A homegrown health tech firm’s move across the river is coming with a $10 million investment expected to create hundreds of jobs over the next three years.
City and state officials gathered Tuesday for a ceremonial groundbreaking of the future home of Grenova, a biotech firm that’s moving from Southside’s Clopton Siteworks to the former Sampson Coatings facility at 1900 Ellen Road, about a block off Arthur Ashe Boulevard across from The Diamond.
Led by CEO Ali Safavi, who founded the firm in 2014, Grenova plans to invest $10.6 million in the facility, which is being repurposed into a 33,000-square-foot space that will triple the company’s current footprint.
Safavi said the firm also will add 250 jobs over three years, more than quadrupling its existing staff count.
Started with seed money from the former Health Diagnostic Laboratory and fueled by a 2018 investment from local venture capital firm Trolley Venture Partners, Grenova produces a product called Tipnovus that allows labs to sanitize plastic pipette tips for reuse in transferring test samples, including for COVID-19 tests. Allowing multiple reuses cuts down on pollution from disposals, Safavi said.
“It hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud to say that as of today over 700 million pipette tips have been washed and reused safely,” he said, adding that the process has prevented over 2 million pounds of plastic from ending up in a landfill and reduced industry costs to purchase the items by over $58 million.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who was among dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony, noted that Grenova’s products are used by organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with demand increasing over the course of the pandemic.
“What he might not have known seven years ago is how the realization of his dream would help to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus we’ve been dealing with over the last year,” Stoney said of Safavi.
“I want to thank you, Ali, for dreaming big and pursuing your big dreams right here” in Richmond, Stoney said. “Grenova is a prime example of the thriving entrepreneurial spirit we have in this great city.”
Stoney said the project adds to other investments in the area, including a long-planned redevelopment of The Diamond and surrounding city-owned land. Stoney said a formal request for proposals for that 60-acre site would be issued by the city by the end of this year.
Grenova’s new home base resulted from an investment by Richmond-based Spy Rock Real Estate Group, which purchased the former paint distribution center on nearly 3 acres for $2.7 million last fall. Spy Rock is leading the site’s redevelopment, with RGI General Contractors handling construction and Architecture AF designing the space.
Spy Rock’s Andrew Basham, who was on hand for the ceremony, said the project is on track for completion in June.
The City of Richmond and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked to secure the project, which is eligible for state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program. Grenova also is eligible for employee recruitment and training support through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
Gov. Ralph Northam and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball also were on hand Tuesday and provided remarks, alongside Richmond economic development director Leonard Sledge and City Councilmember Katherine Jordan.
Other speakers included Del. Jeff Bourne, who recalled that Safavi initially took his idea for Grenova to investors in North Carolina, all of whom passed on his proposal.
“He brought it to one person in the city of Richmond and they immediately said, ‘Yes, on one condition: that you bring your business to the city,’” Bourne said. “We are so thankful for that cheerleader that we need and have in this city, but we are eternally grateful for Ali bringing Grenova to the city of Richmond.”