The new FastForward project combines co-working with state-of-the-art lab facilities.
Innovation is embedded into Johns Hopkins’ DNA. Since 1876, the institution has used discovery to benefit countless lives, most notably by pioneering breakthroughs that prevent, detect and treat disease. We take immense pride in what our researchers and clinicians have accomplished, but Baltimore has not fully felt the economic benefits of this innovation.
Since 2012, startups based on Johns Hopkins technologies have raised more than $1.1 billion in follow-on funding, but 85 percent of that has left Maryland. In 2013, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures set out to rewrite this story through, among other efforts, the platform of FastForward. This program encourages early-stage ventures to start and stay in Baltimore by providing affordable space, services and funding opportunities.
For the past three years, FastForward has seen strong early returns from its efforts. The doors to our first innovation hub, FastForward Homewood, opened in 2013 near the Johns Hopkins University campus and has operated at capacity ever since. The FastForward East innovation hub opened on the Johns Hopkins medical campus in 2015 and has served as the headquarters for a number of successful startups. Due to the success of and demand for these two spaces, we opened our third innovation hub, FastForward 1812, this year.
This 23,000-square-foot space, also on the Johns Hopkins medical campus, more than doubles our footprint in the city. Its hub space features private offices, co-working desks, state-of-the-art conferencing and meeting spaces, and access to legal, accounting and fundraising experts. It also offers a BSL2 lab space – from benches in a large shared lab to small, medium and large private labs, along with cell culture, microscopy and cold storage rooms, and an assortment of other shared scientific instruments and equipment.
“FastForward allowed us to get up and running quickly,” says Brian Halak, President and CEO of WindMIL, a FastForward 1812 startup developing cell therapies for oncology indications. “It has the infrastructure that allows a brand new company like ours to work on the things that will generate value without worrying about vital, but less directly value-generating activities like finding office space, ordering lab equipment and the like.”
From finding affordable space and equipment to navigating unfamiliar legal and accounting procedures to securing funding, entrepreneurship presents challenges that derail startups based on even the most promising technologies. Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of emocha, a mobile health platform headquartered at FastForward 1812, says FastForward’s space, resources and connections have kept the startup competitive. Less than three years after its inception, emocha has customers from Baltimore to Australia.
“The Tech Ventures team offers tremendous support, while giving us the space to grow at our own pace,” Seiguer says. “We have what we need to succeed and to ramp up our business with the FastForward community as our base. This has included great introductions to our seed investors on the West Coast, New York and Boston.”
The support that FastForward provides high-potential startups like WindMIL and emocha not only accelerates the commercialization of life-changing technologies; it helps startups establish roots and grow in Baltimore. This, in turn, creates jobs and revenue for Baltimore. Additionally, as more and more companies start and stay in Baltimore, investors will take notice of the city’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem, creating a virtuous cycle of startup support leading to the commercialization of innovative technologies and the emergence of Baltimore as a leading hub for biohealth innovation.