Innovation Quarter: A History
In 1994, Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology moved into a former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. warehouse downtown with eight researchers from Winston-Salem State University.
The building was renamed the Piedmont Triad Community Research Center.
From that humble start nearly 20 years ago, the Innovation Quarter has grown.
As with most formative, collaborative efforts involving people and institutions not used to working together, the idea of a “knowledge community’’ grew in time. Leaders pitched in over the years from all sectors: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, city, county and state government, business and development, and the community.
Together, they have shaped the evolution of the Innovation Quarter and set it on the path toward what it is becoming—a mixed-use, high-tech community that serves business, academic and societal needs. The cutting-edge developments in biomedical science and information technology and other fields being developed at the Innovation Quarter will serve far beyond the borders of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and North Carolina.
The Innovation Quarter, itself, however, will be a 21st century model of diversity, collaboration, innovation and creativity—a place to Work, Live, Learn and Play.
An organization of academic, business and governmental leaders formed the North Caroline Emerging Technology Alliance. This led to a study and community-wide effort aimed at promoting an economy anchored in technology-based business. A master plan was approved to establish a downtown-based park focused on biotechnology research.
The technology alliance, renamed Idealliance, built its first new building in what was then called Piedmont Triad Research Park. One Technology Place was owned by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and had as its initial tenant Targacept Inc.—a business spun out of Reynolds developing drugs to treat nervous system diseases and disorders.
Albert Hall and Victoria Hall, although not owned by the Medical Center, were historical buildings that were newly renovated to provide office and lab space for bioscience and information technology businesses.
A major expansion was announced. Plans called for a 25-year build-out for a mixed-use center that would cover more than 200 acres, offer 6 million square feet of space and create more than 20,000 jobs.
AsInEx, a Russian biotechnology company that develops and synthesizes organic compounds for drugs, opened its first office in the United States in Albert Hall. The company develops products and services to provide pharmaceutical and biotech research communities with innovative designs that result in truly novel compounds.
Ocular Systems Inc., a biotechnology company focused on corneal transplant products, opened in Albert Hall. Its EndoSerter product was successfully used in a type of corneal transplant called endothelial keratoplasty. The technology was partly developed by the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Reynolds American donated 16 acres in downtown Winston-Salem for the project and pledged to give another 22 acres, including the Bailey power plant that once powered its manufacturing buildings.
With expansion being led by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, two buildings and a five-story parking deck were built. Biotechnology Research Facility-A1 and the parking deck opened in March. The 180,000-square-foot building houses the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the School of Medicine’s Lipid Sciences program. Later in 2006, the 30,000-square-foot second building opened to house the Data Center and departmental offices.
The Wet Lab LaunchPad™ opened within the Biotechnology Research Facility with two tenants, Carolina Liquid Chemistries and Tengion. This was a community-led effort to provide affordable laboratory space for emerging life sciences companies. The building was renamed in honor of Dr. Richard H. Dean, the retired medical school leader who led expansion of the park. The new name: Richard H. Dean Biomedical Research Building.
KeraNetics, LLC, a biomaterials company was founded to focus on creating inexpensive keratin-based products for use in areas of regenerative medicine, trauma care, tools for research scientists, and hair and skin care products. The company, located in the Richard Dean Biomedical Research Building, was spun out of research done at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
With state and federal funding, the creation of infrastructure began with the relocation of Norfolk Southern Railroad lines, the burying of Duke Energy transmission lines and the construction of a new rail bridge.
The state of North Carolina bought 4 acres in the southern part of the park for a building to house the Center for Design Innovation’s advanced technology research and education programs. The Center is intended to facilitate design-focused creativity, education, research and entrepreneurial activity and be an accelerator for businesses in design. Its founding partners are the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Winston-Salem State University and Forsyth Technical Community College.
Reynolds donated the remaining 22 acres, and also contributed a cash donation of $2 million for unrestricted use in the expansion of the park.
The opening of the $100 million Wake Forest Biotech Place began a new phase of development. Its world-class, custom-designed research space became home to several research departments of Wake Forest School of Medicine, as well as private companies, including Carolina Liquid Chemistries, which five years earlier had been one of the original tenants in the Wet Lab LaunchPad™. Biotech Place was redeveloped by Wexford Science & Technology, a private-sector partner of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Wexford was able to take advantage of historic tax credits in the financing that helped pay for the renovation of the two former Reynolds warehouses that comprise the property.
Abatement work began on the old Bailey power plant building donated by Reynolds. The work was required before the old plant could be redeveloped, probably into retail and entertainment space.
Inmar Inc. announced plans to expand its retail technology and logistics company and move operations to two former Reynolds buildings in the park, bringing more than 900 employees.
Eric Tomlinson, DSc, PhD, was named President of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and Chief Innovation Officer of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. He soon announced the formation of a new operating division, Wake Forest Innovations, to focus on boosting the creation and commercialization of Wake Forest Baptist products and services, and enlivening Innovation Quarter as a place for excellence in science, technology and business innovation.
Ocular Systems Inc., Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the North Carolina Eye Bank announced the formation of a new company, HCEC, LLC, whose goal is to advance a promising new technology aimed at engineering replacement corneas in the lab for transplantation. The new approach involves isolating cells from “banked’’ donor corneas to grow replacement corneal tissue in the lab; the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is conducting the research. The advantage of the new approach is that cells from a single donor can potentially benefit multiple patients with impaired vision. HCEC was the result of more than four years of planning among the collaborators.
Blue Atom Technologies, Inc. located their start-up operation in Biotech Place. Blue Atom provides the biotechnology industry with innovative software tools designed to increase efficiencies and the probability of success in chemical research and development.
AsInEx, a full-service chemistry provider of lead generation and lead optimization solutions offering custom synthesis, virtual-to-real screening and computational design services, announced expansion and location of its North America headquarters in One Technology Place in the Innovation Quarter.
The park was renamed Wake Forest Innovation Quarter to mark its place in the community as a hub not just of scientific innovation and collaboration, but as a place where people will come to Work, Live, Learn and Play.