May 2, 2024

Blue Sky Labs Launches MUSC Innovation District In Charleston

Helen Adams  /  Medical University of South Carolina
MUSC Chief Innovation Officer Jesse Goodwin, Ph.DMUSC Chief Innovation Officer Jesse Goodwin, Ph.D

The Medical University of South Carolina is preparing to welcome innovators to a retooled campus building that offers lab space to people with great ideas that need room for growth. It's the beginning of an innovation district that MUSC's president has called a generational opportunity.

The location of that beginning is a building on Calhoun Street in a former College of Pharmacy site. It's now home to Blue Sky Labs – a place for scientists and other experts who want to hone their creations, test new concepts and share space and ideas with fellow innovators. The long-term plan is for other locations to follow.

Blue Sky Labs is still in the process of getting up and running. But there's no question that it's an important step toward the ultimate goal: a district where, in the words of MUSC President David Cole, M.D., "universities, corporations, manufacturers, dreamers and philanthropists come together to create a new level of what is possible."

Jesse Goodwin, MUSC's chief innovation officer, is leading the effort and will be based in the pioneering Blue Sky building. "It is a physical demonstration of MUSC's commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship and fostering that culture among its faculty and staff."

She said cultivating innovation is one of MUSC's core commitments. "Why is now the right time? We are at an inflection point as an organization and as a region where we have enough groundswell momentum that it's time to double down on our efforts if we really want to move the needle and have the type of impact that I think MUSC is poised to have."

Building momentum

Poised, because MUSC has already developed multiple options for entrepreneurs who would benefit from institutional support, including:

  • The Zucker Institute for Innovation Commercialization, which helps MUSC innovators who want to start companies.
  • MUSC Health Solutions, which works within MUSC Health to validate pain points, conduct market research, develop build/buy/partner recommendations, and craft business cases for digital solutions.
  • Goodwin's Office of Innovation, which works to build a culture of innovation by supporting new ideas generation through programs, funding, and pilot projects.

MUSC also has multiple entrepreneurial success stories. Case in point: QuicksortRx, started by a former network engineer and former pharmacist at MUSC. It helps hospitals make better pharmacy buying decisions. It's been so successful that it's moving into bigger digs and getting ready to hire more than three dozen new employees.

Other companies started by current and former MUSC employees include GlycoPath, which focuses on biomarker research; Leukogene Therapeutics, an early-stage oncology drug discovery company; and FibroTherapeutics, which is developing treatments for diseases involving organ fibrosis and vascular leakage.

Blue Sky Labs' Role

Those success stories show there's already a supportive environment at MUSC and in Charleston for entrepreneurs. Goodwin said Blue Sky Labs will build on that.

"We're not trying to replace any of the existing entrepreneurial spaces like The Harbor Entrepreneur Center or the Digital Corridor. I think they're wonderful. This is a supplement to those."

An important distinction: "None of those existing spaces has lab space. This new MUSC space does," Goodwin said.

"So if you're a biotech company that needs a lab, until now, there was no place for you to go except for the South Carolina Research Authority incubator that's on the peninsula," Goodwin said.

"And that's almost always fully occupied. So SCRA is supportive as well. This is a supplement to support life sciences in the region. It's not a competition to the existing spaces. It can be complementary. Someone could have an office over in The Harbor and run their lab here."

And that would be perfectly fine with Goodwin. She sees MUSC's role as going well beyond teaching students and healing patients. She said the academic medical center also has an eye on the future. "I think it's our obligation to foster and support innovation."

Blue Sky Labs will be a part of that. Named for the concept that creativity doesn't have to be constrained by what we already know, Blue Sky Labs is part of MUSC's focus on the pursuit of knowledge that can change lives for the better. Its tag line is "Life changing ideas made real."

That concept has the potential to help transform part of the Charleston peninsula. MUSC's president put his vision of the innovation district this way. "Imagine an environment where people can see, feel and touch our future's potential. It is a place where innovation thrives, new and creative ideas are nurtured and others will come to seek expertise, provide their knowledge and resources and set the pace for economic growth."