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Startup outgrows innovation center space

March 29, 2007

KALAMAZOO--A Kalamazoo life science startup founded by former Pharmacia scientists has outgrown its space in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center and will build its own new facility at Western Michigan University's Business Technology and Research Park.

Groundbreaking for the new home of Kalexsyn Inc. took place March 27 at the BTR Park, with guests from around the state in attendance. The Kalexsyn site is a three-acre parcel located at the southeast corner of the park.

Kalexsyn, a contract medicinal chemistry firm working in the pharmaceutical industry, was founded in 2003 by two Pharmacia scientists, David Zimmerman and Robert Gadwood, who chose to stay in Kalamazoo when their division was moved. Working in partnership with Rockford Development of Grand Rapids, Mich., the firm will build a 20,000-square-foot building with room for expansion on a new cul de sac at the BTR Park. The move will allow the young firm to expand from its current staff of 15 chemists to about 32.

"Kalexsyn's groundbreaking celebrates more than just the bricks and mortar of a new facility," says David Zimmerman, Kalexsyn chief executive officer. "We are most certainly celebrating our company's strategic growth. But we are also celebrating reinvestment in Southwest Michigan. We are celebrating the success of public-private partnerships. And, we are celebrating the advancement of life sciences in this region."

Kalexsyn was among the first life science startups to take advantage of the wet lab space in the innovation center, which was opened in 2003 by local economic development agency Southwest Michigan First. The center was designed to nurture life science startups and is one of a series of measures the Kalamazoo community and WMU took to keep Pharmacia/Pfizer scientists in the area when the company decided to move some of its pharmaceutical research operations out of Kalamazoo. Other measures included establishment of WMU's Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center to provide financial and operational support for new companies, and the acceptance from Pfizer of donated scientific equipment that the young companies would need. Kalexsyn was the recipient of $225,000 in funding through the BRCC and was able to purchase Pfizer equipment directly from WMU.

"Kalexsyn's graduation from the Innovation Center is an exciting validation of the energy and investment that has gone into the re-making of our vision for Kalamazoo, " says Donald R. Parfet, managing director of the business development firm Apjohn Group LLC, chairman of the Managing Directors Board of the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center and chairperson of the BRCC Governing Board of Directors. "We have been able to capitalize on Kalamazoo's pharmaceutical heritage and re-employ many talented scientists and professionals in young life science companies with exciting technology and sound business plans. Startups have a three-to-five year window to demonstrate success. Kalexsyn's success will serve as an inspiration to those other start-ups still marching to the goal line. It could not have happened without strong partnerships throughout the community and especially with the private-public partnership that so effectively created the Innovation Center."

Zimmermann says, "When Kalexsyn was launched in 2003, the founders had strengths in science but little experience in running a business." Working with a business plan they developed with assistance from the SBTDC, the pair dove in and made a success of the business, capitalizing on a pharmaceutical outsourcing trend through aggressive solicitation for new business across the nation and in Western Europe. Zimmermann notes that nearly all of the of the firm's revenue comes from out of state, with about a 25 percent of that from outside the U.S. Sales in 2006 hit $2.8 million.

Kalexsyn is now occupying 7,000 square feet in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center. With room to expand, Zimmermann notes he expects his company's growth opportunities to lead to increased possibilities for student internships and research collaborations with WMU faculty.

Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach and point person for BTR Park development says the Kalexsyn announcement could signal the next wave of life science development in the community.

"This is what we were always after," Miller says. The private sector, individuals, the state, the city, the county and WMU all invested in the park and in the innovation center with this in mind. We wanted a place where companies could get started, grow to the point at which they can pay taxes and boost the local economy and move into larger quarters. Now we can bring in more companies and start the process again."

Kalexsyn is the third Kalamazoo life sciences firm to outgrow the innovation center. It is the first, however to reinvest in Kalamazoo by building its own new facility in the BTR Park.

"Southwest Michigan First has seen Kalexsyn develop from its start as two scientists with a great idea into this thriving company with 25 employees," says Ron Kitchens, president of the Kalamazoo-based economic development agency that operates the center. "We are thrilled to watch this success story graduate from the Innovation Center into its own custom-built space in the BTR Park. They have come so far and we look forward to watching them grow."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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