Drexel University opened a shared office suite for burgeoning life-science and medical-device companies Wednesday in what the school is portraying as a preview of its larger development plans for the area.

Three firms have signed on as subtenants of the newly renovated space in the One Drexel Plaza building at 3001 Market St., on the east side of the 12-acre expanse of Drexel-owned property where the university plans its "Innovation Neighborhood."

Drexel is in the process of choosing a developer for the project, which will include offices, labs, shops, and residences on land mostly bounded by 30th, Market, and 32d Streets and the rail yards north of the campus.

The 20,800-square-foot office suite, leased and operated by developer PHL Next Stage Med, typifies the start-up friendly, collaborative atmosphere that Drexel hopes the development will create, said Keith Orris, the university's senior vice president for corporate relations, who is overseeing the plan.

"It's a perfect example of the types of firms and activities that we envision to be part of the Innovation Neighborhood," Orris said. "This is a major step forward because of the potential that it holds and the type of activity it symbolizes."

Similar types of collaborative office space - near universities and outfitted with sophisticated gear for early-stage tech company tenants - have been successful in places such as Austin, Texas, and Cambridge, Mass., but they haven't really existed in Philadelphia.

That may be putting the city at a competitive disadvantage in its efforts to accelerate its high-tech and life-science industries, said Rija Beares, a broker focusing on technology businesses at real estate services firm CBRE.

"In Philadelphia, the missing component is that next stage, where they've been funded but they don't yet have the dollars for their own space," said Beares, who was not involved in the Drexel lease. "They need some kind of support system where they're not spending their operating capital on real estate."

The space at One Drexel Plaza has capacity for about 100 workers and is 80 percent occupied by the three companies, some of which moved staff there from suburban offices, said Rob Reisley, a PHL Next Stage manager.

One of the companies is the Philadelphia offshoot of Newton, Mass.-based Boston Device Development, which fabricates prototypes of medical devices for big life-science companies such as Johnson & Johnson Services Inc. and Medtronics P.L.C., Reisley said.

Plexus and Militia Hill Ventures, the two other subtenants, involve early-stage companies working on medical technology and life-science products, he said. Current efforts include a surgical patch to eliminate the need for sutures during invasive surgeries and a product that applies ultrasound technology to skin-borne bacteria.

The space's target tenants are early-stage companies that have outgrown incubation programs, but can't afford or don't want to lock themselves into long-term leases of their own, Reisley said.

The shared space allows them to cut expenses by sharing equipment and office amenities, while encouraging collaboration, he said.

"There's a lot of technology that comes out of this region," Reisley said. "We just felt there was a significant unmet need."

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