With New Propst Center, HudsonAlpha’s Mission Continues

Carter Wells, executive vice president of economic development, left, and Dr. Rick Myers, president and science director, look over containers filled with more than five million beads representing the number of people who have been touched by HAIB’s education outreach program over the past 10 years. (Photo by Wendy Reeves)

Brightly colored beads in clear containers of various sizes and shapes represent more than 5 million learners who have experienced a HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (HAIB) educational outreach opportunity.

The display covering the past 10 years sits on the second floor of the new Paul Propst Center, which opened in September.

The education team, headed by Dr. Neil Lamb, has reached students, educators, clinical professionals, patients and members of the public who participated in internships, teacher training workshops, public seminars, clinical training and digital downloads for educational games like iCell and Touching Triton, said Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha vice president of economic development.

The display is more than a creative display of numbers as it represents one of the four missions set forth by founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian before the HAIB opened its doors 10 years ago. It represents how far HAIB has come with the opening of its fourth facility on the campus.

The pair set out to create a center to conduct genomics-based research to improve human health and well being; implement genomic medicine, spark economic development; and provide educational outreach to nurture the next generation of biotech researchers and entrepreneurs, as well as to create a biotech literate public.

The education outreach team has three new learning labs, office and collaboration space spread across two floors in the new facility. Dr. Rick Myers, president and science director at HudsonAlpha, said the new space will allow the education team to increase its teaching opportunities.

Many learners who have experienced HudsonAlpha’s hands-on classroom activities, or participated in summer camps or internship programs are now a part of the HudsonAlpha workforce, or working in life science research institutes or companies across the country.

The Propst Center consists of 105,000 square feet housing about 150 tenants. The new building was funded by a $20 million state grant, and a donation by Huntsville businessman and philanthropist William “Bill” Propst Jr. The building is named for his father, a North Alabama minister.

On the second floor, those small, colorful beads are just one small example of what has transpired at the growing campus during its first 10 years. Those accomplishments lead to the construction of the new Propst Center, which looks and feels similar to the main building, where companies such as Conversant Bio started growing.

The company, which recently merged with four others to become Discovery Life Sciences, provides researchers around the world with hyper-annotated tissue samples in order to conduct informed, cutting edge investigations into many of today’s most problematic diseases.

“There was a lot more open space here when we started, and we started to take small bites of the apple here and there and we finally ran out of space,” said Marshall Schreeder, co-founder of Conversant Bio and vice president of sales and marketing for DLS. “We feel both fortunate to be a part of HudsonAlpha and the Huntsville community. I’m from here and love it here but we could have started our company anywhere.

“What we didn’t realize is how this community would embrace us … and how well this vision would work out.”

Other HudsonAlpha associate companies in the Propst Center include Microarrays, Alimetrix and iRepertoire, along with HudsonAlpha Software Development and Informatics (SDI), which develops software to analyze and interpret genomic and clinical datasets and works to identify and understand the genetic underpinnings of diseases.

“We’re a lot farther along than I ever expected and I’m a fairly optimistic person,” Myers said. “But this synergy that happens here on our campus … we call it our ecosystem with 800 people on our campus, there’s lots of interaction … and I didn’t anticipate how powerful it would be.”