Commerce awards $1 million to support small businesses in life sciences and health IT

Washington Research Foundation awarded $800K to establish new Life Sciences Revolving Loan Fund; Greater Spokane Inc. and Life Science Washington Institute each receive $100K for additional programs

The Washington State Department of Commerce announced $1 million in grants to The Washington Research Foundation, Greater Spokane Incorporated and Life Science Washington Institute to support small business development programs in the life sciences and health IT sector.

The Washington Research Foundation was awarded $800,000 to establish a new Life Science Revolving Loan Fund (LSRLF) that will help early-stage Washington-based companies succeed and compete for growth capital.

Washington entrepreneurs face a highly competitive landscape and great financial risk as they develop their businesses. Companies that qualify for LSRLF funds will be positioned to achieve a significant milestone, such as proof of concept, in vitro testing, product development or market testing. Successful milestone progress is expected to position the company to secure further funding and greater stability. If and when the business generates enough revenue, money paid back to the fund is reinvested to help other small Washington state businesses in the future. Initially, the Life Science Revolving Loan Fund is a pilot program.

Washington’s life science industry is highly competitive, with Seattle recently ranked the #1 emerging life science hub in the country by CBRE Group with employment growth just under 18% from 2014-17. Life Science Washington reported 13% job growth in the overall state’s industry in the same period. This new funding will help entrepreneurs leverage work at the state’s two top medical schools at the University of Washington and Washington State University to bring innovative new products and services to market.

“Nurturing innovators in the formative stages is critical for the long-term vitality of our life science and global health sector, estimated to be the fifth-largest industry sector in Washington,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “The economic impact from hundreds of biopharma and medical device companies, dozens of non-profit organizations and research institutions strengthens communities all over the state.”

Ron Howell, CEO of Washington Research Foundation (WRF), said, “The revolving loan fund is a great opportunity for WRF to partner with the state. We are closely aligned with investing in Washington-based life-sciences startups. In addition to the obvious benefits of job creation to the local economy, these startups are often the most effective way to get much-needed products and services into the hands of the public.”

In addition to the revolving loan fund, Commerce awarded Greater Spokane Inc. and Life Science Washington Institute (LSWI) $100,000 grants for two other important small business support programs.

LWSI’s proposal seeks to promote business development and fundraising efforts and support its successful Small Business Innovation Research and Tech Transfer (SBIR/STTR) assistance programs through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense and other federal agencies. Closely aligned with Life Science Washington, the institute’s Startup Assistance Consulting Program is frequently the first contact that entrepreneurs and small businesses have with the industry association. As they reach the appropriate stage of development and have clarity as to how they might best use a loan, entrepreneurs will be directed to the new revolving loan fund for consideration.

“Washington’s life science cluster is built on innovative, locally grown companies.  Translating medical research into an FDA-approved drug or medical device is a long, complicated, and risky process that requires the right team, patient capital, and strong clinical partnerships to succeed,” said Dr. Leslie Alexandre, interim executive director, Life Science Washington Institute.

She added, “Life Science Washington Institute’s mission is to support these emerging companies and their entrepreneurial leaders across Washington state via educational, economic and other resources crucial for their success. Our new funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce will allow us to help life science innovators throughout the state obtain the support they need to transform ideas into new, life-saving products and therapies.”

GSI will use the funds to support its VISION 2030 initiative, a community effort to create a health care and life sciences hub in the Spokane region. Strategies include a plan to identify small business candidates with growth potential not only in Spokane, but also surrounding rural areas. The funds will also support Startup Spokane, a resource hub for entrepreneurs and startup businesses throughout the Intermountain Northwest.

“GSI is very excited about the Department of Commerce award. Our region’s local and rural health IT and life science small businesses are one of our largest untapped opportunities for industry growth. This funding will allow us to grow and extend our support services to this economically impactful group,” said Stacia Rasmussen, Life Sciences Spokane (VISION 2030) business development manager.

- Washington State Department of Commerce