Detroit effort to get boost
Henry Ford Health System will be tenant at TechOne
BY KATHERINE YUNG . FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER . June 8, 2008
On the fourth floor of the TechOne business incubator in Detroit,
construction workers are painting and hammering away, creating new office
and laboratory space for Henry Ford Health System's drug development
In July, the Henry Ford unit plans to become one of the biggest tenants at
TechOne. The addition should bring some badly needed rental revenue to the
Burroughs Street building, part of the 12-block TechTown research and
technology park at the northern edge of Wayne State University.
Currently about one-third occupied, the five-story, $10-million TechOne has
struggled since its launch in 2004. Last year, it couldn't meet the $50,000
monthly interest payments owed on its debt. At the time, it had relied on a
dwindling pool of local property taxes for the bulk of its financial
But money woes haven't squashed the dream of creating a thriving hub for
entrepreneurs in Detroit.
Led by interim director Randal Charlton, the incubator struck a deal with
its bank lender to lower its interest payments, and it increased the number
In recent months, it also won major grants from the Kresge Foundation, the
Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development. And Wayne State is providing legal, building management and
"Our financial position has improved significantly," said Charlton, the
founder and former chief executive of TechOne's largest current tenant, the
human tissue supplier Asterand plc. "We're not yet to a point where we can
claim a long track record of success, but the train has certainly left the
To maintain its financial stability, TechOne has crafted a three-year
business plan that is expected to be formally adopted by its board of
directors this week.
The plan involves adding anchor tenants such as Henry Ford that can commit
to long-term leases, a strategy used by shopping mall developers.
Charlton and his staff are also working to make TechOne a center of
excellence for bio-banking, the collection of biological samples and data
for research. And the incubator hopes to attract a new North American Public
Health Institute and a North American Free Trade Agreement business resource
TechOne has a waiting list of tenants, mostly start-up companies. By July,
construction on the first and fourth floors is expected to finish, opening
up some much-needed space at the Albert Kahn-designed building. Formerly
owned by General Motors Corp., it had sat vacant for decades.
Over the next two years, TechOne aims to fill all of its offices and
laboratories. But it's not interested only in technology and life science
companies. It's going after arts-related ones as well.
Charlton sees TechOne becoming an "entrepreneurial church" where anyone can
go to get business inspiration.
Hence the reason for monthly entrepreneur breakfasts, boot camps, Friday
evening gatherings, a China business club and other activities. The
incubator also hopes to work with economic development groups in the region.
"The economy of Michigan depends on the resurgence of Detroit," Charlton
said. "We are working to alter the culture to an entrepreneurial one."
Contact KATHERINE YUNG at 313-222-8763 or kyung@...
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