The 16 Tech innovation district is having a moment.
The live-work-play campus in the northwestern corner of downtown has recently begun planning two more buildings for laboratory and office space, with most of its existing office space already leased and more than 280 apartments now under construction. It recently announced five more rollouts at its Melon Kitchen accelerator. And it has started constructing its long-awaited bridge across Fall Creek to connect to the IUPUI campus.
Now, the organization is gearing up to go national.
Last month, 16 Tech was picked to join a new Boston-based national network, called the Investor Catalyst Hub, designed to connect researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to accelerate the development of health care products and services and speed up health care innovations.
16 Tech, established in 2002, will join a host of older, national players—such as the Mayo Clinic, Georgia Institute of Technology and Boston Children’s Hospital—as the network’s inaugural “spokes.” The network also includes some young players from around the nation, including angel investor groups, laboratories and accelerator groups.
Also last month, 16 Tech was named as the location of a biomanufacturing training institute set to be part of an Indiana technology hub recognized by the federal government. The Biden administration designated 31 federal tech hubs across the nation, a move that allows them to compete for millions of dollars and boost the state’s image as a biotech innovator.
The latest moves are sure to shine a spotlight on 16 Tech, a 50-acre community near the intersection of West 16th Street and Indiana Avenue that has long been touted as an up-and-coming hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Emily Krueger, president and CEO of the innovation district’s not-for-profit, the 16 Tech Community Corp. “16 Tech is really intended to help support the tech enablement of Indiana’s life sciences and advanced manufacturing industries. And a lot of these opportunities sit at the intersection of health and manufacturing and technology.”
It’s a pivotal time for 16 Tech, conceived following a 2002 study commissioned by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership to research the development of a life sciences hub in Indianapolis.
For decades, Indiana has been home to a scattered assortment of major assets in life sciences, from the Indiana University School of Medicine and the large hospital systems to drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. and hundreds of biotech startups, contract research organizations and support vendors.
But for much of that time, many of them operated in silos, rarely working or talking with one another, a critical step in developing a vibrant ecosystem.
That has begun to change in the past 20 years, with efforts from groups such as BioCrossroads and the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, two not-for-profits designed to help connect all the parts.
And in recent years, local officials have pointed to 16 Tech as another player that could help link many of the disparate parts.
Pulling the pieces together
The organization broke ground on its campus in 2018 after raising nearly $160 million in investments and donations. The first phase was two office and research buildings, an apartment complex and the renovation of existing office and warehouse space.
Today, it is home to more than 200 entities, including two anchors, the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute and the Emerging Manufacturing Collaboration Center. The campus opened in 2020.
Those two anchors, with wet-lab space, a drug discovery lab, manufacturing prototyping and other resources, are seen as promising parts of the campus. And they could help in the new national network, which aims to connect idea generators with financiers and savvy businesspeople.
It’s a recipe for helping put 16 Tech on the national map, some say.
“I think it’s a moment for 16 Tech to be more in the game and more automatically thought of for being included in things like this,” said David Johnson, a longtime booster of Indiana’s life sciences sector and retired CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.
Some local economic-development officials say 16 Tech’s designation as a spoke in the national Investor Catalyst Hub could give Indiana another boost in the competitive arenas of health care and life sciences.
“This is the first step in forming a broad, national network to catalyze health innovation, and we’re pleased that 16 Tech has been recognized as a key player in this work,” said Melina Kennedy, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. “Having a seat at this table as the network takes shape positions Indiana really well and will enhance the growing biotech ecosystem in central Indiana.”
Dr. Tatiana Foroud, executive associate dean for research at the IU medical school, said the inclusion of 16 Tech in the national hub “is an important recognition of the vibrancy of the Indianapolis life sciences ecosystem.”
She added: “That’s why we’re planning to build laboratories for our diabetes researchers to increase collaboration with all of the other leading-edge researchers and companies that will call 16 Tech home.”
The Investor Catalyst Hub was launched this year by the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H. The aim is to accelerate the commercialization of “practical, accessible biomedical solutions,” the hub announced last month.
It is modeled off of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, a research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the rapid development of emerging technologies for use by the military.
The purpose of the hub is to create a network that will help commercialize projects funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, “to make sure those ideas become solutions that ultimately are driving patient outcomes or health outcomes,” Krueger said.
She said the federal government’s selection of 16 Tech recognizes that it has become a place for others outside the state to tap into Indiana’s ecosystem.
“So it becomes a support structure and a way to create connections across the country for different types of resources that might be helpful to ensuring the viability of the ARPA-funded projects,” she said.
Impact beyond Indiana
For its part, 16 Tech could gain access to potential funding networking opportunities and extend its brand far beyond central Indiana.
The new nationwide health care hub is being managed by VentureWell, a not-for-profit in Boston formerly known as the National Collegiate Investors and Innovators Alliance. The long-term goal is to create a network that represents all 50 states, territories and tribal nations.
Today, 16 Tech is the only Indiana organization in the hub. Massachusetts, the largest player, has 13 organizations in the hub, including Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston Medical Center and the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center.
“The goal is to make big things happen at scale and at speed to try to really take advantage of the biotech moment in the country right now,” Johnson said. “They want to bring everybody together as quickly as they can to make it happen.”
That “everybody” includes a wide field of players, from researchers and innovators to entrepreneurs and investors.
One key player in the new hub is the Angel Capital Association, which calls itself the world’s largest community of angel investors. The group, based in Overland Park, Kansas, is a professional development organization for more than 15,000 accredited angel investors. It works with incubators, universities and economic development organizations to support entrepreneurship and assist startups.
“We’re doing a lot more of—the new buzzword is ‘ecosystem building,’” said Margaret Bacheler, the group’s director of educational initiatives. “We’re looking to just get our angels more connected to a lot of these ecosystem-building projects.”
Bacheler said she was unfamiliar with 16 Tech, but that could change under the new hub network.
“Talent is everywhere, but access to capital has always been traditionally in three states: New York, California and Massachusetts,” she said. “And the point [of the hub] is that we know there are great startups and deal flow outside of these major metropolitan areas. So how do we all work together?”
Some of the Investor Catalyst Hub members are even younger and smaller than 16 Tech.
Patchwise Labs, based in suburban San Francisco, is an 8-year-old firm that supports neurotechnology-related initiatives and promotes social innovations for health.
The group has compiled a database of more than 80 neurotech startups, with information on their history, leadership, clearances, patents, trials, partnerships, federal contracts, mergers and acquisitions, strategies, and more.
It has worked with dozens of startups, major corporations, investors and others and sees the new national hub as another way to provide market research and industry networking, said Naveen Rao, the firm’s founder and managing partner.
At the same time the Biden administration announced the creation of the hubs and spokes, it announced more than $330 million worth of federal funding for “moonshot”-types of health care research in such areas as health data, 3D tissue printing and new therapeutics for people resistant to antibiotics.
“So presumably, somehow these projects will be funded through these networks,” Johnson said. “… And obviously they will continue to add more spokes and more participants to it.”
He added: “It’s just great that we’re right in the beginning of this. It makes me very optimistic, and again, this is exactly what 16 Tech is for.”•