issue Summer 2021

Helix 51 Incubator Set to Expand

RFU’s Helix 51 incubator, the first of its kind in Lake County, continues to flourish, fueled by demand for its services and by financial and executive support of top pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, including Horizon Therapeutics and AbbVie.

Currently at 90% capacity and generating $100,000 per year in revenue, the incubator is working in support of eight early-stage bioscience companies with five more waiting for space. It’s on target to house an additional nine to 10 companies when it expands into the Innovation and Research Park (IRP) later this year. Inspirotec Inc., one of the incubator’s first member companies, moved into the IRP in July.

“We’re offering the affordable wet-lab space and supportive programming young companies need to grow, garner investment and ultimately be successful in the high-stakes bioscience industry,” said Michael Rosen, MBA, managing director of the IRP and Helix 51. “Properly supported, these startups will develop urgently needed new therapeutics and devices and move them into the marketplace to improve health and well-being.”

Helix 51 is funded in part by $2.5 million in new markets tax credits under a federal program aimed at fueling investments that help create jobs and job-training opportunities in low-income communities. Programming includes:

  • RFU/SmartHealth Business Plan Competition: Early-stage biomedical startups in Chicagoland are paired with industry experts and mentors who provide training in core business skills, including developing elevator pitches, full pitches and business plans. A final competitive pitch includes cash prizes for the top three companies. Major sponsors include Abbott Labs, Lundbeck, Horizon Pharma, Vetter Pharma, Aptinyx, Exicure, Xontogeny, Vanqua Bio, the law firms of Perkins Coie, McCarthy Duffy, and MBHB.
  • Entrepreneur-in-Residence: Offers the expertise of three bio-entrepreneurs — Michael Beaubaire, MD, a Northwestern Medicine clinician turned investment banker who helps prepare companies for discussions with investors and potential partners; Teesta Jain, PhD, a Louisiana State University biochemist with post-docs from University of California, Davis and Harvard Medical School, who assists companies with non-dilutive funding through grants (Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer programs and foundations); and Connie Cleary, DPM ’80, a podiatric physician who spent many years in technology commercialization at Rush, UIC, Argonne and Brookhaven, and now mentors on business plans and pitching.
  • Hoteling: Targets pre-funded, early-stage biomedical companies in search of first funding. Offers access to shared office and conference space and full access to incubator programs for a monthly fee.
  • Internships: Work-based learning in bioscience research or business skills for undergraduate and graduate students. Interns have included students from RFU’s College of Pharmacy and Chicago Medical School; Chicago’s Kent School of Law; and the Waukegan to College program.
  • Biopathways: RFU and SmartHealth Catalyzer partner to offer a monthly speaker series featuring prominent local bioentrepreneurs, biotech execs and biotech investors. Now in its fourth year of programming, the series has teamed up with Women in Bio, Chicago Chapter, to feature prominent women leaders in biotech throughout 2021.