A global design and development company with U.S. headquarters in New York is making a push to become a player in San Diego’s life science market.
Unispace has a small presence in San Diego County, developing life science lab space for Abbot Laboratories at Campus Point.
The company will likely double its eight-person San Diego staff over the next 18 months, according to Emily Watkins, a senior principal at Unispace and global head of enterprises. Watkins is based in San Diego.
Unispace’s work in San Diego is accomplished remotely for now, but that may soon change.
“We’re probably going to be very quickly in the market for some kind of office space ourselves,” Watkins said. “We’ve had people that have lived in the area for years.”
The company’s closest brick-and-mortar offices are in San Francisco and Seattle, Watkins said.
“Life science just in general is growing for us as a sector,” Watkins said.
The Abbot Laboratories project is Unispace’s first in San Diego, but Watkins said that the company has several other clients in Southern California.
Unispace has its headquarters in Sydney, Australia. In January it acquired an Irish firm, Bio-Pharma Engineering (BPE) that specializes in designing lab, research and manufacturing space for life science companies.
The acquisition will add depth to Unispace’s drive to expand its life science practice in San Diego and elsewhere, Watkins said.
“It gives us additional capabilities in kind of a real, upfront design perspective,” Watkins said. “We see this acquisition of BPE as a really great opportunity to do some more work in San Diego for some other clients.”
Watkins said she’s “really bullish” on the San Diego life science market, which is ranked third in the nation behind the San Francisco-Bay area and Boston/Cambridge.
“You see a lot happening around our (San Diego) market right now in converting buildings. We have a lot of opportunity to do that in a lot of submarkets across the San Diego region,” Watkins said. “I think that’s really exciting for us.”
2021 was a record year for venture capital investment in San Diego life science companies.
Watkins said that she’s hearing that venture funding may level off in 2022, but she expects that the money that’s already come to San Diego County life science companies will continue to fuel development and expansion projects.
“I think we’re still going to see a lot happening in 2022 and probably 2023 just because it takes time to execute complex projects,” Watkins said.
Unispace is but the latest company drawn to San Diego’s hot life science market.
Dome Construction based in San Francisco opened offices in Sorrento Valley late last year, chasing life science clients.
Ted Jacobs, vice chairman of the commercial real estate brokerage CBRE and leader of the firm’s regional life sciences practice, said the problem is that construction of life science space in San Diego can’t keep up with demand.
“The challenge is that companies get funding, they have a milestone event and the need to expand and they need to expand yesterday,” Jacobs said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were “a handful of options” once a company got funding.
“Now, for almost any size range, you’re having to wait until the space can be built out. That’s been the greatest challenge,” Jacobs said.
CEO, Americas: Ryan Caffyn-Parsons
U.S. Headquarters: New York
Business: Global strategy, design and construction company
Notable: Unispace has 48 office locations in 26 countries