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Bioaccelerator Gains Foothold in Springfield

From Loisdale Road, just past the Springfield-Franconia Parkway overpass, the offices look pretty much the same as they have for years. But the offices are really an active bioaccelerator, a success story in economic development terms.

The offices are an incubator of sorts designed to spur business development in the bioinformatics field. It was created in January 2003 with slots for 10 to 12 companies to start projects and expand.

"The center can accommodate 10 to 12 start-up companies, and we have eight," said Gerry Gordon, the president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

The location has all the fertile signs of potential bioaccelerator success. Transportation, lodging, laboratories and manpower are all available at the Springfield location. At that location along Loisdale Road, transportation is available via I-95, Springfield-Franconia Parkway or the Metro. The newest campus of the Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) chain, the medical facility is a prime source for scientifically inclined students.

"That was really the hook for us to build the incubator in Springfield," Gordon said of the college. "It's a good hiring source."

Dr. Charlene Connolly, dean of nursing at the medical campus, said the college is supplying wet labs to companies in the incubator. The companies can test their findings in the lab, according to Connolly.

"When they need to test out the findings, they drive down the street and use our facilities," Connolly said. "Each company has their own wet lab space."

They hope to incorporate students in this relationship soon.

"Students would be working with the scientists. That's the concept," Connolly said. "Graduates from our college would be able to enter their companies."

ANGLE TECHNOLOGY, a private venture management firm, is overseeing the project. Brian Smith is the principal executive at Angle. While the company's headquarters is in Tysons Corner, Smith has an office at the bioaccelerator. Smith noted that the bioaccelerator has a memorandum of agreement with the Northern Virginia Community College.

"The whole idea was to have complementary assets around. Right around the mall area, you've got a full array of complementary establishments. We advertise that to companies," Smith said.

Inside the college, space is available for the wet labs. As of now, it's just an empty room. The college began its first classes in September 2003, and it isn't running at 100 percent yet.

Rhonda Hall, associate director of the NVCC campus, pointed out the empty room on a tour Tuesday, Feb. 17. Hall was filling in for Connolly, who was on a business trip.

"When you do biotechnical research, that's where the bioaccelerator comes in," Hall said.

Although Springfield has a reputation for traffic congestion, Smith points out that commuters coming south to Springfield at rush hour are going against traffic.

"It's actually turned out to be not so much of a liability," Smith said.

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said the criterion for starting the bioinformatics incubator was the proximity to Washington, D.C., and the National Institutes of Health. Metro provides access to both of these.

"The Metro is a key anchor to making this work," Kauffman said.

Getting the whole bioinformatics incubator started was the first goal, Kauffman said.

"Success doesn't happen overnight. It's a small step forward, but a definite step forward," he said.

THE INCUBATOR has had international developments connected with it as well. On Jan. 12, a British biotechnology company that makes products for monitoring the human immune system won the U.K.-to-U.S. side of the "Touchdown Transatlantic Business Plan Competition." ProImmune Ltd. will take corporate office space at the Springfield location, according to Alan Fogg at the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. Specializing in cellular immunology research, ProImmune brought one executive director from England to the incubator. The company plans to hire a senior director in the coming months, said Smith.

In return, 4FrontSecurity of Reston opened an office at the Royal Holloway Enterprise Centre, which is part of the Surrey Enterprise Hub at Royal Holloway College in the United Kingdom. One Reston resident, Andrew Odendaal, transferred over to the United Kingdom for a 12-month assignment with 4Front Security.

"We've already opened our office," said Chris Parker, a Reston resident, who came over from the United Kingdom 15 years ago.

Part of the long-term plan, according to Kauffman, is to raze the General Service Administration site, which occupies a piece of land between Springfield Mall and the medical campus. An office site is proposed for the land, Kauffman said, and will provide "a solid job and tax generator."