© Ned Shaw, nedshaw.com

Like hopeful young mothers, state and local governments in partnership with universities, foundations, and local industry are hovering over new life science incubators where they expect to nurture biotech startups. Business incubators have been around for more than 20 years, mainly to stimulate struggling urban and rural economies. In the 1990s information technology incubators became trendy with the rise of the Internet, but they quickly fell from favor during the dot-com crash.

Now the focus is on life sciences. Even though this type of incubator space is expensive to build and operate, governments increasingly are willing to plunge into high-risk biotechnology development with hopes it will pay off in new marquee companies and high-paying jobs. "We've seen an explosion of bioscience incubators in the last five years," says Walt Plosila, vice president of public technology management at Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio.

Last year Plosila...

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