Full-service laboratory design, construction firm seeks to grow in South Dakota

From his home in western South Dakota, Mike Kettenacker leads a team of specialists helping design and furnish best-in-class laboratories in a dozen states.

The CEO of Innovative Laboratory Systems, Kettenacker moved from Minnesota to Custer a few years ago and from there operates a 5,000-square-foot warehouse while conducting much of his business across the Midwest.

“In our type of business, most businesses don’t come to us. We come to see them when they’re looking to remodel a lab and trying to determine what the space should look like and what their furnishings and equipment needs are,” said Kettenacker, one of the company’s two original employees from when it was founded in 1989 in Nebraska.

Since then, the company has served clients from major metro areas, including Minneapolis, Kansas City and Omaha, with every step of lab planning and construction. It has three regional offices.

“It’s significant for the state’s biotech economy to have an industry leader like Mike Kettenacker in South Dakota,” said Joni Ekstrum, executive director of South Dakota Biotech.

“For our members to connect one-on-one with Mike and his team in the state before, during and after their laboratory expansions is a fantastic opportunity and one you don’t find everywhere because these are specialized businesses serving a distinct market that we’re also trying to grow in South Dakota.”

We sat down with Kettenacker to learn more about Innovative Laboratory Systems and the niche it serves.

How has your business evolved over time, and how would you describe your niche today?

We mostly started with public bid opportunities, new construction projects for schools, universities, hospitals and government. And we realized the more we did that that clients were going to market in ways that weren’t producing ideal solutions. They were doing what was suggested by an architect or general contractor, but we realized as laboratory specialists we had more resources to offer them. So we’ve become preeminent experts in our field and are happy to help anyone. While we still do work in the public sector, much of our emphasis has shifted to private companies and owner-direct projects. Where scientists may have once been tapped to design their own labs with no construction training or experience, we now can partner to provide the needed expertise to get a project going and keep it running on time and on budget.

Can you give us an overview of the services offered?

We begin by consulting with design teams and owners early in the project, and from there we supply layout assistance, equipment specifications, constructability calculations, budgeting assistance, future maintenance protocols and costs, and safety procedures up front.

After assisting in the design stage, ILS will procure the many hundreds or thousands of pieces of equipment that make up the laboratory. Then comes our project management expertise where we utilize our logistics specialists to be sure items arrive to the job site on time, in sequence for installation. Our products are then installed by our certified technicians with attention to every detail.

What sorts of businesses and organizations are a good fit for working with you?

ILS is seeking to support companies who are both emerging and growing into new laboratory spaces as well as large, existing laboratory clients who need modernization of their facilities for safety, energy and process reasons. We feel there are many prospective laboratory clients in South Dakota who have never had a partner to help guide them through the lab construction process. ILS will fill this void and help our clients make practical, forward-thinking decisions relating to lab furniture and equipment. 

What current and future projects in the area could you highlight?

We’re fortunate to be working on a number of projects in South Dakota, including the POET Bioproducts Institute in Brookings, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Mineral Industries Building in Rapid City and water treatment plants in Pierre and Mitchell. We’ve also done a number of other lab projects at SDSU and School of Mines and have done work with 3M and SGS North America.

What are your impressions of opportunities for the biotech industry in South Dakota, and why did you connect with South Dakota Biotech?

ILS feels all the building blocks for a successful and thriving biotech community are here in South Dakota. As a resident of South Dakota, where I raise my family, I want to help the state thrive in the biotech arena. We have great institutions, people and resources. My goal is to be a bridge for laboratory owners, design teams and construction personnel.

 To learn more about Innovative Laboratory Systems, click here.

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