Flexible Labs: Accelerating and Enabling the New Bio-Economy

Stan Lew, RMW architecture & interiors

Innovation is the genesis of applied discovery. In San Francisco, IndieBio has launched a unique business model, hosting biotech start-ups in an on-site lab in four-month revolutions. Driven by a need for rapid development rooted in a business case, 15 nascent companies "incubate" at IndieBio's 1,700 sf lab, after which the space must flex to support another 15 companies months later.

How does lab design support this kind of innovation? Modularity, robust infrastructure, sound planning, a deep understanding of operational savvy and a collaborative culture in the space all contribute. With needs for chemistry, synthesis, characterization, BSL-2 space, sterility and robotics, the IndieBio labs are unique facilities designed to be reinvented as they support the iterations of start-ups that demand flexibility, speed, accuracy and reliability in their workspace.

This discussion will focus on how the IndieBio space was designed and built to support the business and scientific mission of its companies. From using neural networks to build the next generation computing platform to the creation of sustainable seafood in the lab, IndieBio's San Francisco laboratories are set up with a loose infrastructure to sustain the many needs of its burgeoning unicorns to innovate and eventually scale up their discoveries.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand how lab planning impacts and facilitates flexibility for evolving research needs.
  • Understand how infrastructure capacity limitations can be addressed to achieve research goals.
  • Understand how multiple and diverse research groups can effectively share laboratory environments.
  • Learn how a new culture in research can impact the bottom line of a research organization.


Stan Lew, AIA LEED AP, is an architect and principal with RMW architecture & interiors in San Francisco, CA. He leads the firm's environmental initiatives and focuses on technical and high-performance building projects. With an emphasis on design for research facilities, Stan works closely with clients to achieve project goals. His recent work with IndieBio San Francisco has facilitated the start-up accelerator's efforts to launch new biotechnology companies.


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