JV aims for Chicagoland biotech construction opportunities

Home Chef Headquarters Chicago
Home Chef headquarters in Chicago (Helix Construction)

Seizing on Chicago’s rapidly expanding biotech industry, two construction companies, San Francisco-based GCI General Contractors and Chicago-based BIG Construction, say they have launched a new joint venture, Helix Construction.

The arrival of Helix comes at a prime time as the city and region see a surging demand for lab space and the potential to become a key biotech hub, the companies said in a Dec. 13 statement.

Chicago is experiencing impressive growth in the biotech industry,” says Tony Iannessa, co-founder of Helix and CEO of BIG Construction. “As of last year, companies were seeking 658,000 square feet of lab space in the Chicago area, up from 175,000 sq. ft. the previous year, and we expect that growth to continue exponentially. As Helix, we are incredibly excited to meet this growing demand by advancing the availability of new and retrofitted spaces in the Chicago region.”

Recently ranked among the top 10 cities for biotech by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, Chicago is emerging as a thriving hub for the life sciences, with the Midwest seeing billions of dollars of investment to accelerate innovation and research, the statement says.

“This year alone, the state of Illinois gave more than $15 million to five universities and three ventures to build or renovate lab spaces in the Chicago area. Already a fast-growing sector in recent years, the COVID-19 crisis has only accelerated the need for both funding and available lab facilities, with life sciences companies seeking more than three times more lab space than in previous years.”

“We are thrilled to combine our expertise under the Helix umbrella to support this important sector here in Chicago,” says Jon Helman, co-founder of Helix and president of GCI General Contractors. “We know that Helix Construction will play a key part in making the Chicago region an important player in the life sciences industry.”

By joining BIG Construction’s local real estate knowledge with GCI’s extensive experience in building cutting-edge lab facilities, the two companies say they bring a combined 34 years of successful project execution to Helix Construction.

Employing a staff of over 200, GCI’s work in the Bay Area has focused on interiors, site renovation, infrastructure, labs and sustainable building. The firm has built over 1,000,000 sq. ft. of life sciences space to date, contributing more than 120 years of cumulative lab experience to projects for some of the largest biotech campuses, universities, and start-ups in the country. GCI has completed $384 million in work at Genentech’s Bay Area campus alone, Other recent projects include a fast-paced build-out of a Stanford University COVID-19 lab.

With a staff of 30 employees, BIG says it has executed a variety of projects, including the headquarters for GrubHub and Home Chef and multiple-use spaces for Motorola.

Helix has aggressive growth plans for the Chicago area, beginning with a $25 million new R&D facility for a research institution in Lake County, followed by a lab expansion and lab renovation in Skokie, and a $30 million chemical lab facility in the northern suburbs.

“As Helix, we look forward to bringing a shared vision and powerful combination of expertise, innovation and community focus to the growing life sciences industry in Chicagoland,” says Iannessa.


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