After years of planning, an Oro Valley bioscience group broke ground Wednesday on a business incubator and launched a partnership with the University of Arizona.

More than 300 local civic and business leaders converged on the building site at 1806 E. Innovation Park Drive to turn dirt on what will become the Oro Valley Innovation Labs (OVIL) and UA Center for Innovation at Oro Valley’s Innovation Park.

The effort to build the biosciences incubator began more than five years ago, led by former UA health-sciences dean Dr. Raymond Woosley and Paul August, senior executive at Icagen Inc.’s drug-research center in Oro Valley, also home to Roche Tissue Diagnostics.

The incubator group was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2015 as BioSA Innovation but had fallen short of the funds needed to build an incubator building.

Now, with the support of additional donors and support from the UA, OVIL will become the northwest node of a network of incubators the UA plans to support with entrepreneurial resources, also including new partnerships in Vail and Sahuarita and the existing UA Center for Innovation at the UA Tech Park on South Rita Road.

“We’re putting down roots here in Oro Valley, surrounded by expertise in the biosciences,” said Carol Stewart, UA associate vice president for Tech Parks Arizona.

The incubator building on Innovation Park Drive is being built by Venture West Group, developer of Innovation Park and a major OVIL sponsor.

The single-story building will devote 4,000 square feet to state-of the-art labs and offices for the incubator, with 2,000 square feet of expansion space available, said Venture West partner Neil Simon, who also serves as OVIL’s treasurer.

Construction is expected to be completed by June at a cost currently estimated at about $1.5 million, Simon said.

The incubator will fit between five and eight companies at a time, depending on their needs for space, Simon said.

August, chairman of OVIL, said it was a “long and winding road” to get the incubator going, but the UA and major sponsors recognized the potential of the area to become a hub of biotech entrepreneurship.

Besides Venture West, top-level OVIL sponsors include Holualoa Cos., Tucson Electric Power Co., UAVenture Capital, the town of Oro Valley and Pima County.

“It’s a major milestone for the region,” August said. “This coalition came together with a strong sense of purpose, to make a real, meaningful difference to the community.”

UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins, a cardiologist and booster for commercializing university research, said the incubator fits in with the vision of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” fueled by a convergence of physical, biological and data sciences.

“Not only do we discover new knowledge, but the translation of those fundamental discoveries into commercializable products that can simply make the world a better place is really important, and this groundbreaking symbolizes that,” Robbins said. “There has to be a place for these companies to grow, and this incubator will be that place.”

Other OVIL sponsors include BFL Construction, Icagen, Roche, Alliance Bank of Arizona, CredibleMeds/AzCERT, BioConvergence Media Lab, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, Iridius Capital, Bayer, Sun Corridor Inc., the BioIndustry Organization of Southern Arizona, Hecker PLLC, Accelerate Diagnostics and BeachFleischman PC.

For more information on OVIL, visit its website at ovil.org.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz.

Reporter

David joined the Star in 1997, after working as a consumer and business reporter in Phoenix for more than a decade. A graduate of Ohio University, he has covered most business beats focusing on technology, defense and utilities. He has won several awards.