A Young Life Science Hub Gains Traction in the Heart of Virginia Beach

Sponsored by DPR Construction

Virginia Beach, Virginia, offers beautiful beaches, abundant outdoor activities, terrific universities and colleges, excellent schools, fantastic restaurants, and a wonderful lifestyle. 

And now, a decade-long effort to build a life science cluster in Virginia Beach is gaining traction and momentum thanks to the efforts of VABeachBio and its many partners.

Virginia Beach is seeking to build a bio cluster in the heart of everything Virginia Beach has to offer. The cluster reached an important milestone, recently opening a brand new accelerator lab constructed and managed by BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) stalwart Facility Logix. VABeachBio and its partners see this new lab as a sign of great things to come. 

“I’m really excited to be here in Virginia Beach leading the economic development team. We’ve been talking to the community about building the Research Park for 10 years, and now we have the momentum to deliver on that promise,” stated Taylor Adams, Deputy City Manager and the Director of Economic Development for the City of Virginia Beach.

“The original plan for the Research Park was to build it in a rural part of Virginia Beach, but we looked at the data, and that didn’t align with what life sciences companies want. Researchers today want a more urban space in the middle of everything. And that’s what we did—we brought our incubator lab right into our town center and into the heart of an urban environment that is walkable and near everything,” he added. 

Adams and his team knew building a lab was a critical step to attracting startups and established life sciences companies to the area. The economic development team brought on Facility Logix, headquartered in Burtonsville, Maryland, to develop the lab and ultimately manage operations.

The new lab is part of the VABeachBio Accelerator, managed by Tidewater Community College, located in 5,700 SF of office and lab space. In addition to the expected amenities for offices, including conference rooms, a kitchen area, and high-speed internet, the accelerator space includes wet and dry labs and a biosafety level 2 lab space—a safety rating that allows the study of moderate risk infectious agents or toxins, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“The accelerator-incubator lab space is centrally located, and the Research Park is now being held for larger, more established companies that want to be located near other health care assets in Virginia Beach,” stated Adams. “We just opened the accelerator a few weeks ago, so we’re in our infancy, but we’re all excited for the future.”

The VABeachBio Research Park is located on 155 acres in close proximity to other biomedical and healthcare assets. The Research Park will eventually consist of up to 1,500,000 SF of office, wet lab, and research and development space. The Princess Anne Commons site sits in the heart of Virginia Beach’s existing health care cluster that includes LifeNet Health, a global leader in the field of regenerative medicine and organ donation; Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, the region’s newest hospital; and Operation Smile, the international children’s medical charity responsible for more than 220,000 free surgical procedures worldwide.

“Former Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms envisioned what’s happening now about a decade ago. He was thinking about the future of the City’s economy. He saw that a lot of people grew up here and would leave and not come back. He wanted to invest in diversifying our economy to a point where people could grow up here and be able to stay,” Adams added.

Adams, his economic development team, and VABeachBio’s partners believe Virginia Beach has so much to offer researchers and the companies that employ them.

Adams stated, “For startups and emerging companies, we can offer ‘Bang for the Buck’ that no other place on the East Coast can deliver. The cost of living is low, and the lifestyle here is outstanding. And we have 28 miles of beach here, too. Virginia Beach also offers a great university system and a unique IT infrastructure that provides outstanding connectivity—the two fastest subsea data cables in the world landed right here in Virginia Beach about three years ago. And four more are coming.” 

The Telxius Landing Station hosts three submarine cables: Marea and Brusa, and Dunant, making Virginia Beach an IT infrastructure leader and a connectivity hotspot. 

The VABeachBio team is currently focused on attracting entrepreneurs and startup companies to its new accelerator/incubator lab while also finalizing and executing a broader business development strategy to attract life science organizations to the area. 

As part of this effort, planning will soon be underway to launch the organization’s next Innovation Challenge, which will identify the Virginia Beach cluster’s next wave of promising, young life science companies. VABeachBio’s first Innovation Challenge, a partnership with the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) and others, produced a number of winners, many of whom focused on inventions in the veteran’s health and medical device spaces. 

Adams stated that the business development strategy for the emerging cluster is still in development, but he believes the VABeach Bio hub has a great opportunity to target life science sub-sectors like agriculture and bioengineering, as well as European agri-bio companies looking to expand or relocate.

“We offer a great quality of life, and this is a great place to live. Now we need to attract researchers and companies,” stated Adams. “This is about finding the right people that want to live in our city.”

“We’ve built our first lab, but that’s just a start. Our next major goal is to build another larger lab that can expand our capabilities near our accelerator lab. If we can get that second lab built, that will speak volumes about how we’re progressing and about the future of our cluster. We’re a young city. We’re taking the long view, and we’re going to allow our cluster to grow organically so we can have sustained success,” he added.

Whether it’s the new Global Pandemic and Biodefense Center coming to Maryland, the bustling regional cell and gene therapy sector, the vaccine boom, the growing CVilleBioHub around the University of Virginia, or the accelerating momentum across the VABeachBio cluster, the BHCR is healthy, growing, and ready to take its next leap forward.

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