Founders of high-tech startups in the Advanced Technology Park launched by Montana State University say they’re concerned about losing their current offices and lab spaces.

They say their landlord, Advanced Technology Inc., a subsidiary of the MSU Foundation, plans to move them out of the Nopper Building on West College Street but has offered no idea where the firms can find the kind of lab space and business incubator space they need to stay in business.

“There were six of us, and one closed down, laid people off,” said Michael Halat, founder of Omega Biologicals Inc., a biotechnology company that manufactures medical diagnostic kits. “It would be awful if that happened to the rest of us.”

“We’re as much in the dark as anybody,” said Jon Nagy, chief science officer of NanoValent Pharmaceuticals, which researches using nanotechnology for cancer treatment. “We wish they were more forthcoming with information.”

The Montana Board of Regents will vote July 18 on allowing MSU to lease space in the Nopper Building, the Tech Park’s original building.

Technically, the building is off-campus. The Advanced Technology Park, also known as the Innovation Campus, it is not owned by the university itself but by its legally separate, nonprofit fundraising arm, the MSU Alumni Foundation.

“We’re working on it,” said Tracy Ellig, MSU spokesman, and officials don’t yet have all the answers for the high-tech tenants. The university is still interested in seeing small, high-tech companies get started, he said. “We’re going to work with them, find options. Nothing is going to happen overnight.”

Ellig pointed to a June 27 letter to tenants from John How, the university’s space planning and management director. It says the university services office is trying to find alternative space for the companies and didn’t plan to move anyone out immediately.

“We’re targeting mid-July to present a couple options for your companies to relocate within the Innovation Campus,” How wrote, adding that the tentative timeline was to come up with a final plan “and begin moving tenants to other spaces sometime later this fall or winter.”

The reason for the moves is that MSU’s student population has grown 33 percent since 2006 and space is tight in the campus core, university officials wrote to the regents. To free up space for academic use, the university would move several support offices off campus.

The regents are being asked to OK leasing more than 36,000 square feet of space in the Nopper Building for 10 years, paying up to $8.20 per square foot or $300,489 a year. The lease could be renewed for up to four additional terms of five years. Halat said his company is paying around $12 per square foot, so it’s a great deal for MSU.

Ellig said the plan is to move several MSU offices to the Nopper Building, including his own, because it’s more important to have faculty offices in the center of campus, handy for students.

University communications would move out of Culbertson Hall, probably in 2018, Ellig said. Several MSU offices would move out of Montana Hall — including some information technology employees, business services and shared services, such as accounting.

MSU’s human resources office moved into the Nopper Building months ago, but then was moved back out, to the basement of Renne Library, apparently because of chemical smells. The plan is to move it back to Nopper.

“It’s bad news,” Halat said. “Where are we going to go? We know what space is available, and it doesn’t replicate well what we have here — unless they put us in the Takeda building.

“The question is, if MSU converts this to offices, what is the plan for the (high-tech business) incubator?” he asked. “I can’t do it from my garage. My wife wouldn’t let me.

“We really don’t want to leave. It works for us.”

Kristen Balderston, one of three Omega Biologicals employees, said having high-tech companies in Bozeman is “a pretty big deal” for MSU graduates like her, who got her degree in chemical engineering 12 years ago. Most grads have to leave Montana, she said.

“I hope the Foundation understands you can’t move a lab overnight,” Balderston said. The labs have ongoing experiments and chemicals, and can’t move on one month’s notice, she said, but would likely need three to six months.

A key issue is that scientific labs need fume hoods so workers don’t breathe hazardous chemicals. The Nopper Building has 10 fume hoods, they said, while the Molecular Bioscience Building next door has four.

Brenda Spangler, founder of 15-year-old SensoPath Technologies, a spinoff company from MSU, said part of her lease ended in November and ATI would not renew it, saying it had other uses for the building.

“This obliged me to close down the company,” Spangler said. She had to lay off two full-time chemists, one of whom has three children, and spend about $50,000 to close down the company and get rid of her chemicals.

“I’m very, very unhappy,” Spangler said. “He said, ‘There’s lots of lab space, go across the street.’ That’s not true. The Molecular Bioscience building is not suitable for the research I do. … I think we were very badly treated.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or

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