Life Sciences Start-ups: Leaving the Nest?

24 Oct

What is the problem?

Life Sciences Start ups Leaving the Nest

You found a niche in the market: an exciting, novel technology that would help humanity. Your university laboratory or space in a commercial incubator/accelerator has worked perfectly well so far, but with the rapid development of your research, team, equipment, and functions, everything is growing rapidly. You need to bring in investors to showcase effective and compliant world-class research facilities that can impress them to attract funding.

Answer: You need MORE space!

What has changed?

Until now, you could use the shared equipment, utilities, waste services, deliveries, gas distribution, and cryostorage managed by your university or landlord. The university or landlord's experienced operation teams with running service contracts would maintain all the above.

Suddenly, the freedom of your space and the exciting growth opportunities it will bring can become daunting.

A small team doing everything from lab cleaning to making business presentations, chasing funding, and maintaining accounts and websites will have new members with new ways of doing things and shaping your company culture.

Answer: Your PROCESSES will change!

Life Sciences Company Growth Journey:

A roadmap for a life sciences or biotech company working in therapeutic research can be summarised through its bench-to-bedside journey below.

It starts as a small university laboratory created by a single founder or a few like-minded people, which family, a small grant, or angel investors usually fund. The technology, if successful, goes through a series of funding cycles before exiting by going public or by getting acquired by big pharma.

Life Sciences Company Growth Stages

Life Sciences Company Growth Stages

Life Sciences Company Funding Stages

Life Sciences Company Funding Stages

Typical Life Sciences Lab Size Requirements

Typical Life Sciences Lab Size Requirements

For other technology companies, growth stages may not include pre-clinical and clinical stages but could involve development, scale-up and market testing before going commercial.

Out of the key pillars for a successful life science company depicted below, you have already found a novel technology to help humanity and, most probably, discovered its market potential.

Successful life sciences

To attract future funding and the best global talent, a world-class laboratory space would be a foundation.


Finding the Right Property:

There are some obvious things that most companies think about while looking for a new laboratory space, including

  • Location
  • Transport connections
  • Ecosystem
  • Size/scale

To help ease your flight from a start-up to a growing company in an independent building, we provide some less obvious things to consider.

  • Types of building which can accommodate your current and emerging requirements.
  • Fit-out costs and duration (Check out our guidance on cost & time required) and whether you want the landlord to rentalise the fit-out; if you budget and pay for it in your business plan, or alternatively you approach a leasing company for financing.
  • Types of leases – Multiple occupation or stand-alone. Incubator leases are typically shorter, but if you are looking for an independent building, the lease period could be 5+ years. What repairing liabilities will you consider?
  • Electrical & Water Metering.
  • Lab services. How much support do you need?
    • Glass wash in your demise
    • Equipment to buy your own, needing capital investment
    • Gases distribution, installation, and regular deliveries by your supplier
    • Cryostorage, installation, and regular deliveries by your supplier
    • Waste disposal, storage, and collection, often your own
    • Any specialist requirement
  • New compliance responsibilities. Lab Health & Safety (SOPs, Policy, Assigned Person) and external support
  • Any accreditations or special licences
  • Effect on your existing supply chain
  • Staff buy-in and user engagement in facility design

In our 10+ years' experience in delivering bespoke and compliant laboratory spaces, various clients have had different drivers for moving into their R&D facility or a company headquarters, such as:

  • Professional-looking operation and compliant facility to match investors' vision and sustainability objectives
  • To bring together teams scattered over different sites under one roof
  • Current labs running out of space, hampering their growth plans
  • Diversification of their research goals
  • To attract the best talent in a highly competitive marketplace

Your property search would most probably start with a property agent.

You understand your research, science or technology principles, vision, and goals, but for agents to fully understand those and offer you the best advice, we provide the guidance below.

Information helpful to your property agent:

In addition to any business issues such as location, rental cost, lease terms, etc., building selection can also rely on establishing technical requirements, including:

  • Total space needs for laboratory and office and their ratio.
  • Achieving compliance with industry and statutory standards.
  • Environmental, ventilation and containment issues.
  • Assessment of power usage and diversity of equipment use.
  • Slab-to-slab heights available and load-bearing capacity.
  • Available ceiling void for ductwork distribution.
  • Delivery and storage of gases, Liquid Nitrogen.
  • Access for everyday deliveries of consumables, chemicals, and transport within the building (multi-storey).
  • Any compliance limitations within the lease for building use.
  • Adequate riser facility for drainage and distribution of services.
  • Capability of installing flues for ducted fume cupboards and microbiological safety cabinets (MBSCs) needing extraction.

In our experience, clients often underestimate the time required and associated costs to achieve a compliant and future-proof R&D facility.

What should you expect of your fit-out contractor:

Fit-out contractors can be very experienced in the construction techniques, regulations, and cost structures for office fit-out. But every lab project is unique, with bespoke and ever-changing requirements for the future.

Your contractor should be able to understand and interpret your scientific processes and associated nuances, small and large equipment, evolving regulations, and services required. Their ability to talk to researchers/end users and extract all the information would be crucial to achieving a well-functioning operational facility.

Your team’s commitment to provide a detailed equipment list (current and future) as early as possible could ease the subsequent services and accurate costing to deliver the project.

One of the most critical parts of achieving a compliant facility is your contractor’s engineering expertise to understand and design air cleanliness, pressure differential & cascades, containment strategy, drainage, gas distribution, etc. Some companies engaged in chemical research or handling flammable, explosive material may need specialist advice and support such as DSEAR, Dangerous & Explosive Environments Assessment of Risk assessments.

Fit Out guide:


Laboratory projects involving office or warehouse conversion between 2 - 40K sq. ft. typically would require the below time.

Fit out guide - Timing

Costs & Procurement:

Laboratory fit-out costs are wide-ranging and can differ massively depending on several factors such as the complexity of your research, company growth stage, future planning, state of the chosen building (shell & core or Cat A office, or a warehouse of new or old construction).

Typically, a basic laboratory fit out as part of a building conversion costs in the region of £150-180 sq. ft. (as in September 2023).

More specialist laboratories with higher environmental and containment control levels can cost significantly more, starting from £250 sq. ft.

Most projects require a two-stage approach to delivery: detailed engineering design and approvals and procure long lead items such as Air Handling Units (AHUs), Fume cupboards (FCs), gas blast-proof cabinets and lab furniture. Secondly, the main fit-out contracts work themselves

This process absolutely needs to run in parallel with the leasing process. Often, heads of terms (HoTs) are signed based on a preliminary scheme; however, contingency should be allowed for the design development after that and engagement with end users.

Proceed with more certainty:

Bulb Laboratories, part of Unispace Life Sciences, are the UK’s leading laboratory specialists providing design, consultancy, construction, and compliance services. With in-house expertise in science (end-user), laboratory design, engineering, and construction, we have unique credentials to cater to the complex needs of laboratory fit-out and refurbishment.

Our wide-ranging experience includes biotech, life sciences, medical devices, pharma, chemical, food & beverage, space, battery technology, and quantum computing companies ranging from university spin-offs to contract research and manufacturing organisations.

Get in touch today at or call 0118 988 9200.

Dr. Manisha Kulkarni

Director of Science & Technology

07825 332406

Get in touch

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If you prefer fixed, robust benching or modular benching that offers flexibility and reconfiguration, our laboratory furniture manufacturers can deliver the perfect solution.

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Depending on your research focus your worktop design requirements might change to allow:

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  • High impact

Trespa Toplab Base is the industry favourite, but we can offer alternative worktops such as Corian, Stainless Steel, Epoxy Resin, Hardwood, Phenolic Resin to match your needs.

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We offer both wall mounted and benchtop shelving for reagents, typically in either 18mm MFMDF or 16mm Trespa Toplab Base. Wall shelving is mounted on a bracket system, while benchtop shelving is typically supported by fabricated steel frame.

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Fume Cupboards & Extract

Properly ventilated Fume Cupboards offer a safe way to handle chemicals and solvents in laboratories.

From ducted to portable ductless Fume Cupboards, our specialist and experienced partners are at hand to advise and install the right solution.

We provide Fume Cupboards manufactured and installed to meet the industry requirements (e.g. BS EN 14175) in various sizes (External Width 1000mm - 1200mm - 1500mm - 1800mm - 2000mm), Specifications and types (Bench Mounted, Walk In, Double Fronted, Integral Scrubber, HF Type, Thin Wall Bench Mounted) to meet your requirements and safe extraction.

Unsure of what type to go for? Our lab furniture suppliers can help, just get in touch.

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Safety Cabinets

If you prefer fixed, robust benching or modular benching that offers flexibility and reconfiguration, our laboratory furniture manufacturers can deliver the perfect solution.

Whether you need Class I, II or III to handle Hazard Group 1 to 4 pathogens we can recommend suitable furniture suppliers.

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Specialist & Other Requirements

If you have any specific needs such as Cold Room or Clean Room installation services, Industrial Gases, Liquid Nitrogen, Non-ionising Radiation (LASER), Plumbing, Temperature & Humidity Control or other, we can help.

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