BEVERLY —  A year and a half after officials cut the ribbon on 13,000 square feet of new labs and offices at Northshore InnoVentures, the space has a lived-in feel.

White lab coats hang from hooks. People are conducting experiments in the lab. There are mugs in the break room. The maker space is full of photochemistry device kits.

Now, president and CEO Chris Ilsley is looking to expand again, as they are again running out of space.

The nonprofit biotech business incubator is now in its 10th year and boasts 45 companies as members or graduates. It has helped create more than 320 jobs, provided internships for 209 students and attracted more than $310 million in grants and equity funding. So far 22 companies have flown from the nest. 

At the end of July 2017, former president and CEO Martha Farmer consolidated the company's operations under one roof on the fourth floor of 100 Cummings Center. Previously it had been spread out over five suites on different floors.

In June 2018, she handed over the reins to Ilsley, who has found much to love about the job.

"It's the variety, the passion, it's the interest," he said. "You know, it's geekness on steroids."

Back in 2016, the organization benefited from a $5 million Massachusetts Life Sciences Center grant to the North Shore Life Sciences Consortium for equipment, such as expensive gene sequencers used to help with research into cancer diagnoses, and mass spectrometers used in chemistry analysis. The consortium is made up of NorthShore InnoVentures and Endicott College, Gordon College, Salem State University and North Shore Community College.

Ilsley said about half the organization's revenues come from members' fees, service fees and program fees, and the other half comes from sponsors, state agencies and local foundations.

Some companies don't need a full office suite, he noted. Some startups just need a desk. Some participate virtually, but all are still part of the program, whether they are working in clean energy or working to create an artificial kidney.

"It's a melting pot," he said.

More than a lab 

This is more than a just co-working space, however. InnoVentures members also receive mentorship programs in legal, financial and other aspects of running and scaling up startup.

Life sciences entrepreneur Harry McCoy, chairman and co-founder of NorthShore InnoVentures, said he noticed the cohesiveness among member companies at a board meeting last week when the UPS delivery arrived, and various members knew how to receive the packages for their fellow members.

McCoy recalled his own experience leaving academia to start a company. He knew the science, he explained, but not about financial, legal or other aspects of a startup, so he brought in a team of mentors to help. It's what differentiates NorthShore InnoVentures from other incubators. 

"One of the key things for us is we just don't provide the lab space or the office. We actually provide programs that go behind it," Ilsley said.


There are about 60 life sciences companies at the Cummings Center, plus other large companies elsewhere, such as New England Biolabs, Cell Signaling Technology, Abiomed and EMD Millipore.

When NorthShore InnoVentures came to the Cummings Center in 2010, there were 24 life sciences companies in the sprawling office complex. Today, these companies take up more than a quarter of the 2 million square feet in the "The Shoe," Ilsley said, referring to the former United Shoe Manufacturing plant that used to be located there. 

The Cummings Foundation has also awarded the incubator a 10-year, $200,000 sustaining grant, he said.

Growing industry

"That's not an accident," Farmer said about the growth of life sciences on the North Shore, "and that correlation is at least in part cause and effect." Graduate companies tend to relocate within the Cummings Center or remain elsewhere on the North Shore, Ilsley said.

Farmer continues to be involved with the organization and provide it with continuity. She likes Ilsley's new ideas and connections.

Every conference room is full, she said. In addition, they are attracting investments to their member and graduate companies from all over the world, as far away as Japan.

Internships also play a big part of the work there, with 209 interns having passed through from Endicott College, Gordon College, Salem State and North Shore Community College, as well as high-school age students from the Gloucester Marine Academy.

Ilsley, 49, is a native of the England and has spent his career in innovation and entrepreneurship as the former head of science and innovation with the office of the British Consulate-General in Boston.

"I actually moved from Cambridge to Cambridge to work for the British Consulate," Ilsley said, "So I was working for the U.K. government in the U.K. in Cambridge supporting life sciences companies over here. And, I moved over to the science and innovation team of the British Consulate."

He then wound up with the local innovation community, married to an American, and now has two young girls, ages 2 and 3.

Now Ilsley, who has lived in the Boston-Cambridge innovation bubble, said his goal is to advocate for that kind of innovation in North Shore suburbs like Beverly.


Chris Ilsley, president and CEO of North Shore Innoventures, will speak about the innovation economy at a North Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday, April 3, at 7:15 a.m. at the Kernwood Country Club in Salem.

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