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Five questions with Beth Noonan

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
May 11, 2012
by Georgina Gustin

...In late June, after three years of planning, the Helix Center Biotech Incubator will open, providing lab space and offices to start-up technology, life and plant sciences companies.

The development of the $7.5 million business incubator was shepherded by Beth Noonan, of the St. Louis County Economic Council, who will also oversee operations after the center opens its doors. With low-rent shared labs and flexible office space, the center could be home to as many as 30 fledgling companies. Its proximity to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, where very early-stage research is done, and the Bio-Research & Development Growth (BRDG) Park, where more established enterprises find homes, is by design. The center is the latest addition to the region's bioscience belt and the fifth incubator developed by the council.

How did the project begin and where do things stand now?

The genesis came about when we were approached by some folks from the Danforth Center and Nidus (an entrepreneur network based next door). Their focus was changing. We have the research and the science at the Danforth Center, and BRDG is a post-incubator space, so there emerged this gap in terms of affordable space for companies in the county. We were a natural fit because we run an incubator program. This is just a specialized version. The construction is not quite completed, but we should be done in June. We'll have 8,000 square feet of office space, 7,800 of lab space.

What's the objective?

The bottom-line goal of any incubator is to really provide that first commercial space for early-stage companies at an affordable price, and to provide them with shared resources and amenities, and access to other entrepreneurs. They all function in the same way. But in terms of the Helix Center it provides specialized lab space and specialized equipment that early-stage technologies wouldn't have access to. I think what's unique about Helix is the close proximity to the specialized resources nearby.

What kind of company do you see finding a home at the Helix Center?

The kind of tenants we're looking for are folks who are in the bioscience space, which is broadly defined: plant science, life science, clean technology. We'd like to have some nexus to the biosciences. It's not necessarily something that finds the next drug for cancer, but a support company. A contract research company or doing something with medical records related to biosciences.

How do you go about finding these companies?

We're doing quite a few things. We're going to places where start-up companies gather to inform them of the space. We're getting close to finishing our web site. I've been doing speaking engagements. A lot. Our goal is to provide space to companies that are growing in St. Louis. The most likely source of our tenants will be St. Louis.

What ensures that they stay here after they "graduate?"

Of course, we can't force people to stay in St. Louis. But I think what we're trying to do with Helix and what a lot of folks in the region are doing, is help continue strengthening the environment for entrepreneurs and making sure people have access to resources. We have early-stage companies here all the way up to Fortune 500 companies. We can help them make those connections. We have other resources to help them as we grow.


Title - Vice President bio-sciences and technology, business development division, St. Louis County Economic Council.

Education - BA in Linguistics, Brown University, masters degrees in social work and jurisprudence, Washington University

Family - Husband, Frank Pfau; two children, Emily, 12, and Michael, 9.

Hometown - Chesterfield