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The grass is greener Biotech leather maker Modern Meadow is leaving Brooklyn with plans to grow at the former Roche campus in Nutley

Modern Meadow specializes in producing leather through an animal-free process.-(MODERN MEADOW)

Modern Meadow chose last month to move its headquarters to the former Roche facility in Nutley over the former headquarters of OSI Pharma on Long Island, and did so believing the 116-acre, state-of-the-art campus gives it the best opportunity to grow its company while still remaining close to one of the biggest fashion capitals in the world, New…

The company specializes in producing leather through an animal-free process that involves growing collagen — the main protein found in leather — to create a high-end product to be used in various consumer products such as clothing, handbags, furniture and car seats.

Co-founder and CEO Andras Forgacs said the $33 million in tax incentives it received from the state’s Economic Development Authority in July was only part of the reason it chose New Jersey. The main reasons were its proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, and the fact that the Roche campus gives it room to grow. The company plans to hire over 200 new employees by 2020, many with scientific and manufacturing backgrounds.

“The tax incentives matter on the margin, but on their own, they were never solely decisive,” Forgacs said. “The Roche campus is 12 miles to New York City and the Farmingdale option was 35 miles or so. We were a Brooklyn-based company, so for us to relocate, it’s disruptive to our employees, so this is a better situation for them. And, for us, being close to the city still gives us access to technical and design talent that is heavily situated in New York.”

Biz in brief

Name: Modern Meadow
Location: Nutley
Co-founder and CEO: Andras Forgacs
Employees: 60, with a plan for 200 additional hires by 2020
One more thing: Modern Meadow will be the first tenant to move into the newly renovated Roche campus, followed by the Seton Hall-Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, which is currently being constructed.

The company signed a five-year lease for a 72,900-square-foot space that will give it the flexibility to build out.

“New Jersey has a great scientific and technical talent pool, and that was an important factor for us,” Forgacs said. “There’s room to grow here. Honestly, there weren’t many options in terms of ready-built lab space or space we could build out in sufficient time and budget in close proximity to New York City. Any option for New York would have taken too much time and money to build out, and we would have constantly been dealing with real estate constraints.

“Also, the developer here has a vision for the campus. There’s a bunch of companies looking to move into this campus, and they have a very compelling vision for live-work-play.

“So we’re in a newly renovated building with all the latest technology and equipment. This is the kind of infrastructure that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere. It is in close proximity to New York City and, on top of that, the EDA has been really collaborative with us.”

Another factor in the location is that Nutley is close to some of the top universities in the country, allowing Modern Meadow to recruit graduates that are already trained in the technical skills that it is looking for.

“We’re 60 people now and, in the coming years, we’re going to be over 260 people,” Forgacs said. “However, we’re not planning for that 260 number to be the plateau. Hopefully, we’re going to keep growing.

Modern fashion

On Oct. 1, Modern Meadow will introduce one of its first products at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as part of its Modern Fashion Exhibit. The exhibit will be the first of its kind since 1944, and will showcase 111 iconic consumer fashion products and how they are being modernized. Some of the products on display will be Ray-Ban sunglasses and Levi’s 501 jeans.

Modern Meadow will be showcasing a modernized classic American graphic T-shirt that will be made, in part, of leather synthesized in Modern Meadow’s labs.

“The American graphic T-shirt is an incredible canvas, and it’s been the canvas of some of the greatest fashion innovators in history,” Forgacs said. “It gives us an incredible canvas to show what our technology can do that’s unexpected; show new design possibilities; and a new way of making apparel.

“The shirt is made in part of leather and an integration of our materials. It will be pretty unique and will be the start of our learning journey and the start of our interaction with the public about our technology.”

“Rutgers has an incredible reputation for biofabrication and biotechnology training. There’s Princeton, and we also are in close proximity to New York University, Cornell, Columbia, as well the University of Pennsylvania, so, in many respects, we have the best access to talent in the Northeast.”

The growth prospect for the company is strong. To date, it has raised $53.5 million in equity financing from high-tech venture capital funds including Iconiq Capital and Artis Ventures, one of the first investors in Youtube and Stemcentrx. The company has also received grants, as well as the tax incentives from the state.

Forgacs was one of the founders of Organovo, which does three-dimensional pre-printing of human organ tissue in order treat diseases. The idea for Modern Meadow started in 2010 when Forgacs was living in China, and noticed a high demand for leather and other animal products. He believed that he could use the technology he learned at Organovo to create leather without the animals.

“I figured, ‘Gosh, if you can do what Organovo does for medical applications, why can’t you use that technology to grow leather without having to raise, slaughter and transport an entire animal?’ ” Forgacs said.  “Livestock is one of the largest users of land consumers of fresh water, and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. I was personally troubled by that.”

Forgacs said that the company has already been approached by over 150 companies that produce consumer leather goods, and that it plans to sign a partnership with a handful of those companies, which he said will be announced at a later date. 

“We’ve partnered with brands that are at the highest level of design quality and performance those are partnerships that will start to show up to consumers next year,” Forgacs said.