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FastForward exits show success of Hopkins incubator

Johns Hopkins University opened FastForward in 2017. (The Daly Record / Maximilian Franz)

Johns Hopkins University opened FastForward in 2017. (The Daly Record / Maximilian Franz)

Two years after Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures opened new office and lab space for its FastForward 1812 incubator on the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus, two companies have moved on to bigger space.

LifeSprout, which had been in the incubator for about a year, moved last month to City Garage, where it will have manufacturing capabilities. Emocha Mobile Health, an original tenant of FastForward 1812, officially moved to a new space in Mount Vernon Monday, where it will grow its team from 17 to 24.

“I think so far we are on plan with our expectation,” Brian Stansky, senior director of FastForward, said. “I just think we will continue to hopefully just go forward and keep growing and help incubate to get good ventures growing to where they create critical mass.”

FastForward 1812 officially opened in April 2017. Its companies can start small, renting desk space and taking advantage of the shared equipment and conference and phone rooms.

As companies grow, they can rent larger offices. By the time it left, emocha had rented 3 of the offices and had essentially reached its capacity.

For companies that need lab space, FastForward offers a similar range of options. Companies have a choice of private or shared lab space. The private lab space was the first of its kind for an incubator and a key selling point of FastForward 1812.

The incubator currently has a waiting list for both the lab and office space.

Some companies, like emocha, may leave because they need more space. Others, like LifeSprout, will move because other places offer things the company needs as it grows.

LifeSprout develops synthetic soft tissues for reconstructive and aesthetic surgical procedures. At FastForward the company could develop its product.

As part of LifeSprout’s move to LaunchPort in South Baltimore’s City Garage, it accesses manufacturing space as it works toward clinical trials.

It is not just the physical space that makes an incubator a valuable place for startups. There are the basics, like the ability to pool some resources such as a kitchen or conference rooms.

But there are also the intangibles. As an incubator in a Johns Hopkins-sponsored space, startups get access to opportunities that some other companies may not get.

“I also think that probably one of the unmarketed aspects of FastForward is that so many influential people come through that space,” Sebastian Seiguer, emocha’s CEO, said. “These are really unique opportunities, and I think that the startups that are there, if you sit there, opportunities are going to come your way.”

For emocha, which develops mobile phone apps to help patients with drug adherence, those opportunities included meetings with funders, regulators and government officials. These meetings turned into capital, clients and research agreements.

A move out from the incubator can be an exciting time for the startups. It is a sign of their growth and relative stability.

At emocha, the firm is excited about its future at a time when there is more focus on treating patients outside the traditional medical facility.

“Right now is a pivotal time for us where I think the markets are opening up,” Seiguer said. The focus on outpatient treatment has emocha at the ”right place, right time, with the right team and the right technology.”

Both companies plan on keeping some space at the incubator. They can stick around and help their replacements as they grow their own companies.

That type of community building is not an accident at FastForward, it’s a requirement.

“We’ve got people applying all the time,” Stansky said. If someone does not want to be a part of the larger community, “We’re not interested. We want people who will help as well as be helped.”

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