE ROCHELEAU

The projects highlight the interest in the graduate lab space grant program sought by the state’s economic development agency, Delaware Prosperity Partnership, last year. The program, recently bolstered with another $10 million allocation in the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget, already supported the expansion of ThruPore Technologies earlier this year.

The eligibility factors for lab space grants are more stringent than other state programs, with DPP having hired a consultant to review proposed plans and determine whether a company has all the necessary licenses and intellectual property protections to manufacture into the future. Applicants’ prior funding track record and future plans will also be considered as well.

The grants are limited to a third of a lab fit-out cost, capped at $50 per square foot and limited to fit-outs up to 20,000 square feet. Companies that receive grants agree to remain in the space for five years while a landlord agrees to keep the lab space intact for at least six months should the applicant leave within that period.  

AMT has been working with DPP for three years to find new suitable space for its growth, and in fact was one of the first prospects to connect with DPP after its founding, said Noah Olson, acting director of innovation at DPP.

Timothy Langlois, president and co-founder of AMT, noted the importance of the lab space grants to create state-of-the-art facilities in Delaware. AMT first occupied 2,000 square feet of lab space previously operated by DuPont and has grown to use about 15,000 square feet. He said that his company has been looking for 20,000 to 40,000 square feet of higher quality lab space for about five years but hasn’t not found many options outside of incubators built to serve startups.

“The concept that you guys are embarking on I think is a powerful concept that will allow future entrepreneurs and startup companies to expand to the next level,” he told the Council on Development Finance, which oversees the grant funds, in a Monday hearing.

With the support of the state grants, AMT will expand its space at the Buccini/Pollin Group-owned Concord Plaza by almost 12,500 square feet. Langlois explained that the high degree of safety systems needed for the lab pushes the renovation cost to nearly $400 per square foot, with the total project cost of $4.5 million.

The 16-year-old company that makes unique chromatography materials, used in the separation of chemical compounds, is expected to add 35 jobs over three years in science and business roles, with salaries ranging from $55,000 to $150,000, Langlois said. It currently employs 39 full-time employees.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Sepax, which also manufactures chromatography materials and products, is also at a growth point and has been seeking space for two years.

Tingzhou Wu, general manager of Sepax, said the company is prepared to increase sales revenue by 50% in the next three to four years, but needs the right space to do so.

A $420,150 lab space grant will help build more than 8,000 square feet of new labs next to its current site at the Delaware Technology Park in a $2 million project. That expansion will allow Sepax to hire 35 new employees by the end of 2023, earning between $40,000 to $90,000, officials said. It currently employs 55 full-time.

“With years of effort, Sepax has continued to grow, supporting our biopharma customers and their research in biologics manufacturing. We have been actively looking for lab space in Delaware to expand over the years. With the tremendous help from Delaware Prosperity Partnership and Delaware Technology Park, the expansion supported by this grant will allow for an increase in important R&D research and strengthen our manufacturing capabilities,” Wu said in a statement.

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