From left to right: Kelly Schulz – Secretary of Commerce, State of Maryland; Luis Rugeles –
Co-founder & CEO, I-270 Innovation Labs; Doug Bane – Co-founder & COO, I-270 Innovation Labs.
Photography Credit: Peyton Olivia Photography

Secretary of Commerce Tours New
I-270 Innovation Labs, Flexible Lab Space
Meeting Critical Industry Need

Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly M. Schulz toured the new I-270 Innovation Labs on November 3rd, welcoming the much-needed center to the state’s tech and life sciences industries. The 22,000 square feet facility encompasses a wide mix of wet and dry labs, and is strategically located in southern Frederick County near both the I-270 and I-70 interstate highways. 

“Having the private sector come forward and be able to create this kind of spec lab space in different parts of the state has been very, very helpful for the entrepreneurs,” Schulz said. “And we’ve seen a great growth in entrepreneurial resilience over the course of the pandemic in the last 20 months.”

Secretary Schulz speaks about the work conducted in one of the labs with
Samantha Dostalik from Member company Fibercell Laboratories.

Regional demand for sub-2,000 square feet laboratories has been chronically underserved, and the new I-270 Innovation Labs addresses this critical need with turnkey lab space that is highly adaptable and integrates essential operational safeguards. In particular, those needed to ensure high levels of biosafety. Forward thinking design brings about a range of high‐quality wet and dry laboratory layouts, and multimodal workspaces with rapid reconfiguration capabilities. On-demand key resources and services dovetail adaptable commercial terms so that enterprises, startups, research and educational institutions, and other types of tech and biotech organizations are able to reduce cost and risk, compress operational scaling and R&D timelines, and focus on discovery.

Co-founders Luis Rugeles and Doug Bane started to plan the project in 2019, after identifying the critical need for research grade, flexible lab space in the Biohealth Capital Region, especially for growing companies.

Bane, who runs pre-owned lab equipment and services supplier BaneBio, often saw firsthand a significant gap between the type of lab space his clients required and what they found available. “Most of the lab space I visit is not designed and built for that purpose or lacks key features and resources,” Bane said. “We’ve made sure to avoid many of those mistakes.”

Rugeles, who early on took on the CEO role, was of the same mind. His tenure at the local economic development office, and as venture mentor for the Maryland Tech Council had helped to crystallize the acute need for such regional assets. Decades of managing and starting technology-based companies also informed Rugeles’ comprehensive approach. “From the beginning, building flexible, research-grade infrastructure was part of our vision for the I-270 Innovation Labs. Our passion was to forge efficient, future-proof solutions that truly proved beneficial to a wide range of existing and upcoming organizations,” Rugeles said. “That is our guiding principle. More than ever, everyone understands how critical these industries are to the region and to the entire country,” he added.

While the onset of the pandemic made the project considerably riskier and harder to complete, Rugeles and Bane concluded that their rationale would be ultimately strengthened. “We are living the century of the life sciences, with engineering intersecting biology, and the Washington-Baltimore region becoming an epicenter for the industry,” Rugeles said. “Accelerating technology adoption is lifting productivity and geographically spreading talent. The I-270 Innovation Labs itself is a case in point. In turn, and in order to continue leading the world, American innovators require flexible, research-grade infrastructure in key up-and-coming hubs.” he added.     

Schulz was impressed with the amount of private capital invested into the I-270 Innovation Labs. In the past, several local governments created lab space for entrepreneurs. Rugeles and Bane decided that the time was right for the private sector to help carry the torch by providing superior solutions and greater autonomy to a wider range of organizations.

Secretary Schulz and her team tour the new 22,000 SQFT facility.

“I think without this type of investment that happens, not just here in Frederick County but all over the state, we’re not going to be able to keep the entrepreneurs here where they feel as if there’s an ecosystem available to them to grow and expand,” Schulz said.

The center’s location in Frederick allows for organizations in the entire Biohealth Capital Region to get space accessible within an easy commute. Over 60% of the I-270 Innovation Labs has already been leased, and Rugeles expects to reach full occupancy sometime next year. “Around that time, we will put in motion expansion plans we have locally and beyond,” he said. “We believe we have a good model and the right motivation to satisfy this critical need, and there is a scope for scaling that.”

After touring the space on Wednesday morning, Schulz and her team shared their impressions of the new space, and the hole it will fill in the current life sciences and biotech ecosystem in Maryland. The goal, they said, is to get Maryland from its rating as the fourth best biopharma cluster in the nation to third place.

“And the only way we’re going to get to that number three spot is by having spaces like this,” Schulz said. 

Erika Riley, BioBuzz Media with Co-founders Rugeles, and Bane.
Photography Credit: Peyton Olivia Photography