Stroll the hallways of Sinai Hospital and you’ll spy physicians and nurses, scrubbed-up specialists with charts, and cliques of medical students making their rounds.

You’ll also come across budding entrepreneurs, some in lab coats, some in office attire. They are the next generation of bio-tech and life science innovators who are getting a leg up on developing their businesses at Maryland’s first hospital-based incubator program.

Startup incubators, longtime hallmarks of Silicon Valley, are programs that provide business training and support to early-stage companies, typically before they secure investors. At Sinai Hospital, a LifeBridge Health Center, the BioIncubator program provides health startups with the lab space and clinical support they need to develop their businesses.

In operation since 2016, the BioIncubator currently houses 13 fledgling businesses that specialize in a range of health services, such as HIV diagnostics, DNA sequencing, cancer immunotherapy and even animal health studies.

To gain a better understanding of the BioIncubator and how it sets Sinai Hospital apart, we reached out to Dr. Jonathan Ringo, president and chief operating officer of Sinai Hospital, and Neil Carpenter, vice president of strategic planning and research.

How is the BioIncubator different from other accelerator programs?

Carpenter: We are the only incubator that’s attached to a hospital, which matters if you’re trying to work with physicians and patients. It makes collaboration easier if you’re literally sharing the hallways with the people you’re trying to work with. We also charge far less for our resources than other programs. Most of the companies we house are pre-seed — they haven’t gotten investors yet — so charging less helps keep their overhead costs down.

Ringo: Our program also gives startups access to a brain trust, both from a business perspective and a clinical perspective. It’s not just the facilities and the infrastructure that the BioIncubator provides — it’s also the personal connections and access to physicians and clinical trials that will help these companies get to the next level.

How does Sinai benefit from having these businesses on-site?

Ringo: It’s tremendously beneficial, because it brings cutting-edge research and technology to the hospital — that brain trust goes both ways. The program also helps attract leading physicians who want to work in collaborative, innovative spaces like ours.

Sinai’s mission to provide compassionate, quality health care is guided by the Jewish faith. How does the BioIncubator fit into that mission?

Ringo: Sinai Hospital was started when educational opportunities for Jewish physicians were lacking because of anti-Semitism and discrimination. With that legacy in mind, the BioIncubator is a chance to open up opportunities to entrepreneurs in Baltimore and to give back to the community and show our gratitude for the opportunities we’ve had.

Carpenter: There aren’t many independent Jewish hospitals and health systems left in this country, so anything we can do to keep Sinai competitive in the health care market helps ensure that our hospital will be able to endure. We have to be creative and entrepreneurial, and this BioIncubator gets us one step closer to that goal.

Sinai Hospital BioIncubator

A space at Sinai Hospital BioIncubator, Maryland’s only hospital-based bioincubator (Handout photo)

The BioIncubator is currently full but is accepting wait-list applications. Program administrators plan to launch an affiliated program in the coming months. 

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Saralyn Lyons is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.