Friday, May 20, 2016

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) today announced a $1.5 million grant for a cutting-edge biomedical and electronics prototyping hub, called protostudios, to support small businesses and train students in Iowa. 

Protostudios will be located within downtown Iowa City’s MERGE space in the former Wedge pizzeria on the west side of the Iowa City Public Library building. MERGE, expected to open this fall, is a partnership between the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development (OVPR&ED) and the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD).

The IEDA grant will pave the way for the installation of 3D modeling software and hardware, prototyping, and electronics equipment and workspace to support the development of everything from biomedical devices to wearable technology.

With protostudios upstairs and office and meeting space downstairs, MERGE will gather entrepreneurs, startup companies, engineers, technology professionals, graphic artists, hackers, students, professionals, and business resources all in one location. MERGE will include dedicated offices for startups and space for coding and web and mobile app development.

“This project will benefit entrepreneurs and inventors across the state, facilitate collaboration across disciplines, and secure Iowa City’s reputation as a hive of creative commercialization, particularly in biomedicine and engineering,” said Daniel A. Reed, UI Vice President for Research and Economic Development. 

David Conrad, Assistant Vice President for Research and Economic Development, said the goal is for the university and the community to bring together people and resources to foster new ideas, technological innovation, and business growth. He added that protostudios will be a statewide economic development resource, joining a network of advanced manufacturing hubs in the state that includes TechWorks at the University of Northern Iowa and the Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) at Iowa State University.-

“MERGE and protostudios will incentivize faculty, postdocs and graduate students to start more companies, create a pool of tech talent to meet the state’s IT workforce needs, promote STEM education, and bring together town and gown communities for economic development,” he said.

ICAD President Mark Nolte said ICAD is honored and excited to be part of a novel partnership between an institute of higher education and a growing local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“The project will benefit the entire state with job and wealth creation as we change our culture towards an expectation for new solutions and innovations,” Nolte said.

MERGE, considered a “dry lab,” will have a “wet lab” counterpart in the Bowen Science Building on the UI’s west campus. The wet lab, located close to academic labs, would provide laboratory space for five to six faculty startups working to determine whether and how to commercialize their research.

Both labs are part of a parallel incubation strategy to help faculty and community entrepreneurs advance promising ideas through prototyping, initial funding, and startup creation that will also involve establishing space in the UI Research Park or the park’s BioVentures Center.

UI Partners and the UI Research Park are part of the  Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, which provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover