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Ready-to-occupy: Labs open at Scale Space, White City

A notable outcome of MedCity’s Real Estate Demand Report was the finding that the design and co-location of R&D space is considered crucial to facilitating collaborative opportunities, innovation, and answering staff needs for amenity. Flexibility is another key concern for founders, and so the recent launch of new labs at Scale Space caught our attention for addressing these issues. We asked Charlie Mitchell, project lead for the development, to tell us more about the new space and how it addresses the needs of early-stage companies.

Q: Could you give us some background to the lab development and how it first came about?

Charlie: When we set up Scale Space in 2017, we always had in mind that we were going to provide around 25% of our space for labs, however this was expected to be, most likely, under standard ‘full repairing and insuring (FRI)’ leases, with tenants executing the fit-outs. Since that time, we have had a lot of discussions with small, growing, life science companies who are all very keen to come to Scale Space, but ultimately a) struggled to afford the cost of fitting out lab space, and b) didn’t have the expertise in their teams to manage such a process. We therefore realised that it would be easier if we actually built the laboratories ourselves and took on the capital risk, which we could spread over a longer time period than our tenants. The tenants would then just be paying rent, albeit at a higher level to cover our capital costs. In this way, the expense for the tenant is operationalised and, if things change, the lease is more flexible, allowing the tenant to leave more easily, with less risk.

Q: What type of space is available, and what sorts of companies have shown interest?

Charlie: The labs range in size from around 500 to 1,000 sqft. They are all built as Containment Level 2 (CL2) labs, which covers a broad range of activities, including wet and dry lab work, and just about anything in between. We designed them to support most of what you’d think of as ‘science’ in a general sense, however they do have some limitations and won’t work for every activity.

Q: At the launch, you said that you’ve got some companies signed up already. What types of companies are they?

Charlie: There are some really interesting companies moving in right now which are doing varied work, including gene therapy, synthetic biology, production of algae at scale, cancer treatments, implantable technology, and one which is developing biologically grown dog food, so quite a broad spectrum.

Q: When did people start to find out that the lab space was going to be available and what was the level of interest?

Charlie: It was Q3 last year when we really started to push the idea of developing these labs. We originally planned to build eight lab and office suites on our 3rd floor. These eight units were then all leased by a single company in early Q4. By this we had a number of other companies interested in taking lab space, and hence we then had to work quickly to develop an additional six lab and office suites on the 2nd floor, which we committed to build in late Q4. The 3rd floor suites were delivered in early April this year, with the 2nd floor suites following in mid-May. As of today (two weeks post-completion), all the lab suites are either already occupied, or committed and in the lease process.

Q: Are all the companies you’re working with early-stage businesses?

Charlie: We’re currently seeing a few companies from incubators come to us (e.g. Imperial’s incubator in White City), which is great. We have also had one much larger company, Avacta, come from Cambridge to join us. We help all of our tenants as much as possible to ensure that the space we provide works for them. In some cases, this involves modifications/enhancements to the space, which we work to support or execute for them. Eventually, as these tenants grow, we will look forward to helping them graduate from our ‘ready to occupy labs’, to move into their own bespoke space, when they really need it and can afford it. The key right now is that these labs provide a ready-made solution for these growing companies who are desperately working to scale up, but who need support, and who generally can’t afford the time or the money to develop their own labs at this difficult stage of their development. Ultimately, I think we’ve hit a really important place in the market in a timely manner with the right kind of product.

Q: Co-location with Imperial College has been an important factor in the success of Scale Space, hasn’t it?

Charlie: Scale Space is a partnership between Imperial College and Blenheim Chalcot, so our affiliation with Imperial runs deep in our DNA, and it’s based on more than physical proximity

We’ve had a number of tenants come via Imperial, including DNAe and Puraffinity, and we’re in active discussions with a few others. We also get a lot of interest simply because we are located together with other Imperial facilities and people. The way that the whole area is evolving helps them come in our direction. I think for Imperial spin-outs it’s comforting to know that they’ve still got the same relationships, and the ability to carry on nearby, rather than going to a completely different place they know nothing about. In general, there is an increasing level of collaboration between our members and Imperial College from a talent and research standpoint, so the co-location is a key differentiator for our labs.

At the end of the day, the fact that we are engaged with Imperial on many levels, and also co-located with them, is definitely a big benefit for us.

Q: Having experienced the office facility at Scale Space, it seems clear that the architecture is designed to bring people together in common areas, and through social interactions. How was that approach applied to the design of the lab space?

Charlie: From day one, we focused very strongly on creating a building with people at the heart of it, and with an objective to stimulate ‘collisions’ between people (‘soft’ collisions, that is!) This was a conscious effort to help drive collaboration and innovation. We therefore designed a vibrant, exciting and large communal entrance area (the Hive) right at the front door where everyone mingles daily as they enter / leave the building, attend meetings, or simply come for their lunch or a coffee. We also specified atria throughout the building, to ensure great light everywhere, but also to enable people to see other people and to help them connect. In the labs, we continued this effort, by building features like common kitchen areas, and also using lots of glazing – to get light through the building, but, more importantly, to enable people to see one another; to see what they are doing (without infringing on privacy), and hence minimise barriers to collaboration.

That said, you need more than large communal areas to get people together in a meaningful manner, especially when everyone is so busy. That’s why at Scale Space we have a Member Success Team, dedicated to creating opportunities for our members to collaborate in our space. The type of initiatives they organise range from social events to industry talks, to organising Career Fairs to drive talent to our members. For example, they are about to launch a Lab Operators group, for Lab people across different companies at Scale Space to network and share best practice.

Q: What were some of the main technical challenges and lessons learned along the way, in executing the space?

Charlie: Because we had always designed the initial building with the concept of having at least 25% of the space containing laboratories, from the outset we ensured we would have sufficient power available. Ceiling heights in lab is always an issue, so we also made sure we had sufficient height, but only just. We’ve got a strong technical group looking after our building so we have a good understanding what the building does, but equally what it can do, and our contractors help us with that.

Q: Are there any future plans in the works or under discussion for a further lab space?

Charlie: The development has three phases, A, B and C. A and B are complete (150,000 sqft), and we’re currently finishing off phase C (50,000 sqft), which will be fully lab-enabled. We expect the building will be finished mid-year. After the initial fit-outs, I expect that we’ll see the first tenants for phase C move-in during late Q3 / early Q4 this year. After that, we’re looking at some further development opportunities in White City, but that’ll be a few years away. We’re also looking at other opportunities around London and the rest of the UK.

Q: In that context how have you found it being part of the Lab Providers’ Forum, which regularly brings together lab providers from around London and beyond?

Charlie: I think the Lab Providers’ Forum has been really useful in getting together with people who are doing similar things, helping to stimulate innovation in this sector and, through discussion of our experiences, we are de-risking opportunities for each other. Being able to meet these colleagues and have the opportunity to visit their spaces and talk about some of the problems they have encountered and solutions they have come up with, is always very, very positive.

Bio – Charlie Mitchell

Having gained over 20 years of international project management experience all over the world in the Oil and Gas sector, Charlie has been applying these skills to the development, design, construction and operationalisation of a cutting-edge office and laboratory development in White City, London.

Scale Space is a key part of the White City Innovation District in West London. Having opened its doors in mid-2020 the feedback has been really positive, it is almost fully occupied, and we’re already discussing new opportunities for space to support the growing number of tenant requests!

A key part of Scale Space’s success has been the development of their Ready to Occupy laboratory space for growing companies which Charlie has been spearheading, together with the development of Phase C which is fully lab-enabled.At heart, Charlie is a nuts and bolts engineer who likes nothing better than developing and executing complex projects which solve difficult problems, and he just loves building things.

Watch the launch video for the labs: Scale Space’s Ready-to-Occupy Labs

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