Saquib Butt on the Lifespan of Life Science

After an epiphany during the pandemic, Saquib Butt brought his diverse skill set to find research space at the time it was most needed

After nearly 10 years at Boston Scientific, a tenure that eventually landed Saquib Butt in the head of global design and construction role, the building pro has just celebrated his first year at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based SmartLabs. COVID-19 saw nearly every industry taking a substantial hit, but the expansion of life sciences seemed to only be spurred on by the innovation required to tackle a worldwide pandemic.

Saquib Butt, VP Construction & Facilities, SmartLabs Tim Llewellyn

“There has been a great deal of office building convergence going into life science,” says Butt, now VP of construction and facilities. “These reasons are twofold. The first is that everyone is obviously working from home; nobody has a need for offices right now. The second is that with the escalation and elevation of the life sciences industry, everyone is doing more research. People need a space to discover these new solutions.”

Butt felt it was the ideal time to help thread that needle, helping developers and companies alike convert real estate assets into life science spaces.

The VP has a unique résumé that makes him ideal for SmartLabs. He’s done building projects all over the globe, including China, Malaysia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Ireland, and, of course, the US. Boston Scientific boasted nearly a nearly nine-million-square-foot global footprint. It was a role Butt loved, but as the world began to shut down, he realized his skill set might make him more able to assist innovation at a time when it’s never been more urgent.

“I had just completed a ground-up job in Indianapolis, and it occurred to me that all of my experience was diversified and dynamic,” Butt remembers. “It convinced me to switch jobs in the middle of a pandemic.” The VP hadn’t been looking for another role, which is why when the SmartLabs opportunity came knocking, it seemed like the decision had been made for him.

While he’s worked on a global scale, the role at SmartLabs is requiring Butt to think in a new way. When he came onboard, its footprint was only around 250,000 square feet. But SmartLabs was inundated with outside interest. “Their facilities, all of them, were basically full 100 percent of the time,” Butt explains. SmartLabs courted him with the intention of growing its footprint to two million square feet in the next three to five years.

The four most prevalent life science growth geographies are Boston, San Francisco (where Butt is currently building), San Diego, and Philadelphia. “You can just look at the data of the amount of venture capital flowing into the space; it seems like every week there’s another start-up receiving funding,” Butt explains. “And once these life science research companies have the funds, they want to spend it on the research—not identifying and fitting out a facility based on their specs and needs.”

That’s where SmartLabs comes in. One can’t simply find an office building and start setting up research facilities. MEP systems, space planning, workflows, shipping and loading, structural capacity, and animal testing facilities must be meticulously planned.

The VP says that having come from an organization as large as Boston Scientific, he’s been able to truly roll up his sleeves and hit the ground running at SmartLabs. “There is a freedom here, due to the size of the organization, that I’m just not used to,” Butt explains. “As soon as I got here, I put together a master framework, built a team, and have been able to develop infrastructure all the way from programming to design to construction and commissioning.”

The culture at SmartLabs also appears to be an ideal fit for the VP. “It’s not just the size of the company; I think it’s driven by the executive leadership team here, from our CEO down,” Butt says.

After a round-the-clock fundraising campaign, SmartLabs wanted to thank its people for committing so diligently to a fast-paced and intensive series of weeks. Everyone was given $1,000 and two extra days off. “It was just a token of appreciation and a chance to reciprocate for all the great work that had been done,” the VP says. “There are so many little things that this company does to acknowledge your work that go a long way to building the culture here.”

For traveling employees, SmartLabs picks up Uber tabs. Every week, the company provides catering from a variety of restaurants. Butt says these examples just show that the leadership team understands that every interaction is important, and every detail belongs under a microscope.

SMMA is proud to partner with Saquib and SmartLabs to advance their goal of accelerating scientific discovery. Our multidisciplinary design team has collaborated with SmartLabs on projects in San Francisco, Boston, and Taiwan. We look forward to building on this relationship and raising the bar for flexible and innovative lab spaces.

Truebeck Construction is a west-coast based general contractor with a specialty in commercial construction for the life science industry. The company’s motto “Raise the bar” sets the standard that Truebeck’s team will find a way to enhance a project’s value, provide better service, or present innovative solutions to unique challenges.

Commodore Builders has developed a trusted partnership with Saquib and the SmartLabs team which has fueled their growth and innovation. The synergy between both organizations is inspired by open and constant communication. Everyone involved is committed to executing the program with excellence.