Late last week, the biotech community took its first look at Accelerator Corp., a new entry in the industry created to foster biotech start-ups.
Funded with $15 million in commitments provided by three venture capitalist firms, a research institute and a real estate company, Seattle-based Accelerator is setting its wheels into motion.
"We already have a consortium involved in this project that is unique and pretty highpowered," Accelerator President and CEO Carl Weissman told BioWorld Today, making note of the biotech-based pedigree of all players in the enterprise. "Bringing all of these different assets together, I think you have what we hope is the complete picture."
The Institute for Systems Biology figures prominently in the partnership. Leroy Hood runs the show as the Seattle-based institute's president, and as a board member at Accelerator his input will prove crucial in Accelerator's drive to foster young companies.
"ISB and Lee Hood are probably the keys to this whole thing," Weissman said. "Access to Lee, his vision and his sense for which technologies are going to be the most successful and important in biotech, and his faculty and its ability to identify and evaluate technologies and support development, are all critical to Accelerator's success."
Relying in large part on Hood's direction, Accelerator will tap technologies, ideas and entrepreneurs over the next three years to provide seed funding for six to eight companies. With facilities provided by Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc., a Pasadena, Calif.-based business that develops office space and laboratory combinations, early stage firms will have space where they can set up shop from the start.
"We will have the capability to provide more space for Accelerator-backed companies that are successful and expanding," Weissman explained, noting the property's strategic location. Accelerator is based in the South Lake Union area of the Emerald City, a locale notable given its proximity to the institute, the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He also pointed to the district's development at the center of a biotech campus backed by the local government in partnership with Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen.
Accelerator's venture capital backers are familiar names in the industry - Boston-based MPM Capital led the financing, with additional contributions from Chicago-based ARCH Venture Partners and Menlo Park, Calif.-based Versant Ventures.
"The involvement of the venture capitalists involves not only money," Weissman said, "but these are people who have long track records for building some of the best biotech companies."
Accelerator's board also includes Weissman, an MPM partner himself, as well as Michael Steinmetz, another MPM partner, and Bob Nelson, managing director at ARCH. Versant's Brian Atwood and Joel Marcus will serve as board observers.
But Weissman is charged with the early task of sifting through potential fits with Accelerator's incubatory purpose. Still the lone staff member at Accelerator, he said he would spend time reviewing early stage companies and technologies already on the radar screens at the venture firms or looking to attract Hood's interest.
"The biggest issue is actually separating the interesting stuff from the uninteresting stuff," Weissman said. "And I'm still going to be out there trying to identify things. I've found that it's often true that academic scientists don't often realize what they have."
In time he will develop a staff at Accelerator to aid in its mission to pluck potentially valuable entities and provide early direction.
"With me and this group of people, we should really be able to identify those nuggets of gold," Weissman said.