It depends a lot on the type of lab (whether it is in highly regulated industry, such as a clinical lab and where someone else, such as insurance companies decide on what you can charge), whether you can find the type of lab that you are looking for in your preferred geographic area, and last but not the least, your own personality, skill sets and knowledge.
Case for Buying a Lab
More buyers seem to prefer going this route as it seems like a safer route to take. Particularly, if you are not experienced in this industry. For a healthy laboratory, you avoid the steep learning curve, you get a business that is generating a positive cash flow from day one. You inherit a working system and a trained staff. You also are more likely to get a loan from the bank to fund your dreams. You can bring your own skills and capabilities to grow the company. As they say, it is much easier to make the second million than the first million.
And in some industries, it may be perhaps the only preferred choice. For clinical labs in certain states such as NY, it takes 12-18 months or longer to get CLIA-accreditation. and in certain states, small independent labs have a hard time getting accepted by the insurance companies. It would make sense than to buy an existing lab with CLIA-accreditation and existing insurance contracts if such a lab was available.
But expect to pay a price for this – the labs are typically (but not always), valued by a multiple of EBITDA. EBITDA is a metric defined as Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization. We’ll discuss lab valuation in an upcoming post, but expect to pay about 3-5x of EBITDA for a healthy lab. So if an EBITDA for a lab is say $300K, expect to pay on an average about $1.2 million. Can you afford it? Is it worth the price? Are you better off building on your own? Exception to this maybe if you find a good lab which is doing poorly but you see great potential in it and are confident that you can turn it around. Such “turn-around” labs can sometimes be had at a bargain.
Case for Building Your Lab
If you (or someone in your team) is great at sales and marketing, have rich contacts in your industry, and are confident that you can bring the business to your new lab, or you are buying a lab for internal research, perhaps you should build your own lab (as long as regulatory hurdles are not too high). The advantages include cost savings (you could save as much as 50-75% over buying a healthy lab), you can have it at a location you prefer, equip it as you want it, and build your own culture in your business. And if you are unsure about how to go about setting one up, there are companies and consultants who can help you set it up.
Buy a lab if:
a. You are looking for a “turn-key” lab with ready cash-flow and which may perhaps need only a few tweaks
b. Regulatory and insurance constraints makes this a much more practical solution
c. You are flexible as to the exact location
d. You are looking to grow your market share via acquisitions
Build a lab if:
a. You can bring in business or have captive internal business
b. Want to work on a shoestring budget without taking in a lot of debt
c. Want to have it on your terms – building your own culture, your preferred location, and choosing your own equipment
d. You enjoy creating business from scratch
e. You can survive for some time without an income or salary