MULTIOFFICE BANKS often skimp on small-business loans, a new study says.

Branch banks, smaller banks owned by multibank holding companies and banks owned by out-of-state companies tend to lend small businesses a smaller share of their funds than in-state independent banks, a new Federal Reserve Bank study concludes.

William Keeton, a senior Fed economist in Kansas City, Mo., examined loan data for banks that make up the Federal Reserve's 10th District, which covers Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. He then compared the volume of commercial loans smaller than $100,000 to total deposits at branch banks. He also devised a ``peer'' ratio _ the average proportion of small commercial loans to deposits at comparable independent banks.

Banks owned by out-of-state holding companies had the lowest ratio of small commercial loans to deposits. The average loan-to-deposit ratio at banks with a high degree of branch banking was 4.5 percent, compared with 6.3 percent at comparable independent banks.

``It is difficult for a large bank, especially one whose offices are widely dispersed, to monitor lending decisions at the local level,'' explains Mr. Keeton. Compared with small banks, which have greater local autonomy, highly branched banks have less flexibility to make small loans, he says.

The relatively poor performance of these multibranch banks suggests that ``further growth in multioffice banking may impose short-run costs on some small businesses,'' the Fed study finds.


DRUG MAKERS replace investors as biotechnology firms' main capital source.

During the first five months of 1995, the value of major pharmaceutical makers' investments in biotechnology companies soared to $2 billion from $280 million during the first five months of 1994, reports Feinstein Partners, a Cambridge, Mass., research concern. In the same period, public and private investments in biotechnology businesses dropped to $507 million from $1.1 billion a year ago.

Small, capital-hungry biotech companies have always alternated between corporate partners and equity investors, explains Steven Burrill of Burrill & Craves, a San Francisco financial-services concern. Now, big pharmaceutical companies are intensifying their hunt for innovative products and technologies.

The current surge of initial corporate money is substantial, though additional money usually comes only after small companies reach certain goals, says Robert Gottlieb, senior vice president of Feinstein Partners. In most cases, he adds, the money bankrolls a biotech concern's operations for at least a year or so.

German drug maker Boehringer Ingelheim recently reached a drug-development agreement with Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. that includes a $28.5 million equity investment. That's nearly 1 1/2 times total spending last year at Isis, a small biotech company in Carlsbad, Calif.

Pfizer Inc., which has invested $115 million in four small biotech businesses so far this year, says it is trying to leverage the expertise of both partners. ``We are taking our own core capabilities in drug discovery and trying to broaden and increase them through partnerships,'' says George Milne, president of Pfizer's research unit.

Many small biotech companies have ``marvelous expertise,'' but lack the resources to invest in supporting technologies, says Dr. Milne. Assisted by bigger partners such as Pfizer, he continues, ``the time it takes to get the technology right can be shortened.''


BUSINESS INCUBATORS devise new ways to make ends meet.

Incubators, which provide low-cost space and services to fledgling enterprises, are often trying to become more financially self-reliant themselves these days. Seeking new revenue sources, some incubators have begun marketing to nontenant companies.

The Technology Enterprise Center, an incubator in Richland, Wash., started such a program last year; it now produces more than 5 percent of the center's $300,000 in annual revenue. For the same fees that tenants pay, nontenants can receive many of the same consulting and office services. The enlarged user group helps to amortize the incubator's investments in equipment.

Other incubators consider different cost-cutting measures. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's incubator in Troy, N.Y., manager Glenn Doell offers unfinished space to new tenants. Most incubators provide finished space to reduce tenants' start-up costs. But that can be expensive to the incubator, he says. Moreover, an incubator must also absorb the dismantling costs when a tenant leaves.

Chicago's Southland Development Inc., which manages an incubator there, trims expenses by finding apprentices at local community colleges and craft unions for major construction or carpentry. ``It's a symbiotic relationship. We need the work done; they need the training,'' explains incubator manager Roberta De Young.

Using apprentices can cut labor costs in half, she says. When Southland wanted to add an incubator for arts-related businesses, the incubator's construction became a term project for a community college's crafts class. Ms. De Young estimates that she saved $50,000. Union apprentices will install the drywall this month for an expected additional savings of $3,000.

Kansas City's Center for Business Innovation uses local graduate students to assist incubator tenants in areas such as law and accounting. The intern program, underwritten by local universities and businesses, has greatly enhanced the value of the incubator without increasing its fees.


LOAN DEMAND from community-based businesses grows.

Community Reinvestment Fund in Minneapolis expects to provide Midwest community-based businesses and organizations with $24 million in loan guarantees this year. That's nearly three times last year's figure.

The increase reflects fuller coffers and a greater need for capital among community-based businesses, says Frank Altman, president of the fund.

Community Reinvestment buys loans awarded to community-based businesses and projects, pools the loans and sells them to private investors. The pooling and sale, partially guaranteed by corporate and philanthropic grants, frees an original lender's capital for reinvestment in new transactions.