In the works for more than two years, the Texas Research and Technology Foundation’s East Side incubator, known as VelocityTX, for life science startups is slated to open in February, according to the leadership behind the project.

Located in the former Merchants Ice building on East Houston Street, the building will house VelocityTX’s incubator program, a startup accelerator for Latin-American technology businesses looking to establish a North American presence, and space for education.

VelocityTX has the potential to become a harbinger of economic strength in the historically underserved East Side, TRTF President Randy Harig said. Just as the Pearl Brewery kicked off a revitalization boom north of the river and Geekdom planted the seeds of what now constitutes the tech district in a formerly derelict part of downtown, VelocityTX hopes the Merchants Ice development and surrounding innovation district will become an anchor for commercial revitalization and a source of jobs for Eastside residents.

“I feel like it’s been a long time coming, but I’m very excited that we’ll be moving into our home,” Harig said.

In addition to anchor tenant GenCure, a stem cell manufacturer, the development will house MedCognition, which develops augmented-reality trainings for emergency professionals; sports-tech startup Sports Sonar, which moved its headquarters from Costa Rica to San Antonio after participating in TRTF’s Global Accelerator Program; clinical research organization Cancer Insight; and Emtora Biosciences, which develops a pharmaceutical agent used in clinical studies to treat cancer.

The main charge of VelocityTX, a separate entity under parent nonprofit TRTF, is to support the growth of businesses and the workers employed by those businesses, Harig said, noting the new facility is not merely a co-working space. The rent paid by its tenants, he said, is subordinate to the mission of helping those tenants grow into veritable enterprises.

“If we find that [tenants] just want to hang out here, that’s really not our model,” he said. “If you’re not taking advantage of all the things we bring to the table, there are other people that would like to.”

Inside, the still-under-construction facility is an open-concept workspace segmented only by conference rooms, classrooms, and small offices. The incubator portion of the complex will feature a lounge area, showers, and common areas along with an outdoor patio for recreation and events.

VelocityTX is aiming to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the City by mid-February. GenCure will move in first and TRTF officials and the incubator companies will follow, Harig said. 

Moving into the VelocityTX space will allow GenCure, a subsidiary of life sciences organization BioBridge Global, to multiply its production capacity by nearly six times and become one of just a few large-scale manufacturers of stem cells, according to Becky Cap, GenCure’s chief operating officer.

The new facility will feature 11 clean rooms, super-sterile stem cell manufacturing rooms, in addition to the two at BioBridge Global’s headquarters in Northwest San Antonio, which houses GenCure, located at 6211 I-10 West. Because of the months-long delay between their hoped-for September opening and their likely February launch, Cap said GenCure anticipates “a pretty high utilization rate” for the first few months of operation. 

“We had anticipated having a somewhat slower ramp-up. But … it’s not changing any of our outlook on any of our goals.”

That includes becoming one of the country’s rising large-scale manufacturers of stem cells, Cap said.

“We are definitely on a shortlist of companies to watch in the cell production space,” she said.

More than 1,000 clinical trials related to stem cell therapies are ongoing, she said. With the investments and research and development that have been done in recent years, the cell and gene therapy industry appears to be entering its heyday, she said.

Although economic development is not in her purview, Cap said growing a burgeoning life sciences industry and adding jobs in East San Antonio is an exciting proposition for her.

“Having a talent base in San Antonio that can support these types of operations is critical to our growth as a company and as a city,” she said. “It’s not my contractual responsibility, but it is something I’m passionate about as a citizen.”

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.