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Meet Christine Kovich, Co-Founder of Harlem Biospace

 |  NYCEDC

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Harlem Biospace is the first city-backed incubator that supports early-stage NYC biotech companies. Since opening in November, it has contributed to an ongoing economic revitalization in Harlem. So far, sixteen promising biotech companies have taken up residency. Their work in cutting-edge technologies range from personalized diagnostics to new drugs that treat prostate, lung, and other cancers.
We talked to Harlem Biospace Co-founder Christine Kovich about her vision for Harlem Biospace and her personal connection to NYC.

Why biotech and why Harlem?
For the last few years, I've worked on identifying and pursuing ground-breaking business partnerships with start-ups in the mobile space. It was inspiring to work with nimble companies, such as Square, that are disrupting the payments industry. At the same time, Sam Sia (co-founder of Harlem Biospace) was establishing his next start-up, Junco Labs. We began looking for a potential lab space that was relatively close to his office at Columbia. Harlem was the ideal location. Within a couple months, we decided that we would not only build a lab for his company, we would build a lab for up to 24 companies! I am now working directly with start-ups that are solving real health problems. I am helping build up a biotech cluster in the city that I love. 

Every item in Harlem Biospace (aside from lab equipment) is made in NYC. Why?
We believe that good design in workspaces inspires creativity. NYC abounds with a magical creative energy like no other place in the world. Entrepreneurs starting a biotech company here can be inspired by NYC and the designers, artists and makers who call NYC home.  

When a large office furniture company could not accommodate the layout of our space, I started talking to local independent artists and craftspeople like John Sorensen-Jolnik of Coil & Drift who made our workstations, reception desk, and shelving. I met Cassidy Shultz Brush when I was looking for lighting options for our reception space and came across her Urban Chandy's. John introduced me to Ryden Rizzo of Allied Maker who hand-made our gorgeous, but also affordable, desk lamps. We found that sourcing locally from designers crafting their products (mostly) in Brooklyn was actually better for our overall design budget.  We are continuing to work with NYC  designers, some of whose products will be featured in our Harlem Biospace Design+Science Store.  

You place an emphasis on community at Harlem Biospace. How do you envision this community taking shape?
One of the crucial benefits for an entrepreneur building a company from a co-working space is being part of a community of entrepreneurs who are at the same stage of development. The Harlem Biospace community is already taking shape. Members are meeting once a week and we anticipate events where members pitch to one another and learn from each other’s experience as they develop and launch their products.

How can non-scientists contribute to the Harlem Biospace community?
We believe NYC’s scientifically minded citizens will build our community. We will foster collaborative learning by bringing science to the community with intimate salons, lectures and classes. We want New Yorkers to be really excited about a budding biotech sector in NYC. 

We also want to inspire and connect with the younger members of the community. We started HYPOTHEkids (Hk) to help develop a new generation of scientists, engineers, and technology entrepreneurs to support NYC’s rapidly expanding technology sector. Hk’s elementary in-school and afterschool lab hours build up the steps of the scientific method in a series of hands-on and engaging experiments, nurturing children to think like scientists. We are currently piloting our program in an elementary school just around the corner from Harlem Biospace. 

What is your favorite place or activity to do in NYC? 
I live a block from the 125th Street entrance to the Hudson River Bike Trail. There is nothing more exhilarating than cycling downtown on my Brompton fold-up bike with the Hudson on my right and this amazing city before me.

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Harlem Biospace is the first city-backed incubator offering affordable wet lab, microbench space, specialized laboratory equipment, mentorship, business support, and programming. Meet some of the member companies and entrepreneurs and learn how you can get involved at their open house next Friday.

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