After many years as a tenured Professor at the University of Virginia, Martin Chapman wanted more. He wanted more control over his career outside of academia, and the flexibility to be creative. His lab had developed groundbreaking tests that were being utilized by researchers across the world to understand and counteract allergens at the molecular level, and he sensed an opportunity to form a business that would focus exclusively on expanding access to these tests.

 

In 1998, Chapman founded Indoor Biotechnologies. In its twenty years of business, it has improved the lives of tens of thousands of consumers and provided a research platform for more than 400 scientific papers. Chapman is a leading advocate for Charlottesville’s growth as a biotech hub and is a cofounder of CvilleBioHub, a nonprofit organization formed with the intention of developing Charlottesville’s local biotech community.

STARTING UP

What sparked Indoor Biotechnologies was a desire for independence beyond academia, the passion of running our own show, and seeing what opportunities we could create. Almost intuitively, we knew that there could be a successful and growing market for our products.

 

We never thought of obstacles. Our motto from the outset was “Just do it”. We found space, built a lab, and hired some excellent legal and financial advisors who are still with us. It is important to have a strategy, make decisions, and try something. If it doesn’t work, move on. Too often, people create their own problems through indecision and fear of failure. It helped that Indoor Biotechnologies had a viable product line when we started the business.

 

About 10 years ago, at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology meeting, a well-known clinical researcher came up to me and said excitedly, “Martin, we love your company! You produce so many useful tools and reagents that we can use. It is a great success!” That’s when I knew that Indoor Biotechnologies was making an impact.

DISCOVERY

As a PhD student in England, I went into the lab one Saturday morning to find that my assay had worked and that we had isolated the first ever house dust mite allergen! It was a moment of affirmation, rather than euphoria, but from then on we knew that the science could succeed.

 

I became a tenured Professor of Medicine at UVA and had a successful academic career, but I had kind of reached a tipping point and wanted to take charge, have more control, and be creative. The commercial potential of our UVA technology for measuring environmental allergens was apparent. These tests were being used by researchers all over the world to investigate the relationship between allergen exposure and allergic diseases, especially asthma.

 

It was a logical move to form a company, Indoor Biotechnologies, to market and develop this technology. The company licensed the cell lines from UVA and we were on our way. In 2001, I moved into the company full time and was fortunate that several members of my lab at UVA also came on board.

 

We rapidly expanded our product lines and capabilities to produce purified allergens and test kits that would help researchers investigate allergic diseases and help companies develop better allergy treatment products. It was very important that we continued to do cutting edge scientific research, to be seen as leaders in the field, and we were successful in getting grants to fund the work.

 

Our research on the structural biology of allergens has been funded by the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the past 10 years and we work with the NIAID on studies to determine the causes of inner-city asthma. Our scientific expertise and technology is unique, which creates a high value proposition for our commercial clients.

FAILURE

You try to learn from failure and use it to motivate – as an impetus for success. I failed my high school exams, but made a commitment to succeed at university and ended up at a college with a curriculum that excited me and directed my future career. Usually failure leads to better things.

 

Generally, it’s not good to think about not succeeding. You just have to deal with the moments of self-doubt, usually at 4am in the morning. Then you wake up, have a cup of tea, talk with people and, yeah, you can do it!

“We never thought of obstacles. Our motto from the outset was ‘Just do it.'”

CVILLE BIO HUB

With CvilleBioHub, we could see a successful industry in the city that most folks in the city knew little about. The problem is how do we harness this industry to create high density, green local jobs in biomanufacturing, medical devices, pharmaceutical and bioinformatics. How do we double the size of the industry in 10 years?

 

The common thread here is to put Charlottesville on the map. When Indoor Biotechnologies presents across the US and at meetings world-wide, we are promoting this city. When students, professionals, job-seekers, investors, and educators go to cvillebiohub.org, they can see the breadth and scope of the fifty life sciences companies in the Charlottesville region.

NEW INITIATIVES

At Indoor Biotechnologies, we are defining the molecular basis of how human allergic antibodies recognize their target allergens, with the goal of producing hypo-allergens for allergy treatment. We are also working on smart, nanotechnology-based, allergy diagnostic blood tests that could be done in any doctors’ office in 15 mins, without the need for allergy skin prick testing (ouch!). With the CvilleBioHub now in its second year, we are focused on new programming, continued raising awareness, and building on our collaboration with Tom Tom.

 

Our recent purchase of the Silk Mills Building is also exciting! We are adding a 1.5kW solar energy installation on the roof (that’s 453 solar panels!) which will supply half our electricity. We will also be having EV chargers installed on Harris Street – our contribution to building a better world.

“You just have to deal with the moments of self-doubt, usually at 4 AM in the morning. Then you wake up, have a cup of tea, talk with people and, yeah, you can do it!”

FOUNDING

Founding is getting things off the ground, putting your ideas into action, making it happen, leading, not asking permission, taking a chance that people will like your ideas, wanting to make improvements and do better. Personally, I don’t like things that don’t work and have a hard time with naysayers. Better to be positive and work with people who want to solve problems. I really enjoy ‘improving’ and find it very satisfying. Improving products, processes, people, buildings and making life better. So, I am inspired by people like Richard Branson because of his holistic approach to business and focus on providing the best experience; and by the late Steve Jobs and by Elon Musk – awful characters maybe, but with incredible vision and the insight to know what people want before they know it.

CVILLE’S FUTURE

I came here in 1983 with Maddy and our two month old baby daughter to do a post-doc at UVA. I liked it and was on the Faculty for 16 years. The people, the schools, Fry’s Spring Beach Club, the beautiful space, arts and culture, have all kept us here. The small-town feel, access to a huge body of experts and knowledge, local resources and capital are valuable for entrepreneurs.
Charlottesville could do better with a more strategic and cohesive plan for economic development. We could do without outside developers coming in and creating ugly buildings. The City and the County need to develop policies to create the infrastructure for technology-based industries. We also need innovative approaches to ensure that all our citizens can participate in this new economy.

“Founding is getting things off the ground, putting your ideas into action, making it happen, leading, not asking permission, taking a chance that people will like your ideas, wanting to make improvements and do better.”

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