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report Precision Medicine

Healthcare innovations gain traction with the DayOne Accelerator

05.03.2019

Three innovative healthcare startups participate in the first round of the DayOne Accelerator. Faraz Oloumi from Aurteen, Chang Yun from Noul and Christian Vogler and Leo Gschwind from Advancience are examples of how far conviction can get you.

BaselArea.swiss: Faraz, why did you establish Aurteen in the first place?

Faraz: During my studies in electrical and computer engineering, I worked on retinal-image analysis and fell in love with the subject. I completed my Masters, then my PhD and declined a safe job to pursue the topic and founded Aurteen. I am 100 percent convinced of the novelty and necessity of computer-aided assessment of the retina, because the vessels at the back of the eye tell the story of your overall health from retinal disease to metabolical and cardiovascular disorders.

Christian, was there a starting point for you as well?

Christian: I studied psychology and genetics. In order to use genetics as a tool to research the human mind, my co-founders and I started to pursue psychometrics. The typical toolkit for psychometric testing originates in the 1940s to 1970s. We took psychometric tests to the 21st century, added gamification, made it entertaining and scalable and thus are able to process large numbers of study participants. We want to drive psychology forward. We are convinced that you can use our tools for a broad range of different purposes: It is a diagnostic tool for testing attention disorders or memory impairments as well as an HR tool to make teams work better together.

Chang, you joined Noul one year ago. What was the reason?

Chang: One of the co-founders is a biomedical engineer. Right after he had earned his PhD in the United States he spent 1,5 years in Malawi for his voluntary social service. He witnessed many children die from malaria and was surprised to see health workers still rely on tests that were inaccurate and inefficient. He founded Noul in 2015 to develop a portable device that uses image analysis and artificial intelligence to diagnose diseases from blood samples. As his close friend I have been interested in this project from the beginning and joined one year ago being ascertain that my career in the United Nations would be conducive for success of the project. I have a background in business management and public administration. As the Director of Global Business Development at Noul I now set up the European office.

What was the hardest part in establishing the company?

Chang: For us, it was the science. We had trials and errors. While the clinical trials in the laboratory worked well, the results in the field were often unexpected. Sometimes it was hard to get enough samples with high quality. To overcome those hurdles, we cooperate with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel. In addition, to approve a new technology like ours also requires new criteria. That takes a lot of time and sufficient convincing data from our side.

Christian: As a scientist, you don’t become an entrepreneur overnight. I had to learn that the scientific results are not the only thing that counts. Instead, I also need to sell my results and think about specific value propositions. I’m familiar with psychology, genetics and bioinformatics – and now I have to come up with business cases on top of that. In the corporate world, we encounter a new problem every day. You always need a plan B, C and D. It is a tremendous amount of work, but a lot of fun, too.

Faraz: Not being able to financially support yourself is not easy. I haven’t paid myself a dime in the past years. The hardest part for me though was convincing people that my ideas and vision are not crazy. I had to fight a lot of adversity. But I don’t regret it at all. Then there are other challenges like making myself be a CEO rather than just being a CTO, which means that you can no longer be a perfectionist. That is a challenge I enjoy.

What do you hope to achieve during the next couple of months in the DayOne Accelerator?

Faraz: While Canada is well suited to the telemedical approach and my collaborators and potential customers are there, we don’t have a strong business case in Canada in terms of pure numbers. Plus, the nearest market, which is the US, is very fragmented and complicated to enter. To participate in the DayOne Accelerator is the perfect opportunity for us to look at and validate the European market. Further, we want to validate our list of value propositions and find investors.

Chang: Our Swiss partners encouraged us to apply for this program and luckily we were selected to take part. I believe Noul has worked very hard for developing unprecedented diagnostic solutions for last three years. Now the time is right to  look back at what we have achieved so far and use the input we get here to make our business model more concrete. We want to get to know the people that can further help us to reach that goal and explore the opportunities.

Leo: We want to learn how to set up and run the business. And we want to get ready to pitch to potential investors and look for seed money.

The acceleration program started in January. What is your experience so far?

Faraz: It all came as a pleasant surprise. The ecosystem in terms of support for startups is completely different from what I am used to. I am talking to senior figures from the pharma and clinical side and the overall support happens to be on a high level. The DayOne team cares for me and my business to succeed. I am convinced that we can gain more traction here. Based on my experience so far, I am exploring the idea of establishing here in Basel. It really is a blessing for our team.

Chang: I am impressed. The meetings we had so far are extremely beneficial and helpful. Strategically, it pays off to be in Basel and be close to our partner, the Swiss TPH and in traveling distance to our stakeholders in Geneva. So far, the accelerator proves to be very effective.

Leo: The input is enormous. We benefit tremendously in learning how to structure the business. It’s brilliant to learn the trade from experts and get first-hand insights. And the funding relieves the hardest pain.

What was the biggest cultural shock when coming to Basel?

Chang: In my culture, people are not as direct while here people voice their opinions more directly. I enjoy that diversity and wish we had more of that in our team in South Korea. Also, I rarely see traffic jams here.

Faraz: It is shocking how everyone seems to understand English.

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Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area offre des ateliers et séminaires pour innover

11.06.2019

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Basel is a hotspot for innovation

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“We are a small company with a big portfolio”

05.02.2019

After Martine and Jean-Paul Clozel created Actelion with two other founders and grew Actelion into Europe’s biggest biotech, the company and its late-stage pipeline were acquired by Johnson&Johnson in 2017. With Actelion’s discovery- and early-stage R&D assets, the couple formed Idorsia, with the vision to build one of Europe’s leading biopharmaceutical companies

We talked with Martine Clozel about her passion for research, the medical view in science and what aspiring biotech entrepreneurs need.

Martine, is Idorsia the new Actelion?

In part yes, we still do difficult things. That has not changed at all. Our culture and our goals are the same as they were for Actelion: we want to discover innovative new drugs which may have a big impact on patients’ lives. We are very happy to continue our work of discovering drugs. It’s fantastic that we are able to do that. I see lots of enthusiasm in the company. Actelion had become almost a large biopharma, with presence in many countries. Idorsia is based in Allschwil, concentrating on doing R&D efficiently. We are already thinking about the commercial phase, though, and have recently hired a chief commercial officer and opened a first foreign office in Japan.

Are your portfolio decisions purely guided by the science? Or do you also take commercial factors into consideration?

We all know that the medical need in insomnia, lupus or in hypertension is huge. The choice of a new clinical indication depends on the new molecule, its mechanism of action, and where the molecule can have the biggest impact as a new therapy. We are trying to be very pragmatic and follow where the science takes us. In phase II and beyond, when we start to understand more and see that our hypothesis is confirmed in safety and efficacy, we can start to position the drug in terms of market entry and commercial potential.

How is your approach towards licensing in or licensing out projects?

We don’t license in, as we have a lot of fascinating internal prospects. Currently, we have ten compounds in clinical development. Several research projects are progressing towards development. We have activities towards out licensing deals, though – not because the projects are deprioritized but because we have a much smaller organization than before. We have only one third of the clinical development capacity we had in the past and cannot handle everything. We are a small company with a big portfolio.

You are fully focused on your internal projects then? Or do you also pursue external collaborations?

We look for tailor-made solutions. If we see something that can help us, we also like to work with external partners, being it universities, biotechs or others. In fact, many of our projects start with a paper we read or some exciting new data we come across, which we will then further pursue.

On your website you first focus on patients symptoms when describing a disease and only then go to science. How do you make sure you and the Idorsia employees always stay close to patients?

We are very close to the people who are close to the patients, doctors, nurses etc. We listen carefully and really try to understand the patients. We also invite patients. I am a medical doctor, so naturally we have a medical view on everything we do in research. That is one of the characteristics of Idorsia.

Speaking of employees, how easy is it to recruit the right people here?

It’s not easy, but it’s not easy anywhere. I love Pharma. It’s fantastic to be able to help patients, treating thousands of patients. It’s amazing and yet not everybody knows about it. There is a lack of communication on what pharma is about, be it the improvement of life expectancy, the revolutions in oncology, the improvement in quality of life, all that is progress. We need to talk more about the importance of pharma to attract next generations of talent.

It seems that US biotechs are more successful in staying independent. Why do you think that is?

I don’t know if that is true, just look at the recent acquisition of Celgene, Tesaro, Kite and Loxo by BMS, GSK, Gilead and Eli Lilly, respectively. Just to name a few. Currently, biotechs rarely remain independent, also in the US, simply because big companies seminally rely on their discoveries. With Actelion, we had an ambitious, long-term view. It was never our goal to get acquired. Instead, we wanted to create a structure – not only one molecule or one technique – but an organization that is able to discover many drugs. We were ambitious and we were taking risks – and that is relatively rare. Maybe American biotechs come with a little bit more of this ambition, but Europe has some particularities that I think the industry should build upon. Chemistry in Switzerland and Germany is exceptional, for example. But generally, Europe is full of exciting science and great people.

Why is it rewarding for you to work in a startup compared to a big corporation?

A small organization provides more freedom and – more importantly – proximity between facts and risk taking. Our portfolio is small enough for the management to know all the projects. We can be very efficient in making decisions and that is much more difficult in big corporations.

What is your advice on starting a biotech?

Think about surviving and being profitable at the same time. Have both the short and the long-term view, so do not just focus on the next milestone but think big from the beginning. Be pragmatic about your decisions. And especially also, don’t do it alone but with a team.

Speaking of having a partner: You set up both Actelion and Idorsia together with your husband. How do you navigate between lab and dinner table?

My husband and I know each other since a very long time. We share the passion for research and for helping patients. I always appreciated being able to discuss difficulties and also to share the many good moments with Jean-Paul. Of course, we work a lot and are very committed – as is everybody at Idorsia. We try to draw a line between office and home, especially when our children and grandchildren are there. We want to be available for them. It’s demanding, but we don’t think and talk about work 24/7.

Will you still be hunting the next drug in ten years?

I don’t think so. I don’t want to work forever. At some point I want to take more time for family and friends.

Actelion is not only known for its drugs but also for its signature building. Idorsia is at home in a Herzog & de Meuron building. How important is architecture for you?

It’s very important. These buildings will last for many years and are part of the culture and of the style of Basel. Switzerland and Basel in particular are avant-garde in architecture. We are happy to have been able to participate in that. The architecture represents the innovation we are aspiring to. We want good working conditions for our employees, lots of light and many possibilities to interact – after all, we spend a significant amount of time at the office.

We heard the funny story that Idorsia is the acronym for “I do research in Allschwil”. What is the true story behind the name?

I like it. In reality, we had the opportunity to take one of our already protected product names. It was giving us a solid start to insure the company name.

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth

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T3 Pharmaceuticals wins W.A. de Vigier Award

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report

Three entrepreneurs, three visions of Industry 4.0

05.11.2018

BaselArea.swiss invited startups and Industry 4.0 projects to participate in the first Industry 4.0 Challenge. A jury from the industry chose three finalists: Philippe Kapfer with NextDay.Vision, Roy Chikballapur with MachIQ and Dominik Trost with holo|one. Learn more about their contributions and visions in the interview. You can meet the entrepreneurs at the Salon Industries du Futur Mulhouse on 20 and 21 November 2018.

BaselArea.swiss: Which problem does your company aim to solve?

Dominik Trost, holo|one: In general, our solutions utilise Augmented Reality to quickly bring know-how to where it is needed. This translates to offering intuitive means of maintenance support, such as holographic checklists or reporting tools, as well as AR enhanced remote assistance for companies to provide electronic information to sites around the globe, alongside common audiovisual calls. We also use holograms and animations as storytelling tools, and are developing an app entirely dedicated to design and presentation purposes. Most of all, we believe in keeping things simple: Our apps concentrate on a core set of powerful features and can all be managed through our browser-based management portal. People should be able to use our apps with as little effort as possible.

Roy Chikballapur, MachIQ: We help machine builders and manufacturers to gain equipment and asset performance. To that end, MachIQ provides a software for machine builders to simplify customer support and to monitor their machines, hence reducing unplanned outages for their customers. For manufacturers, MachIQ created a software that helps with predictive support and that combines useful functions for plant managers, controllers and the maintenance team alike. In short: We bring machines to life.

Philippe Kapfer, NextDay.Vision: We simplify communication between machine manufacturers and their customers and makes them safer. Normally, connections between two contacts are insecure and vulnerable because one or even both sides have to open the connection. This makes them vulnerable. Also, you usually need to interrupt the workflow to validate a partner. Our API is designed to help companies create integrated software. For example, a company can update its machine remotely and integrate the validation workflow directly on the customer side. The customer just logs on to his smartphone. He does so by signing in by hand. Afterwards, the manufacturer can update the machine from a distance. This leads to a traceable and rule-compliant process.

When and why did you found your company?

Philippe Kapfer: NextDay.Vision has been around since mid-2017. Before that, I wrote a book on the security of computer systems as part of my master's thesis, showing how Windows can be hacked – corporate computer systems are easily attackable from the inside. For fear of such attacks, many companies do not use the cloud, for example, and try to keep their systems closed. In discussions with machine manufacturers and their customers, I realized that there is a lack of solutions for this. In the course of digitalization, the question naturally arises as to how we can make connections secure. My company provides answers to that question.

Roy Chikballapur: When I was with Schneider Electric in Paris, I helped to digitalize industrial offers for different companies. However, by talking to the machine builders and manufacturers I learned that they struggled with much more basic problems. One of these fundamental problems is customer support – it simply takes too much time to look up customer and serial numbers and to fix stuff. All the while, the machine is not producing anything and only generates losses for the respective company. I had the idea for my company in 2014, in 2016 I launched MachIQ.

Dominik Trost: It all began with the presentation of the Microsoft HoloLens: We saw the presentation live and knew that AR will be a big thing using head-mounted devices. Soon we got the first device and had lots of workshops with companies from different areas of business. We immediately realized the benefits of this technology and companies saw their AR use cases too. After assessing the market potential in Switzerland, we founded our company just at the end of that year, first concentrating on individual showcases. We soon realized that a standardized approach better satisfies corporate needs, but there was still a lot of work to do: This year, we almost exclusively worked on developing ‘sphere’, our new AR platform that will be released at the end of November.

How did you learn about the i4 Challenge and why did you apply?

Dominik Trost: Markus Ettin, industry 4.0 and automatization manager at Bell Food Group, suggested that we might be a good fit for the i4.0 Challenge and motivated us to look deeper into it. Though having an international outlook, we found it important to strengthen the regional awareness for our technology as well, so we took our chances…

Philippe Kapfer: For me, the Challenge was like another litmus test. I wanted to know how our solution was received. In the Industry 4.0 Challenge, I had the opportunity to have my project reconfirmed by industry experts. At the same time, the jury acknowledged that we were actually bringing something new to industry.

Roy Chikballapur: We were in touch with the BaselArea.swiss team thanks to their support in us relocating from the Canton of Vaud to Basel-Stadt. Sebastien Meunier, who was responsible for the initiative posted about the i4 Challenge on LinkedIn and this is how we found out about it. I believe that the discussions on BaselArea’s LinkedIn community are very relevant to what’s happening in the Industry 4.0 sector and this is what motivated us to apply.

What does the term “Industry 4.0” mean to you and why do you consider the topic significant?

Dominik Trost: To us, industry 4.0 is the logical evolution of industry with the tools and technologies that are available or being developed. Like the ‘4.0’ epithet already suggests, we think that it is the industrial revolution of our generation, adding immense amounts of productivity, safety, and interconnectivity. It is therefore obvious to us that industry 4.0 will remain the hot topic over the following decade, and now is the ideal time to get on board.

Philippe Kapfer: I believe that "Industry 4.0" is often used to sell a new product or service. Often the technology was there before and is merely used differently under the title Industry 4.0. For me, that label first and foremost means that the industry is evolving.

Roy Chikballapur: I think there is more to the phrase. I agree that a lot of focus today seems to be on the technologies that enable the digitalization of processes, the generation of useful data and the algorithms that many expect will replace human beings in several functions on the shop floor. At Machiq however, we focus on the business model transformations that these technologies will bring about when they are deployed at scale and we find few companies are preparing themselves for this.

Here is an example: Most machine builders consider the sale of spare parts and the delivery of maintenance and repair services as their “Services Business”. However, their customers are actually buying the experience of zero unplanned outages. With the improved ability to connect machines and to analyze performance data in real time, outages can now be prevented.
However, in doing so, machine builders will likely reduce their spare parts revenue. Are they ready for this? Not as long as they stick to current business models. But what if they offered a “Netflix of spare parts and services”-contract where the customer instead buys uptime.

What if a yoghurt producer could pay his equipment supplier based on the number of pots of yoghurt produced per month? This would force a shift from a capital expenditure-heavy model to an operational expenditure-based model, even in the machinery industry. The Industry 4.0 model will force suppliers to collaborate with customers and competitors to collaborate with peers. It is our task to accompany all parties to take this transformative journey in a step-by-step manner that does not disrupt the current business models unnecessarily.

Where do you see the development in the region?

Roy Chikballapur: We settled in Basel primarily because of its location at the heart of the machine building industry in Europe. In a 300 km radius we have the largest concentration of leading machine building companies in every important industry. What was also a key attraction was the Canton's focus on Industry 4.0. While there are many startup hubs across Europe, they tend to focus on more “sexy” topics like Fintech, Blockchain and AI. Personally, I hope that the region instead takes up something that is more concrete and “real” as its focus area, capitalizing on its strength as a life sciences hub but also as a center of industry and logistics. We would like to see more collaboration among Industry 4.0 startups to integrate each of our products to develop more comprehensive offers for our customer base. We would also like to increase our collaboration with larger industrial companies in the region. I am certain that such a focus on the i4 theme will accelerate innovation and position Basel as a hub for Industry 4.0.

Dominik Trost: As a software company with a standardized product, our outlook is not as much regional, but rather national or defined by language barriers. Looking at the state of AR in Switzerland and Germany, there are indeed more pockets of development here than in other places, mostly in the form of individual startups and university programs. However, AR is still generally viewed as an experimental technology, despite applications being proven viable and beneficial. There is nowhere near as much drive and competition as in the US or East Asia – both a chance and a ticking clock for us.

What are your plans for your company?

Philippe Kapfer: We currently have customers mainly in the Jura and in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland. In addition to our products, I also offer training and audits on information security systems. In the future, I want to put even more capacity into development. We are targeting both the national and international markets with our security software and API. The cybersecurity market is growing by ten percent annually, but not enough people can respond to this development. NextDay.Vision provides the software that satisfies a need and makes it easier for companies to meet high security standards. We want to anchor cybersecurity in the mindset of the industry. This includes enabling connections between customers and manufacturers without sacrificing data security. We are confident that we will continue to grow with our product and vision.

Dominik Trost: At this point, almost anything is possible. We are actively building up our network of distributors and are also looking across the borders, already promoting our solutions in Germany and exploring our options in other countries. It is very likely for foreign competition to enter the European market, which makes it important for us to act quickly and decisively. We have, however, built a competent team and are very confident in the quality our products, so we are looking forward to what the future holds.

Roy Chikballapur: MachIQ has positioned itself as a neutral, brand agnostic player offering software products that connect machine builders and their industrial end-user customers for asset performance management. Machiq’s software creates the dynamics of a “data cooperative” for Industry 4.0. Common data benefits everyone on the system, but is managed securely so that it does not compromise the relationships that companies have built with their suppliers and customers or the competitive dynamics between business peers. Our vision is to become the “Business Operating System” of the Industry 4.0-enabled world. While many companies aren’t thinking about it, the moment we present our vision to them, they immediately get us and they get what we are trying to do. We are experiencing strong growth in our customer base. Consequentially, we are focusing on hiring the right talent and growing the team fast enough right now.

Text: Annett Altvater

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"Processes Kill Innovation"

03.07.2018

The serial entrepreneur Neil Goldsmith is drawn to new ventures. We spoke to him about discovering talent suitable for start-ups and about his current involvement with BaseLaunch.

You have founded and led a number of companies over the last 30 years. How did you know that entrepreneurship was for you?

It was a complete coincidence. I was aiming for a PhD but an unexpected policy issue disrupted my plans and I wondered what I should do next. My first company worked in the area of applying game theory to the advertising business, but I soon realised that this did not entirely correspond to my interests. It was at this point that I came across a job offer in the Sunday Times: a consulting company was looking for someone to launch and advise new life sciences companies. One of these companies was located in Sweden, and they hired me later as a troubleshooter for business development. Afterwards, I was offered the role of CEO in a Danish diagnostics company which was soon sold to Roche – by which time I was 31. The investors in that company proceeded to ask me if I could become the CEO of two more of their portfolio ventures, and so it went from there, with my gradually becoming increasingly proactive in the actual creation of new ventures. You could say that I took the initiative, but it was actually my career which sort of found me.

You often participated in small companies that grew big. How did this transition influence the possibility to innovate?

In my understanding, innovation means that you see something others have not seen yet. This is far more likely in small companies. Big companies have to develop processes sooner or later – and processes kill innovation. You can always find exceptions, and there are possibilities to delay the effect of processes. Google, for example, pushed a lot of decision-making out to the guys at the front line to ensure innovation. But my belief is that the processes will always get you in the end.

What is the biggest difference between managing a private and a public company and where are you more at ease?

Switching from a private to a public company means your investors and your board change. In private companies, investors and board tend to mingle; the people on your board have a lot of skin in the game themselves. Once you are public, these roles usually split, and board members become more like “guardians”. While they can be very good people, they will, for example, inevitably be more risk-averse – which might be completely right for a bank, but I am not sure if it is good for technology ventures. Being public also changes the communication style of a company. In a private company, discussions can be more open. So, as you might guess, a private company is more my thing.

What do you find crucial for starting an innovative company?

Finding the right people is the single biggest challenge. It is not so much the specific skills that are difficult to find; it is the ability to function in a very fluid and ambiguous environment. You will not have all the resources or information you need, but you still need to be able to make smart decisions. Especially for senior staff from big corporations it can be challenging to adapt to a start-up. Everybody has an early learning curve, but if you see people who joined a few months ago wanting more structure and regarding their fluid working conditions as chaotic, then they will probably not adapt – though of course there are roles where you must have structure. I would say it works out half the time.

You decided to relocate the last company you headed, Evolva, to Switzerland. You left Evolva last year, but you are still in Switzerland…

Evolva’s origins were Danish, but we faced the problem of a limited pool in terms of money and people for what we wanted to do at the time. We discussed the UK, the United States and Switzerland as possible locations, and finally we chose Switzerland. As a life sciences hub, Basel was the obvious location. At first, we could not find labs, but the predecessor organisation of BaselArea.swiss in collaboration with BLKB helped us buy and convert an old warehouse into labs. It was a good decision to settle here, and I still enjoy living in Delémont.

You are not known for idleness. What are you currently working on?

I am working on building a new set of life science ventures, both in the classic healthcare spaces and the whole consumer/industrial which I think has tremendous potential but needs different business models. And I have joined the board of an industrial biotech called Unibio that has managed to bring to commercial scale a fermentation process that converts methane gas into protein. Further, I am supporting startups through non-profit organizations such as BaselArea.swiss and its healthcare accelerator BaseLaunch.

Where do you see the potential for the start-up scene in Basel – and how will you contribute to shaping it with BaseLaunch?

Due to its scientific talent and the unrivalled management expertise spread by the large corporates, Basel ought to have a really vibrant start-up scene. It is also fortunate that Switzerland is not short of money. I think it could be more vibrant. Traditionally, the best talent has been siphoned off into the large companies, and the money and ideas have not connected as well as they might. BaseLaunch has started addressing some of these disconnects during the last two years by leveraging the knowledge of large pharma to assist the formation of very early ventures. We hope to go further with this approach in the future.

Where do you find suitable projects that are worth pursuing?

As companies grow, they inevitably narrow their focus – I do not think I have ever seen it go the other way. This results in a lot of interesting stuff getting deprioritised. I try to filter what companies do not want anymore, with the benefit that I can start with an asset that has been at least somewhat worked up and is commercially grounded. Innovation does not only come from Universities, and sometimes I think the public sector misses this point when it designs support schemes.

What objectives and values do your ventures have in common? Is there a common thread?

I like to create products that are meaningful and make a real difference to at least a part of the world – that are not “me too”. For example with Personal Chemistry, a company I co-founded in 1996, we pioneered the application of microwaves to organic chemistry synthesis, and nowadays almost every chemistry discovery lab has one or more of these instruments, and people are using them daily. It really gives me a good feeling when I see one of those instruments, even if they come from one of our competitors.

How easy is it for you to find funding for your ventures?

It is never easy, and one of the issues is that investors like to hunt in packs, which tends to make them avoid ideas that are too different – even if they like it, they know others will need to be convinced as well. Europe is too conservative regarding the funding of ideas. It is frustrating because I think that unconventional ideas can be businesses, too – as the Americans have shown time and time again.

When do you know the time has come to leave a company?

I find that when it comes to optimisation, it is time for me to move on. It is a normal process most companies go through: once a company has found its sweet spot, it increasingly becomes about optimising what it has, but it’s not for me. I like to create things. And I certainly never take the same path twice.

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“IP protection is crucial for business and research”

08.05.2018

The patent law and attorney-at-law firm Vossius & Partner has been an important partner for BaseLaunch since the inception of the healthcare accelerator in 2016. They advise startups and big corporations alike on IP strategy. Philipp Marchand, patent attorney in the Basel office, advocates to take IP protection seriously.

BaselArea.swiss: Vossius & Partner maintains offices in Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin and Basel. How do you fit in the Swiss and Basel ecosystem?

Philipp Marchand: Our firm was founded in the 1960s, coming to Basel eleven years ago. We have developed extensive and profound in-house knowledge concerning all IP issues and currently represent clients of all sizes from startup companies to big pharma in Switzerland and all over the world. Basel, as one of the most exciting life science locations, is of particular interest to our firm, which has one of the largest life science groups in Europe.

That sounds a bit sophisticated for startups.

Not at all. Our expertise obtained from representing clients of all sizes is a huge advantage for the startup sector. Moreover, instead of considering IP issues in an isolated way, we endeavour to take all possible future developments of our cases into account. This includes considering aspects from other jurisdictions since, even as a startup, you have to be aware of potential worldwide implications right from the start. In addition, we work with our attorneys-at-law to not only protect an invention but also to provide advice on related aspects such as freedom-to-operate.

You are also involved in BaseLaunch. Why is that?

We entered into a partnership with BaseLaunch in order to be closer to the startup community in Basel and Switzerland. We meet with each of the selected companies and review their IP situation free of charge in order to identify potential ways to optimize protection. We are excited to be able to offer our expertise more frequently to startups because we believe that they genuinely benefit from our full service approach. If they wish, later they can also enter into a client relationship and benefit from our experience right from the start. Of course, we then have to charge for our services. However, we offer a very reasonably priced system for startup companies and universities.

Why is it worth it to spend that money?

IP protection is crucial in all technological fields and in more than one aspect: It is the only reliable means to ensure that you can make a profit in the long run in different markets worldwide. For a startup company working in life sciences, or any other technological field, the most important type of IP is without a doubt a patent right. Specifically, only a patent grants you the monopoly to keep third parties from using your invention. However, further IP topics are relevant at an early stage, too. For example, a trademark protecting the company’s name or its products that are put on the market can be invaluable. Without trademark protection a startup may be forced to change its name or the names of their products, which can incur considerable costs.

What if a researcher has no intention to commercialize his or her invention right-away?

You might think keeping your invention a secret is a good idea. But in the meantime another bright mind might have the same idea and file for patent protection. Today all jurisdictions, including the US, follow the “first to file” principle, which means that you may have missed your chance and you could even be sued for infringement by a third party for using what you thought was your own invention. We therefore strongly encourage inventors and their employers to file for IP protection as early as possible.

What do I need to protect an invention?

We like to discuss everything with our clients in person to fully understand the potential product as well as its market and its customers. Afterwards, we draft the patent claims, which means that we define the invention and the technical problem that it solves. We file the application text with a patent office, usually with the European Patent Office (EPO) as part of the European Patent Organization of which Switzerland is also a member. One year after the first filing, we can prepare a subsequent application, which covers more than 150 states worldwide. The whole process until an application is granted can take more than five years.

Is there a difference in the importance of IP protection in the life sciences sector compared to other fields?

The biggest difference is the longer product life cycle for pharmaceutical products and the stricter regulations compared to, say, short-lived computer hardware. Also, due to the long product life cycles and general development costs in this sector, patent protection is the only way to ensure that the owner of the patent right benefits first from the invention. With a particular focus on the pharma sector, one should also mention the need to build-up an IP portfolio which not only protects, for example, a drug but also the process of making that drug, different formulations, dosage and treatment regimens and so on. At the same time, you should consider using additional IP rights such as trademarks. Take Bayer who invented Aspirin. The patent for the active ingredient acetylsalicylic acid has long expired, which means it may be widely produced and sold. However, the trademark still ensures that people specifically ask for Aspirin.

Are there any reasons to advise against filing for patent?

Yes, of course. There are situations where it may make sense to wait with filing a patent application until sufficient data and support has been collected. For example, it may not always be advisable to file a patent for a research platform to protect a screening method for active compounds. This is because patent applications are published 18 months after filing, meaning that everyone has access to the method. In this scenario, it may make sense to wait for the first molecule that emerges from your platform and file for product protection. However, such strategic aspects should always be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

Which misconceptions concerning IP do you sometimes encounter?

Most researchers are aware of IP protection but the execution could be better. One misconception includes the so-called grace period. There is no grace period in European patent law or in most other jurisdictions with the exception of the US, Japan and Canada. After you publicly disclose your own invention by writing or talking about it, you may not be able to obtain patent rights for your invention.

What may researchers reveal to their peer collaborators?

An invention is new if it does not form part of the state of the art, meaning it is not publicly known. Hence every discussion with a colleague or presentation of a poster at a conference prior to filing a patent application can potentially destroy the novelty. You may think that no one will find out. However, when it comes to money, third parties will leave no stone unturned. Of course, we are aware of the conflict between patent applications and the need to publish academic papers or give presentations. If you are unsure what to do: It is always better to come talk to us before a publication, a poster presentation or any other public disclosure, even on short notice.

 

About
Philipp Marchand heads the Basel office of Vossius & Partner. After graduating in biochemistry at the University in Frankfurt am Main and his PhD studies at a CNRS institute in Paris, he started his career as a patent attorney trainee with Vossius & Partner in Munich. After the bar examination, he transferred to Basel at the beginning of 2017. Recently, he started to pursue a doctorate in law at the University of Basel. Vossius & Partner is a leading patent law firm offering a full-service concept with legal competence from patent attorneys in every technological sector and attorneys-at-law qualified to practice not only in Europe and Switzerland, but also in the United States, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. The firm employs 55 patent attorneys and 20 attorneys–at-law in their offices in Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin and Basel.

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Connecting Innovators App Launch

11.04.2018

How the BaselArea.swiss-App connects innovators and supports an innovative idea.

One of the major assets of BaselArea.swiss is its broad network, which has been confirmed time and again by the participants of our seminars, workshops and conferences. To simplify the networking during and after the events, BaselArea.swiss launches the App “Connecting Innovators” together with SAS Papott.

The use is simple: After downloading the app from Google Play or from the App Store, connect with your LinkedIn account and complete your profile. You will see the other event attendees in a list with their name and picture, filtered according to proximity to your location, thus facilitating connect with other participants. Not only will you see which users attend the same events but it is also easier for specialists to connect to people with similar interests or for entrepreneurs to approach potential investors.

Networking made simple

Originally, the developer and founder of SAS Papott, Maxime Vitrey, had the vision of improving our ability to connect with our fellow human beings on a more general level. He designed an open app and everybody who created a profile could see who is close by. “I wanted to make it easy for everybody to get in touch with each other.” He also realized the potential the technology holds for networking at conferences. “I know from personal experience how hard it is to get in touch with other participants I do not know yet”, Maxime says. The challenges are manifold: Groups of people who stay together because they know each other already; name tags that are hard to read; the slightly impolite act of interrupting people who are engaged in conversation. And last but not least: finding the people you should talk to because you share the same area of interest.

The World of entrepreneurship

After attending a startup seminar organized by BaselArea.swiss, Maxime approached Sébastien Meunier, Head of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, to suggest creating an application according to the needs of the organization. “We quickly decided to give it a shot”, says Maxime. Being a seasoned project manager, he developed new techniques and gained experience during the implementation of the project since the whole value chain was in his hands. Currently, he approaches new customers to build clones of the app. He sees potential to ease interaction in large companies during meetings or amongst their employees. Further, the technology could be used in hospitals to allow patients to socialize with other patients. While Maxime still works for his long-term employer, Jet Aviation, he is also pleased that his entry into the world of entrepreneurship is successful. “It is extremely exciting to finally be the entrepreneur I always wanted to be.”

For BaselArea.swiss, the app allows the participants of the more than 70 events per year to be served even better: “The app helps to strengthen one of our core disciplines in creating an open and supportive business culture - a solid network with approachable members,” says Sébastien Meunier. “We are looking forward to seeing a lot of our participants using it.”

Join us to keep networking simple, efficient and useful. Download the app “Connecting Innovators” from Google Play or from the App Store and let us know what you think.

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“A good network is power”

03.04.2018

Melanie Kovacs was frustrated by the IT teaching she got, and developed her own product – Master21. She attributes her success with this not least to her carefully maintained network, which has continued to grow in Basel. Melanie Kovacs and her fellow campaigners use the technology and innovation network “We Shape Tech” to promote diversity by making women working in the technology and innovation field more visible.

Ms Kovacs, you founded Master21 when you were 28. How did that come about?

As a co-initiator of the Aspire network for women startup owners, I’d met a lot of very interesting women. One of them was Valérie Vuillerat, the managing director of Ginetta. She offered me a job, and I took it. At the agency I was the link between clients and developers. I worked closely with the people from the technical area, but I didn’t speak their language. Then I went back to taking courses at the university. But this was dreadfully theoretical, boring front of class teaching, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. I was sure that anybody can learn programming, but I felt it had to be done differently.

So what is your company doing better?

We do exactly what I was missing at the time. We put people without a technical background in a pleasant atmosphere and use lots of practical exercises to give them sufficient competences and self-confidence in programming. Most of them are like me – they don’t necessarily want to embark on a new career, they want to work with developers on a solid basis. That’s why at Master21 you learn the fundamental terms and concepts and understand how design, front end, back end and databases fit together. Participants learn HTML, CSS, Javascript and Ruby and try out for themselves how object-oriented programming works.

How did the start-up process work out?

I started a pilot project for Master21 while I was still working at Ginetta. The fluid transition was ideal for me. My co-founder is responsible for the technical side and content, I’m responsible the business aspect. I’m very happy that he gave me the push I needed to start. I’m not sure I would have dared to found a company on my own. A few months ago, we hired a new employee. I find it very motivating if every initiative doesn’t depend on me and I can work with a team.

What do you most appreciate about being an entrepreneur?

I can set my own schedule for the day, I’m learning a lot and I work every day with bright, exciting people. I’m also seeing that my services are directly influencing the students. There have already been two cases where people met on the course and subsequently started a project together. It’s more difficult to find developers who like teaching and are good at it.

What happens next with Master21?

I’m currently participating in the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation’s Accelerator Programme, and I’m also working with a coach. Currently I’m not at all interested in a financing round, because I’d like to continue to grow independently of investors. I want the firm to develop, but at my own pace and with long-term prospects.

The company’s headquarters are in Zurich, you live in Basel. What happens where?

I’m in Zurich when I’m working at the Impact Hub and want to meet people. The courses have also been held there so far. In Basel I work on corporate strategy in my home office and write texts. If things get too quiet for me, I go to the “Unternehmen Mitte” establishment and work there, or I meet someone for lunch at the Markthalle. I think it's because there are so many expats in Basel that there’s a great sense of openness there.

How important is your personal network for the success of Master21?

My network is absolutely central. At the start, I emailed every single one of my contacts, told them about my new project and asked for feedback. I maintain my network by LinkedIn and email, and I go and have coffee with people regularly. I also go to events like TEDxZurich, and I’m active in We Shape Tech.

You’re an enthusiastic networker.

Yes, it’s easy for me. For many people networking has such a negative image. I’m not interested in collecting business cards; I want to get to know people. And I’d much rather talk to one person than quickly give my card to a whole lot of people. I really enjoy networking, because I can learn something from everybody. A couple of years ago I was just everywhere, including to promote my business. Now I find it boring if someone’s just presenting their pitch, and I’m better at choosing where I participate. I find networking particularly valuable if you can share your ideas on a joint topic with others in small groups.

You brought the initiative for diversity, the We Shape Tech network, which was previously already active in Zurich and Bern, to Basel. Why does Basel need this network?

Basel still has a lot of potential in the technology and innovation area. One indication of that for us was the way that we were welcomed with open arms. Our board member Elaine Skapetis is a developer at Adobe. The company supported us generously without hesitation with our first two Basel events. The hall at the launch event was filled to bursting, the response was just unbelievable. We offer people working or interested in the technology and innovation field the opportunity to share ideas and views and learn from each other. We follow a specific format here, where one person tells their story, a discussion is initiated, and there’s time for networking. Our goal is to connect people, communicate knowledge and ensure access to other organisations and partners. Knowledge and a good network are power.

What are the advantages of networks primarily aimed at women?

In Basel men are welcome at We Shape Tech as well. To promote diversity, you need both men and women. However, sadly, only a few men have taken advantage of the opportunity to date. The few men at the meeting have an experience which women often have, namely being part of a minority. If you have a group of just women, the atmosphere is more relaxed. I also see this in courses specifically for women at Master21. If women are just with other women, they trust themselves to do more. They ask questions which they wouldn’t if men were present, say more and are more confident than if there were men there.

About Melanie Kovacs
Melanie Kovacs founded Master21, where people interested in courses with practical relevance are introduced to the fundamentals of programming. Previously, she has founded the women’s network Aspire, and organised start-up weekends. She studied business administration at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration and the University of Madrid and completed a CAS in requirements engineering at the University of Applied Sciences, Rappers. Together with Aileen Zumstein and Elaine Skapetis, Melanie Kovacs brought the network We Shape Tech to Basel. The Movement in Diversity initiative offers a platform and community for people who want to make a difference in the hi-tech and innovation area. The organisation focuses simultaneously on communicating knowledge and promoting the exchange of ideas.

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Basel startup wins out over 100 companies

03.04.2019

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“I enjoy thinking about seemingly unsolvable problems”

13.03.2018

Andreas Plückthun continues his research where others stop: 40 employees work in his laboratory on protein engineering. Their results form the basis for three biotech companies: Morphosys in Munich, as well as Molecular Partners and G7 Therapeutics (today Heptares Zurich) in Schlieren. At the Antibody Congress 2017 in Basel, Andreas Plückthun told us why he remains true to his research.

Mr. Plückthun, you co-founded three biotech companies in three decades. How did this come about?

There was always this curiosity in the beginning to discover something – but never the wish to found a company. After we produced artificial antibodies and learned how to mimic the immune system, we established the company Morphosys. Then the next question arose: can we do this with other protein molecules and solve new problems? Out of this emerged Designed Ankyrin Repeated Proteins (DARPins) and a second company, Molecular Partners in Schlieren. The next challenge was then to stabilize receptors by means of protein engineering in order to develop better drugs for these points of attack. Based on this research, we founded the third company, G7 Therapeutics.

Who pushed ahead with the spin-offs each time?

For the first company, it was my research colleagues. I was the more sceptical of us three at the time. The other two companies were traditional spin-offs of my doctoral and postdoctoral students.

How are the companies doing today?

Morphosys now has 430 employees and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. We also received the first FDA approval for an antibody that is now available on the market. This is one of the few companies that is still doing exactly what we once wrote in the business plan, and successfully too. Molecular Partners has 130 employees, several Phase 2 and 3 studies, and, like Morphosys, is listed on the stock exchange. G7 Therapeutics was sold to the British company Heptares, which in turn belongs to the Japanese company Sosei. In short: all companies are doing well. I don’t consider founding a company to be a particular achievement. The achievement is more that the companies are flourishing and bringing drugs to the market.

What changes have you noticed over the decades when it comes to founding a company?

The climate has changed completely. It was totally against the grain in Europe 25 years ago to found a biotech company. That’s why people went to California. At a symposium in America, I was once introduced as a researcher and a founder with the words; “He’s like us.” It was very common there for a long time to be both a researcher and an entrepreneur. That scepticism has since disappeared here, and founding a company is now judged positively. A venture capital scene has also developed since then. To be fair, I have to say that it helps investors if you’ve already successfully founded a company. The first deal is always the hardest.

You seem to be quite successful when it comes to founding companies. Did it ever tempt you to move to one of your companies?

It was never a question for me to leave the university. It’s an incredible privilege to be paid by the state to do crazy things. I always wanted to think about the next challenge at the university. Not having to account for quarterly profits is the only way forward in this context. In a company that conducts research with money from investors, you simply cannot undertake the type of risky and long-term projects that interest me. But I can say that thanks to the companies that are based on my research, I have repaid my dividends and created many jobs.

So you’ll continue to devote yourself to basic research. Can this be steered towards commercialization at all?

We’ve always wanted to solve a problem that seemed important enough to us. At some point in the research the question arises of how to use the results, what you can make of them. If we hadn’t commercialized the results, the problems would have simply stopped at an interesting point. We would have stopped halfway along. This is comparable to a coming up with blueprint for a computer and then not building it. By founding the companies, we could ensure that the projects would continue.

Is there any collaboration with industry within the scope of your research?

Direct collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and our laboratory has never worked properly. Expectations and time horizons are very different. We develop new ideas and concepts that are often not exactly in keeping with large-scale pharmaceutical research. I don’t think anyone will feel offended when I say that the pharmaceutical industry is very conservative. We do have many contacts but hardly any collaboration. That being said, our spin-offs work very well with the pharmaceutical industry.

Which topics would you like to focus on next?

We are researching artificial viruses that cannot reproduce. The viruses should produce proteins directly in the body that are needed as therapeutic agents. This is so far away from practical implementation that such a project is only possible at a university. But I am absolutely convinced that it would have enormous significance if it worked. I couldn’t sit still if we didn’t at least try. We are once again trying to solve a problem in my laboratory that most people in the field would consider impossible to solve. That’s what makes me get up in the morning. I want to show how it works.

Learn more about Andreas Plückthun between basic research and biotech entrepreneurship at our event on 24 April 2018.

About
Andreas Plückthun (*1956) is a scientist whose research is focused on the field of protein engineering. He is the director of the department of biochemistry at the University of Zurich. Andreas Plückthun was appointed to the faculty of the University of Zurich as a Full Professor of biochemistry in 1993. Plückthun was group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry , Germany (1985-1993). He was elected to the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 1992, and named a member of the German National Academy of Science (Leopoldina) in 2003. He is cofounder of the biotechnology companies Morphosys (Martinsried, Germany), Molecular Partners AG (Zürich-Schlieren, Switzerland) and G7 Therapeutics (Zürich-Schlieren, Switzerland).

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth, BaselArea.swiss

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Unitelabs automating lab work

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Meet the BaseLaunch Startups

11.03.2018

Six of the BaseLaunch startups recently started Phase II. They received either grants up to 250,000 Swiss francs or gained free of charge access to BaseLaunch laboratory and office space at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. Hear what the startups, the BaseLaunch team and selection committee members experienced in the first year. Find out more about what makes BaseLaunch unique.

The BaseLaunch accelerator is now open for applications for the second cycle. Entrepreneurs with a healthcare based project or a game-changing innovation in diagnostics, medtech or related field at the pre-seed or seed funding stage are invited to submit their applications to the program.

Following the application deadline on 14 May, promising projects will be admitted to the accelerator program for a period of 15 months. In phase I, the startups will benefit from the support of industry experts, office- and laboratory space free of charge and access to healthcare partners. After three months, they will be invited to present their idea to the selection committee. They will determine which promising startups will proceed to Phase II that runs for one year.

BaseLaunch is backed by five industry leaders — Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer, Roche and Roivant Sciences. Other public and private partners such as KPMG and Vossius & Partner also support the initiative.

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Baselland increases startup support

15.11.2018

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“As an entrepreneur, you have to own up to your decisions”

06.02.2018

Five years ago, Alisée de Tonnac quit her job at L’Oréal and travelled the world to set up the first edition of the startup competition Seedstars World. Five years later, Seedstars is present in more than 85 cities worldwide, runs its own co-working and educational centers and plans to have 15 Seedspaces for co-working and co-living by the end of 2018. BaselArea.swiss sat down with Alisée de Tonnac after her keynote at the Swiss Innovation Forum that took place in Basel last November.

BaselArea.swiss: What was the most compelling argument for you to leave your career at an international corporation and become an entrepreneur?

Alisée de Tonnac: I remember coming across this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I thought: Gosh, I do the opposite. I was complacent (I wonder if that is not the definition of unhappy), my corporate and personal life at that time was not engaging me in the right fashion, or at least I did not know how to engage with it in the right fashion. I did not foresee that entrepreneurship and building something of my own was the necessary change, but it definitely became part of who I am today.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

First of all, I think there are different types of entrepreneurs. One builds everything from scratch and does not sleep until his idea transforms into reality. Others, like myself, follow; they support and scale the idea. So, potentially, entrepreneurship is for everyone, depending on your personality traits and of course you would need to be comfortable with uncertainty, taking risks, and self-management. I love about my lifestyle that I decide how my day roles out. It is spectacular. To be honest, one of the main ingredients to my professional and personal success is that I work with an unbelievable team. My co-founders make the difference. I do not know if I would have been able to launch a company on my own. The team is crucial – keep in mind that you spend every day with them.

What do you think is important in a team of co-founders?

My co-founders and I are very complementary. I am an operational person, definitely not a strategist. A strategist looks five years ahead, sees all the obstacles and still heads forward. More importantly though, we made sure that our values are aligned. We asked ourselves whether we would stick together during the highs and lows. Shared values have proven to be our biggest strength and one of the reasons why we are still sustaining, five years later. We want to build good things with good people. We believe that we can build a profitable business and be good, but more importantly we have an underlying foundation of values that keeps us together no matter what – at least until now...

Before you co-founded Seedstars, you worked with L’Oreal. How do you benefit from your corporate experience?

I learned so much in terms of business, culture, teamwork and social pressure. I also know what I do not want to do, which is just as important. It also taught me a lot on how I would want to build the culture within our new structure. The culture is so fundamental in managing and scaling the business. I think you learn while working at corporations what differentiates them and how a uniquely defined and communicated culture makes the difference.

What was the biggest surprise for you when becoming an entrepreneur?

The ownership of your day and actions. Because you really have to own up to your decisions. You cannot bullshit and you cannot hide behind the brand or the cc- emails. It was a bit terrifying initially to be the only person that can start the whole machine – and very gratifying at the same time.

You work with entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries. Which challenges are these entrepreneurs tackling?

In healthcare, we see many digital platforms, like one that allows you to recognize if a medicine is fake or not – which is an issue in Nigeria and other emerging markets. There are telemedicine platforms to connect rural areas with specialists and educational apps for pregnant women, as childbirth is still a huge cause of death in those regions.

Seedstars launched its own trainings. Why was that necessary?

There is talent everywhere, but not every talented person gets the same access to education, network opportunities and infrastructure. With our training, we tap talent that is not yet exposed to such opportunities.

What did you learn from your experience in Lagos?

We are in markets that represent a big part of the world. Exposing yourself to different consumer habits, radical transformations and growing cities helps to understand the world of tomorrow. We are living in a global economy today, the world does not end at the borders of a nation. People who ignore that fact are limiting themselves professionally and personally. Take Lagos, for example: there are 20 million people, the streets are buzzing, everyone is young and you witness a dynamic “everything is possible”- spirit. It is so contrary to coming back to Geneva where we have meters of space between one person and the next. After two weeks, I am complaining when the bus is five minutes late. We are very comfortable and very fortunate – which can also be seen as a problem for innovation. Being comfortable can be a goal, but it is in many ways the opposite of being innovative.

Your company is registered in Geneva. How important is the Swiss headquarters?

First of all, we are very proud of the “Swiss made” brand, which has supported us in successfully scaling the business around the world. The values that the flag carries – like quality, professionalism and neutrality – we aim to represent on the ground. As all partners grew up in Switzerland, we also keep close ties with our private and public network. Switzerland is an amazing hub with strong public institutions like the UN in Geneva or the WEF in Davos that play an important role in the markets where we are present with Seedstars. Many multinational companies residing here are also very interested in these emerging markets, not least in terms of talent acquisition. Moreover, they provide potential solutions. It is crucial to be present in Switzerland as well as in the countries where we have our competitions. Interestingly, we slowly start to see reverse innovation: Safaricom, the biggest mobile service provider in Kenya launched the payment solution M-Pesa. They are now testing their solution in Romania and Albania. I am certain that the usual way of doing business by conducting a product in the north and selling it in the south will blur out eventually.


About Alisée de Tonnac
Alisée graduated from HEC Lausanne and obtained her Masters in International Management at Bocconi University. The French citizen lived in Singapore, Silicon Valley, Switzerland, Italy and in Lagos, Nigeria. She was a product manager for luxury brands at L’Oreal Group and worked at Voyage Privé, a leading European startup. After traveling around the world for a year to set up the first edition of the Seedstars World startup competition back in 2013, Alisée is now managing the company. She has accumulated deep knowledge of trends in technology, social media & consumer behavior in emerging markets. Alisée is a board member of the School of Management of Fribourg and a member of the Swiss National Innovation Council. She was nominated Social Entrepreneur Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017 and was Innovation Fellow of Wired UK in 2015.

About Seedstars
Seedstars is a Switzerland based group with the mission to impact people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship. Seedstars connects stakeholders, builds companies from scratch with public and private partners, and invests in high growth startups within these ecosystems. Through different activities that range from startup scouting to company building and acceleration programs, the team has built the most powerful network of entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, corporations and government officials from more than 65 fast growing economies around the globe. Seedstars started running its operations in 2013, launching its startup competition model on 20 emerging markets. By 2018, the competition is present in more than 85 cities, and the Seedstars Group will be launching 15 strategic hubs (Seedspaces, co-working activities, acceleration programs and academy centres) around the world. The business model relies on recurring partnership deals with both local and international players seeking to be involved in impact investment in the fields of technology and innovation. Part of the revenue channels also includes a hybrid company building model through which Seedstars launches new companies in new markets, with tested business models adapted to the local environment. So far, Seedstars has invested in 15 startups. Another 10 to 15 investments are foreseen for the first semester of 2018.

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BaseLaunch’s second round – 10 projects enter Phase I

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Welcome to Basel: MachIQ

04.09.2018

report

"We're giving Basel Impact Hub fever"

09.01.2018

Impact Hubs are a real success story. Founded in 2005 in London, there are now over 100 Impact Hubs around the world with more than 15,000 members. Following the lead from Bern, Zurich, Geneva and Lausanne, Basel will be the next Impact Hub in Switzerland. The force behind the movement is Hubbasel, an association founded by entrepreneur André Moeri, sustainability expert Connie Low and lawyer Hanna Byland. We wanted to know why an Impact Hub is more than just a coworking space and how entrepreneurs as well as investors and companies benefit from them, so we talked with Hanna Byland to shed some light for us.

Ms Byland, you have been volunteering at Hubbasel since early 2017. How did that come about?

Hanna Byland: I was invited to the opening of the Impact Hub in Bern and was excited by the concept. So I asked around a bit about whether efforts were being made in Basel to create one and that is how I came into contact with Connie Low and André Moeri. We share the same values, from respectful collaboration and a positive vision of the future to a readiness to get actively involved in the cause. At the same time, each of us brings a different skill set to the table. Connie is well established in the sustainability arena and is a constantly positive driving force. André looks after the company components and has a knack for seeing the potential in people and ideas. I'm the more practical one, keeping an eye on all of the legal and feasibility aspects – it's an ideal combination. We founded Hubbasel at the start of 2017 and at this point there are eight of us in total. All of us have worked tirelessly on making the plans a reality and already everyone's contributions have gotten us a nomination in the global network for the status of "Impact Hub Candidate".

When will the Basel Impact Hub open?

We would like to open in the second half of 2018. At the moment we are set up at Andreas Erbe's Launchlab. It's an ideal location. Really inspiring. But we're still looking for our own space with 1,000 to 2,000 square metres. The space should be laid out so that companies can flexibly grow or shrink depending on the circumstances.

How is an Impact Hub different from a coworking space?

An Impact Hub always consists of three components: Inspire - Connect - Enable. Companies, investors and creative people come together in an Impact Hub to find inspiration and support for their plans. We don't just want to create a workspace, but a networking space. Every Impact Hub is connected to a location, but it also offers the opportunity to access other Impact Hubs all over the world to find like-minded people and in that way generate local ideas with global impact. The people who find each other here want to make the world just that little bit better through their work, their company or their innovations. They are lofty goals, but we have to start somewhere, right?

There are already Impact Hubs in Zurich, Bern, Geneva and Lausanne. Why does Basel need another one?

Geneva is focused on exchange with international organisations. Bern is government-oriented. Zurich is closer to the business world. I'm of the opinion that Basel is a perfect breeding ground for an Impact Hub. We've got a good number of multinational corporations and at the same time the population here has a heightened sense of responsibility. That combination is unique.

How does this sense of responsibility manifest itself in Basel?

In loads of smaller initiatives and in the activities of its many foundations, but also in locations like the Markthalle or the Gundeldingerfeld area. Basel places a lot of value on the sustainable development of the city and its spaces. Food production, nutrition and food waste as well as social justice in terms of equality of opportunity in education and treatment are all important topics for the Basel community. There are a lot of players and projects that are pushing in the same direction. Still, many of these initiatives are single projects. We believe that we can bundle these forces more effectively, even on a global level, through the Impact Hub network.

Who is the Basel Impact Hub for?

We want to get companies in here that are interested in sustainability, give them a place they can call home, and show them that they aren't alone. For companies, the Impact Hub is also a source of new talent. And for investors there is no comparable platform. You have to figure that for investors it's hard work to find good companies in which they want to invest. We can help them with that. Universities are also interested in a place of collaboration. They have the knowledge and the educated people, and then through us they can access real-life applications.

What has the feedback been so far?

It has been very positive. Our communications channels including newsletters, meet-ups and Facebook are all very actively used. Once a month we organise events to find out how our community is developing. There are typically between 40 and 60 people at the events. The exchange is lively and the feedback is really inspiring. In future we would like to offer even more, from workshops, event series and hack-a-thons to accelerators, incubators and fellowships. With the last three ideas, it is really important to us to work with local players. We were able to get the Christoph Merian Foundation, the Gebert Rüf Foundation and the Fondation Botnar to provide us with some initial support. We were incredibly excited about that, of course.

So what is the focus of your events?

We always have entrepreneurs as guests who we then put together with investors and coaches. Typically, we select a certain topic or area that is particularly difficult and focus on that. We find that many of them enjoy offering and applying their skills and support. At this point, we just need a place where we can host those kinds of exchanges and where these ideas can become projects and business ideas. The next public event where we will be working with students from the University of Applied Sciences of North West Switzerland (FHNW) will take place on 13 February 2017.

About Hanna Byland
Hanna Byland is a legal assistant at the law and notary offices of Neidhardt/Vollenweider/Jost/Stoll/Gysin/Tschopp in Basel. She studied law at the Universities of Lucerne and Neuchâtel. Hanna Byland was a member of the Young Liberals in Aargau and has been a volunteer at Hubbasel since the start of 2017.

Interview: Annett Altvater

report

Impact Hub Basel has successfully launched

13.08.2018

report

So bringt uns die Technologie 4.0 weiter

06.08.2018

report Precision Medicine

“Precision medicine is the best opportunity to reconfigure healthcare”

04.12.2017

After 20 years with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, Bernard Munos set out to better understand pharmaceutical innovation – specifically what makes it possible and how to get more of it. Munos is now a Senior Fellow at Faster Cures, a Center of the Milken Institute, and the founder of the consultancy InnoThink, which advises biomedical research organizations on how to become better innovators. He also contributes to Forbes magazine, an American business publication. Munos travelled to Basel in October, on behalf of HKBB and DayOne to participate in the “Powertalk”.

Mr. Munos, precision medicine has been around for a couple of years. These days everybody seems to talk about it. Why is that?

Bernard Munos: The healthcare system is increasingly torn apart by powerful forces. On one hand, science is delivering amazing things such as protein therapeutics (peptides, monoclonal antibodies); cellular therapies (CAR-T); gene editing (CRISPR); and a growing array of technologies based on a molecular understanding of diseases. The only problem is that this is very expensive. In addition, the population is aging, and older people tend to get diseases that are costlier to treat. The result is nearly infinite demand for costly care, which is clashing with the limited resources available to fund it. But, as it turns out, precision medicine is the most promising opportunity to change the economics of pharmaceutical R&D, reconfigure healthcare, and deliver affordable care to all.

In other words: the current system is not built to distribute the benefits of the new technologies?

For decades, R&D was much simpler: We took a disease that we typically did not fully understand, threw a bunch of compounds at it and saw if something would work. If it did, you had a drug. This was crude, but not a bad strategy since it gave us drugs long before we understood the diseases they treated. Sometimes, however, it does not work. For example, we have thrown over 350 compounds at Alzheimer’s, but none has worked, and we still do not know what causes the disease. There’s got to be a better way, and that is precision medicine.

What will change with precision medicine?

Once we understand how diseases work, our capabilities are so powerful that we can often design a disease modifying molecule literally within months. Precision medicine, along with the technologies that enable it, will give us the insights we need to develop those drugs. But it translates into a smarter – and ultimately cheaper –  way to do science and develop drugs –which is why it will prevail.

What do we need to establish to get precision medicine taking up more speed?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the number one impediment to innovation is the lack of natural histories for most diseases. This means that we do not have baseline data that describes the course of the disease, and therefore we cannot measure the improvement that a therapy would bring. It really limits our ability to innovate. Many diseases progress quietly for many years before they are diagnosed. Take Alzheimer’s or pancreatic cancer: by the time they show symptoms, it is too late for an intervention. Precision medicine will change that by collecting data while the diseases progress but the patients are asymptomatic. This will advance disease discovery and give us the knowledge we need to develop better therapies. Much of this will be enabled by new and inexpensive data-capture technologies such as biosensors, apps and other plug-in devices that are advancing very rapidly.

But first of all this means new investments – who is going to pay for all this?

At the moment, public companies spend US$110 billion per year on clinical research, much of which goes to collect data. This is an enormous amount of money, and companies gather indeed vast quantities of data, but they are limited in scope and often of mediocre quality. In 2014, the company Medidata Solutions ran an experiment to test the capabilities of biosensors. They assembled a couple hundred patients and equipped them with a few low-cost biosensors such as activity trackers and heart monitors. Over a couple of months, they collected up to 18 million data points per patient and per day. That data was later reviewed by regulators and declared to be “FDA-compliant”. One key point, however, is that its collection cost was trivial. Other evidence suggests that, by redesigning trials to leverage digital technologies, we can cut down the cost of data collection by as much as 80 percent. This is big enough to change the economics of clinical research, but it does more. It also enables better research. Today, drug trials focus on homogenous patient populations, because one needs to minimize the sources of variance. But the result is trials that do not represent very well the populations that we want to treat. Biosensors, on the other hand, can collect lots of data on larger populations, and statistical significance is usually not an issue. It is also high-frequency longitudinal data which gives us a much better picture of what happens to patients.

How will this change medicine?

Today, when someone comes down with Alzheimer’s, we don’t know when it started, or why, and therefore have no way to intervene on the course of the disease before it is too late. If we had data on pre-symptomatic patients, scientists could look back and pinpoint when the disease might have started and how it progressed. With such information, we could design better drugs and intervene earlier when the prognosis is better and treatment costs cheaper. It could potentially move medicine from treatment to prevention, but implementing it won’t be easy. Our whole healthcare system is designed to treat not prevent. Changing it will require a lot of retraining, but it’s the way to go.

Crucial will be the question who owns the data and who will have access to the data?

A key requirement of precision medicine is that data needs to be connected. It will be scattered over hundreds of databases, but they need to be interfaced so that they can easily be searched. Some of the data will be public, but much of them will be collected and controlled by the patients themselves. A majority of patients has signaled a willingness to share their data for legitimate research purposes, but whoever controls data will also control innovation. Patients hold values that are dear to them – such as transparency, openness, and affordability – and they will likely expect the recipients of their data to comply with these values. This will be a big change for the culture of R&D and will have significant consequences for the design of clinical research.

This will change the Value Chain – who will win, who will loose?

Precision medicine will bring some desirable changes: Historically pharmaceutical companies have generated their own data and competed on the basis on such proprietary data. Increasingly, however, data will become a commodity. For instance, the data from the “All-of-Us” million patient cohort that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is assembling will be in public access. There are numerous other large patient cohorts around the world that are being created and whose data will also be public. This will change the basis of competition. Scientists will increasingly work from shared, public data, and their performance will depend upon their ability to extract superior knowledge from the same data used by their peers

What does this mean for the Basel Life Science Cluster?

Big corporations struggle to generate enough internal innovation. The bigger they get, the greater the bureaucracy and the more regimented they become. This creates a climate that is less hospitable to innovation precisely at a time when large companies need more of it. To sustain revenue, they must access a source of external innovation that can supplement their own.  Relying on licensing, mergers or acquisitions does not work well, as companies seldom find what they want to buy at a price they are willing to pay. Innovation hubs such as BaselLaunch or DayOne are a better solution. They allow the local community to create shared infrastructure – such as incubators and support services – that can become a global magnet for entrepreneurs. They also give the local large companies an opportunity to mentor the startups and offer scientific support. For them, it is a way to seed the local ecosystem with innovation that they can harvest later on.  Basel is especially suited for this because innovation tends to blossom where cultures overlap. This has been a factor in the city’s past success, and it is an asset that can be leveraged again.

Do we have enough data scientists?

You certainly have them in Switzerland. Data sciences have long been a strength of Swiss education. It goes hand-in-hand with engineering, physics and other sciences in which Switzerland excels. It is also an important advantage since there is an acute shortage of data scientists around the world. Processing the big data flows discussed earlier requires much larger numbers of data scientists that we are currently training. In America, this has been identified as a critical workforce issue. Switzerland is in a stronger position.

Would an open data platform work like a catalyst?

Scientists flock to data. In all scientific projects, a huge amount of resources – as much as 80% – is spent on data collection and cleanup, which are seldom the most interesting parts. If Basel can offer rich data that is already curated, scientists will be able to accomplish much more while focusing on the part of their work where they really add value. Having data in open free access will also help attract researchers from other disciplines who currently do not engage in biomedical research – such as mathematicians and artificial intelligence experts. Such cross-pollination is a powerful catalyst of innovation.

About Bernard Munos
Munos is a Senior Fellow at FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute, and the founder of InnoThink, a consultancy for biomedical research organizations. He regularly contributes to Forbes and is a board member and independent non-executive director of innovative healthcare companies.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer, Annett Altvater

report ICT

JELLIX IIoT Plateform, un pas de plus dans l’industrie connectée

03.07.2018

report Micro, Nano & Materials

Basel startup QNAMI wins seed capital

14.06.2018

report Innovation

“We want to improve the visibility of startups at the University of Basel”

06.11.2017

Christian Elias Schneider has been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel for eight months now. His job is to promote entrepreneurship and projects in collaboration with industry.

Mr. Schneider, you took on a newly created post at the University of Basel. The idea is to give innovation a face at the university. What specifically does that mean in terms of your work?

We picked two focal areas: first, attention should be drawn to the topic of entrepreneurship at the university. Researchers with good ideas should have incentives to monetize these ideas. And those who are already working towards this goal should receive more support. The second focal area is on collaboration with the business world. The objective here is to realize more projects together with industry partners.

How do you go about this task?

In the many conversations I’ve had with startups at the university in recent months, it has become clear that there are hardly any connections within this scene; many of the entrepreneurs have never met each other. Of course, many young entrepreneurs struggle with the same problems, so we brought them together and founded the Entrepreneurs Club to give them a platform for sharing and discussion. We want the entrepreneurs to see themselves as a team – a group that is recognized and valued by the university and by society. We can offer them access to people who would be difficult to approach individually.

What can you offer the entrepreneurs? What have they been waiting for, and what have they been lacking?

First, the startups at the university were lacking visibility. People didn’t know who they were, and they were often completely on their own. We believe our role is to offer them visibility – both within the university and externally – and help them build relationships with industry partners, the financial sector and other service providers. There are also plans to offer startups expert coaching and mentoring at an early stage.

For a few months you have been offering courses that teach University of Basel students and staff important startup skills, such as preparing business plans, handling IP rights and much more. How have these new resources been received?

Demand is huge. We have been practically overrun and overwhelmed by the success. As a result, we are considering to expand the service, with the goal of talking to students about these important issues at an early stage. The earlier that entrepreneurs deal with these issues, the fewer mistakes they will make later. For example, it’s important that we make researchers aware of IP issues very early in the game. Otherwise, they run the risk of revealing important knowledge too soon and then being unable to protect it. These courses offer help at an early stage, and this support can then be smoothly incorporated into coaching.

For the last eight months, you have been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel. What responses have you seen so far?

Everyone I’ve talked to in recent months has given very positive – in fact, enthusiastic – feedback about our innovation initiative and other resources. Clearly, it was time that the University of Basel actively tackled this issue and filled a gap.

On November 10, the University of Basel will be holding its first Innovation Day in Allschwil. What can we expect?

At the Innovation Day, we will demonstrate what is important to us: bringing people together, debating innovation, developing new ideas – and doing this in a stimulating and open atmosphere. More than 200 people have signed up, the waiting list is long and we’re happy that this new event has been so well received right from the start.

What would you like to achieve over the next two years?

Startups should feel at home at the University of Basel. The individuals should connect with each other, and an active, dynamic scene should emerge that will also interest startups in the region as a whole. In the long term, we may certainly evolve into a hub with an international appeal that will attract founders and young entrepreneurs. We want to help Basel become a preferred place for many startups to realize their visionary ideas. We will be able to do this only if we work closely with all partners: with the local universities, with institutions such as BaselArea.swiss – and, most importantly, with industry partners. In discussion with business, it is clear that the doors are open.

Interview: Matthias Geering, Head of Communications & Marketing at University of Basel

report ICT

Basel startup gains Europe-wide recognition

04.06.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

BaselArea.swiss Presents the DayOne Acceleration Program Supported by Fondation Botnar

29.05.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

13 startup projects qualify for the first phase of BaseLaunch

18.09.2017

The BaseLaunch Healthcare Accelerator program from BaselArea.swiss started on September 14. Over 100 applications were received from more than 30 countries, and the selection committee has selected 13 projects to go on to Phase I. Now, the project teams will work with industry experts to further develop their business case over the next three months.

More than 100 projects from over 30 countries were submitted to the BaseLaunch accelerator program from BaselArea.swiss. The submitted projects ranged from therapeutics and diagnostics to digital healthcare and medtech. Instead of 10 as originally planned, the selection committee chose 13 promising projects, which will now proceed to Phase I. "The innovation potential of the project proposals was impressive," says BaseLaunch Selection Committee Chairwoman Trudi Haemmerli, CEO of PerioC Ltd and Managing Director of TruStep Consulting GmbH. “We look forward to seeing how the chosen project teams fine-tune their business cases during Phase I.”

According to Stephan Emmerth, the BaselArea.swiss Business Development Manager for BaseLaunch, the selected projects cover a wide range of objectives: from new approaches for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's or novel immunotherapies to innovative drug delivery methods and next-generation gene therapies for cancer treatment. Other projects focus on new diagnostic procedures for finding cancer biomarkers or revolutionizing the detection of neurological diseases by deploying digital measurement methods.

The development stages of the projects were just as varied. Some projects were submitted by entrepreneurs wishing to establish a company with the support of BaseLaunch. Other projects came from existing startups that had already successfully managed the initial rounds of financing and wanted to further develop the company with the help of BaseLaunch. The founders of these companies and members of project teams also had different professional career histories. Some of the applicants selected for Phase I have many years of R&D experience in the industry; others come from a university background.

"We have chosen the most promising projects. Additionally, selected projects should benefit as much as possible from BaseLaunch and its regional life sciences ecosystem," says Alethia de León, Managing Director of BaseLaunch. “We paid particular attention to a sound scientific and technical foundation, a high level of innovation and the entrepreneurial potential of the founding team.” Alethia also commented on the productive and collaborative selection process with representatives from healthcare partners that included Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer and Roche. "Our discussions during the selection process were very constructive," she says.

The 13 selected startups will have three months from September 14 to develop their business ideas. They will be supported by the BaseLaunch team as well as a number of experienced entrepreneurs and consultants. In this first phase, up to CHF 10,000 will be available for each of the projects. The selection committee will then select three of the Phase I projects to progress to Phase II. This phase lasts for 12 months, with each project receiving funding of up to CHF 250,000. The selected project teams in Phase II will also have access to the BaseLaunch Lab in the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, where they will be expected to achieve important research milestones and further develop their business cases.


Overview of the selected projects:

ABBA Therapeutics develops therapeutic antibodies against novel targets for cancer immunotherapy.

The β-catenin project aims to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of colorectal, lung, liver, breast, brain and ovarian cancers by removing pathological proteins from the human body.

CellSpring analyzes human cells grown in special 3-Dimensional environments to develop new tools for diagnosing early-stage cancer.

Eyemove strives to detect early-stage neurological diseases through eye-tracking.

Polyneuron Pharmaceuticals is committed to the development of a promising new drug class to treat autoimmune disorders.

The SERI project develops new medicines to treat anxiety and stress related disorders by modulating the activity of cannabinoid molecules in the human body.

SunRegen develops novel drugs for neurodegenerative diseases.

T3 Pharma develops the next generation bacterial cancer therapy.

The mission of T-CURX is to exploit its unique ‘UltraModularCAR’ platform to provide best-in-class immunotherapy.

The mission of TEPTHERA is to offer individualized therapeutic cancer vaccines.

TheraNASH develops precision medicine for fatty liver disease (NASH) - a rising cause of liver cancer world-wide.

VERSAMEB is a regenerative medicine research and development company.

One biotech in stealth mode is developing novel Immuno-Oncology drugs.

report Precision Medicine

5 take-aways from the digital nudges in healthcare event

28.05.2018

report

Are you ready for the i4Challenge?

07.05.2018

report Precision Medicine

"In Switzerland, we often sell promising technologies too early"

05.09.2017

Ulf Claesson is a "serial entrepreneur". During the past 25 years, he has set up companies that have gone on to become firmly established in the market. In 2012, he joined Clinerion as CEO and shareholder. Since then, the company has positioned itself in the medical data field and recently entered into a partnership with British company Cisiv. Clinerion's software helps recruit patients for clinical trials run by major pharmaceutical companies – in real time. But the competition never sleeps. A growing number of competitors is now appearing, especially in the USA where there is no shortage of risk capital. In this interview for the Innovation Report, Claesson explains how the Basel-based healthtech company plans to maintain its leadership position.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer

Mr Claesson, what was behind your decision to get on board with Clinerion?

Ulf Claesson: Clinerion was originally an IT platform with a complicated name. Its founders hit upon the idea of building a large data hub for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. That was quite an ambitious idea. I reckon that the WHO or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could possibly manage it. But a small company in Basel? As an IT person, I quickly saw how good the core technology was.  What wasn't clear, however, was the problem that the technology was going to solve. So we started working on that and felt our way slowly but surely towards the patient recruitment use case. Today, we are the only company in the world able to identify in real time from millions of patient data records those patients who are suitable for a specific clinical trial.

So you have aligned the company with a particular niche?

Yes, absolutely. When you are building a company, you must concentrate on solving a genuine problem. Our technology gives the customer clear benefits. Finding patients usually takes months, sometimes years. We cut this to weeks, or less. We ensure that a pharma company, hospital or contract research organisation already before the start of a clinical trial knows exactly where candidate patients are located and exactly how many there are. Depending on the goal, the study protocol can then be optimised as required. Because we avoid guesswork and identify genuine patients who meet the study criteria in this very moment, the study design is robust and risk is minimised. Not only that, but a study sponsor knows exactly where and how many of his "sites" he must place. Real-time information is particularly valuable for this. As soon as I activate a study protocol, the doctors involved are notified and can call their patients in.

Is it easy to convince hospitals to collaborate with Clinerion?

We were rather naive about this at first. From an IT perspective, it makes sense to do everything in the cloud. That is exactly what we tried to do, but most people were negative about it. We also found that attitudes to data protection, as well as the regulations themselves, vary considerably from one country to the next. These factors make a cloud solution virtually impossible to implement. Today, we are installing a hardware appliance within a hospital's IT infrastructure. The data therefore remains exactly where it is collected and it is as secure as all other patient data. We can also only access consolidated and aggregated meta information, which earns us the trust of decision-makers and the people using the system.

What exactly motivates hospitals to disclose their data?

We all basically share the same objective of providing relevant patients with drugs as soon as possible. We play a role in achieving this. The university hospitals are carrying out research to some extent for their own interests. We help them to carry out their internal studies more quickly. The pharmaceutical companies remunerate the hospitals for each patient who participates in a study. The doctors feel that participating in interesting studies is important. In our experience, the number of studies that hospitals are offered increases significantly as soon as they start working with us.

How many patients do you currently have access to?

We have access to 35 million patients via the hospitals. And we certainly need that many. The numbers can start dwindling rapidly depending on the symptoms you are searching for.

You operate mainly in emerging markets such as Brazil and Turkey.  Why is that?

With the exception of the UK, Europe is more cautious about taking part in clinical trials. By 2020, Turkey expects to have increased the EUR 50 million turn-over in clinical trials in 2014 to EUR 1.5 billion. In Brazil, they are even changing the law to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to carry out more studies in the future. In clinical trials, it is important for all participating patients to receive the same standard of care. Participants in trials might therefore receive better care than usual. This applies to some countries in Eastern Europe, for example. For some patients, this can be an incentive.

Does your data acquisition prioritise emerging markets?

No, not exclusively. We are also well positioned in a number of European countries. But we can certainly do better. We would also like to expand our presence in India and Taiwan, for example. Great Britain is a key focus for us and our partnership with Cisiv will help here. We recently entered into a partnership with this UK company. Cisiv’s platform complements our screening programme perfectly.

It sounds like a data contest. How close is your main competition?

There are three competitors. But we are the only ones able to provide real-time results. Our competition in the USA, however, has access to much more capital. At the last investment round, one of our competitors raised 32 million dollars.

Do you find it difficult to compete with that?

It is certainly difficult for an ICT start-up in Switzerland to obtain those kinds of amounts. We are not completely dependent on external investment, however. We have a very loyal shareholder base and have sufficient funding, even though we are still a long way from being profitable.

Could a sale be on the cards?

Our vision is to provide patients with medicines. If we see that we can achieve this goal more quickly, we would be willing to consider it. But selling is not currently under consideration. I have already founded a number of companies. Some were sold too early, even though we could still have helped them progress through one or more growth phases. I am convinced that Clinerion will succeed in that regard.

Do you consider the lack of growth financing to be a problem for the Swiss start-up scene?

Most certainly. Good technologies tend to be sold off too early because their owners cannot find the money they need for the next major milestone, typically for the global expansion phase.  

What do you suggest?

Imitating Silicon Valley will get us nowhere. Also because costs there are unacceptably high at the moment. We really need to focus on our strengths. Just to give you one example: twice as many startups are established at ETH Zurich each year than at UC Berkeley. When universities foster a supportive environment, a start-up community develops all on its own. The students I meet at ETH are ambitious and full of energy. I also note, however, that many Swiss students prefer the security of working in a large corporation. We need a greater willingness to accept risk. We need to work on it.

How do you see innovation hub Basel?

We have good access to the sector here, and we can also recruit staff from neighbouring Germany. The labour market is therefore less competitive than in Zurich for example. We feel right at home here in Basel.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Annett Altvater

About Ulf Claesson
Ulf Claesson studied production technology at Chalmers University in Gothenburg and also gained a management degree at the University of St. Gallen. He worked for IBM and Hewlett-Packard, established spin-offs for various companies, and founded his own start-ups. In his lecture on "Technology Entrepreneurship" he passes on his experience as a "serial entrepreneur" to students at ETH. He is a member of the board of directors of various companies, the Foundation Board Director of the AO Foundation, and has been the CEO of Clinerion since 2012.

report

MIT Challenge Europe

26.04.2018

report Precision Medicine

Digital Nudges in healthcare - still to be explored

13.04.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

"I want to turn innovative research into new drugs"

04.07.2017

Each year some 250,000 patients develop a type of cancer because of faulty communication between cells. This malfunction occurs in what is known as the NOTCH signal path. There are currently no effective treatments – but this is set to change. Cellestia Biotech AG is developing an innovative drug against this type of cancer by using a novel active ingredient that selectively attacks the malfunctioning cell communication. The drug could be used to treat leukaemia, lymphomas and solid tumours such as breast cancer.

In 2014 Professor Freddy Radtke and Dr Rajwinder Lehal, who had dealt with this subject in his dissertation, founded the company Cellestia Biotech AG. In 2015, an experienced team of pharmacology and oncology development specialists led by Michael Bauer came on board, investing in Cellestia as co-founders. Bauer and his team had previously spent several years examining various projects in an effort to help shape the development of such a start-up company. We spoke with him about the risks and implications of founding a company.

Interview: Stephan Emmerth

Mr Bauer, how long did you have to look before you found a project you wanted to invest?

Michael Bauer: Over the course of many years and alongside my regular jobs, I and my colleagues examined, evaluated and rejected a number of projects – sometimes more intensively, sometimes less. Some of the projects were great, some being unbelievably innovative. However, something always led us not to pursue a project in the end.

The search did not just cost you a lot of time, but also a lot of money as you have to conduct due diligence every time.

We of course had to put effort into the search. You could say that we identified, examined and evaluated projects acting similar to a small venture fund. Thanks to the make-up of our team, we were able to undertake many of the tasks ourselves, at times bringing in experts. There were many instances when specialists from our network assisted us. There was a considerable amount of good will. To some extent we footed the bill ourselves.

Why did this not work out before Cellestia?

A number of conditions have to be met. The basis is of course excellent, innovative research results protected by patents. Also important are ownership rights to the inventions and reasonable licencing terms. Finally, there has to be agreement on the expectations of the people involved in the project. We have experienced pretty much everything. Many times it emerged over the course of the investigation that, for example, the research data was not quite so convincing as had initially been presented. Or the expectations with respect to the licencing conditions were too far apart. In one project, they wanted to sell us patents that had expired. It often happens that the scientists have unrealistic ideas about the value of their project. One retired professor who had tried in vain for many years to finance his company expected us to try for five per cent of the shares. This is of course not the basis for a partnership.

Juggling research and entrepreneurship is a big challenge, isn’t it?

It is necessary to develop an understanding of the relations and contributions of the various partners involved in such a project, each of who have very different personal risks. On the one hand, there is some 20 years of basic research behind Cellestia, 11 of which were at the EPFL. Rajwinder Lehal has been working concretely on this project for the past nine years, initially as part of his dissertation, then as a post-doc and since 2014 as Chief Scientific Officer. We respect this history from the management team and are happy to have access to the resulting knowledge. At the same time, the inventor’s side has to have regard for the entire expenditure: some five million of public funds were invested over the years at the EPFL. However, it could take hundreds of millions until a product comes onto the market. Moreover, the path from the first successful experiment in lab animals until a drug is approved for human use is long. Altogether, the cost of research could be marginal in comparison to the development and marketing, amounting to only a few per cent. And the development costs are paid for by the investors, who need the investment to pay off. All of these factors have to be considered and respected in a partnership. This worked with our team.

You have many years of industrial experience. What attracted you to the entrepreneurship?

The challenge of turning ground breaking inventions into products attracted me. I consider myself a product developer and had wanted to start a company even as a student. Looking back, I have to say that I am lucky to have gained nearly 20 years of professional experience in product development as it is important to be able to understand and appreciate just how complex the challenges are in product development in life sciences and pharma. This wealth of experience also helps you understand where your own knowledge ends and when experts have to be brought on board to be able to successfully advance a project or a company.

What was the incubation from first contact until you joined as co-founder at Cellestia like?

The current Chief Scientific Officer, Rajwinder Lehal, and I had been in regular contact with each other for a number of years. At that time, however, the project was not advanced enough to establish a company. Initially, Professor Radtke, Rajwinder Lehal and Maximilien Murone founded Cellestia in 2014. We met a few times in summer 2015 with the Lausanne research and founder team at i-net, the predecessor of BaselArea.swiss. Things moved quickly from there. In just a few meetings, we were able to evaluate the project and develop a good personal understanding, which for me and my partners was very important if we were to invest in Cellestia. We could agree on matters quickly, more or less by handshake. Then came the necessary contracts and in November we were already listed in the commercial register. Our lawyer and co-founder Ralf Rosenow saw to the formalities. We decided to move the headquarters from Lausanne to Basel but to leave the research activities in Lausanne, resulting in a sort of transcantonal partnership.

Why move the headquarters to Basel?

For us, the most important argument in favour of Basel was access to talent and resources for product development, resulting from the proximity to leading pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Roche, Actelion and many others. Such access to experienced development specialists is more difficult in Lausanne. In addition, our co-founder Roger Meier and other colleagues already have an active investor network in Basel with an affinity to the sector and Basel itself. We did not have such access in Zurich or Geneva at the beginning. I personally also like the quality of work and life in Basel. The city is of a manageable size yet international, with diverse cultural offerings. Furthermore, the Basel airport has excellent connections – you are in the middle of Europe and in just one to two hours you’re practically anywhere Europe, be it London, Berlin or Barcelona. Lausanne, on the other hand, has in its favour the outstanding academic environment with the EPFL and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research. Here, too, there is an excellent environment for start-ups, but in our opinion more toward engineering and technical disciplines or medicine technology. Many companies are founded each year at the EPFL and the innovation potential is enormous, but Cellestia is the first company founded at the EPFL that seeks to bring a drug to clinical development. We are happy to be able to combine the positive elements of both regions via what is now an established approach with two locations.

Which pre-conditions were decisive enough that you ended up collaborating and founding the company?

Actually, everything was right from the very beginning. First of all, the personal atmosphere between the people involved has to be right. This was also the basis in coming to a fair agreement for all co-founders with respect to understanding the evaluation and allocating the respective shares in the company at the time it was founded. On the other hand, it was of course crucial that the substantive examination of the project – as concerns both the scientific basis and the quality of the data – and the examination of the patent as well as license conditions of the EPFL were positive. Also important to us was that the risk profile is manageable, i.e. there is a good balance between innovation and reference to the research already carried out.

How will Cellestia develop further operationally?

Cellestia already has a long history, starting with the research activities at the EPFL. When the management team was expanded in 2015, other co-founders joined at the same time that I did: Dirk Weber as Chief Medical Officer, as well as the already mentioned co-founders Ralf Rosenow and Roger Meier. Cellestia now has six employees. Then there are the numerous service and consulting mandates, which complement our internal resources as needed. If you take into consideration external services, I reckon there are now well over 100 people involved in Cellestia. We expect that we will continue to grow in the direction of clinical development as our first project progresses and further expand the team. Moreover, we would like to develop additional products in our pipeline as soon as possible. This will definitely require additional financial resources. The Board of Directors will also develop further, expanding and adapting with each financing round in order to properly represent new investors. Research work is increasingly being carried out by external services providers, and at the same time continuing in the laboratory of Professor Freddy Radtke at the EPFL. We are currently setting up new framework agreements with the EPFL concerning the further use of their infrastructure. The flexibility there is very helpful for us.

What are the next milestones?

A key milestone is the treatment of the first cancer patients. We hope to be able to treat the first patients in October.

How are the clinical studies organised?

The course of a clinical trial for new drugs is strictly regulated. In the Phase I study, the compatibility of the active ingredient is first examined. This is when we treat patients who are suffering from a form of cancer in which NOTCH most likely plays a role. In the following Phase II study, the efficacy of our drug is researched in different types of cancer. This is when we select patients in whom activation of the NOTCH signal path is detected with a Cellestia diagnostic method. The therapeutic benefit for these patients is therefore very likely.

Have there been any surprises so far?

No, not really, because we have considered everything. Or yes, but pleasant surprises: due to the considerable amount of preparatory work, we were already quite certain with respect to the effect mechanism. It has now finally been possible to detect the precise binding mechanism of the drug, which confirmed all former studies. This is also the basis for significantly expanding the programme. We can now build a new platform on whose basis we can generate new drugs for new indications. In addition, it was not that easy to manufacture the drug in large quantities and in a high quality. Innovative steps were needed, which ultimately leads to a patent.

What do you have in mind for the next five years?

We are very optimistic about Cellestia’s prospects for success and are planning the next couple of years in detail. We of course also have a plan for the overall development over the next five years, but as experience shows, such plans always change with the results obtained. This is also the fascination and challenge in medication development – it does not allow you to plan everything in detail, and you have to respond flexibly to new results. This also applies to possible setbacks, of course. It is important to have sufficient reserves to deal with these and resolve them. Thanks to the successful financing rounds that we could close in January 2017, we are in a position to begin with Phase I while at the same time pursue further financing.

Who has invested in Cellestia so far?

The first investors after the deposit of the initial capital were predominantly many of our advisors, i.e. experts who are familiar with the sector as well as private people involved in life sciences and the pharma sector as investors. Around one-third of the shareholders are experts from the pharma and life sciences setting. Over the course of the Series A, B and C financing rounds, larger investments from family offices also came. The first institutional investor, the PPF Group, invested after its own, extensive due diligence that was conducted by experts from Sotio. So far, we’ve been able to mobilise a total of CHF 8 million to drive product development at Cellestia. In preparation of the next financing round, we are in talks with private investors, venture funds and pharmaceutical companies. We are confident that we will be able to win good partners for Cellestia’s next phase. The right combination of partnerships and financing is important. We need strong partners on board to give patients access to our medications quickly.


About
Michael Bauer (born 1966) has been CEO at Cellestia since November 2015. He studied chemistry at the University of Hamburg and completed his doctoral in biotechology from 1994 to 1997 at the Hamburg-Harburg University of Technology. After working in metabolic research at Zeneca in England, he moved to Syngenta in Basel in 2001 where he worked as Global Regulatory Affairs Manager in project and portfolio management. From 2007 to 2009 he was a project leader at Arpida, a biotech firm in the field of antibiotics development. From 2009 to 2012 he was a Global Program Manager at Novartis where he led global development projects in the field of oncology and brought a range of products to clinical development. From 2012 to 2015 he was the Head of Clinical Development at Polyphor.

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Industrie 4.0 am südlichen Oberrhein

03.04.2018

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Speed Dating 4.0 in Gaggenau

02.04.2018

report Invest in Basel region

Roivant is creating a buzz in Basel

13.06.2017

Roivant Sciences, a fast-growing life sciences company from the US, recently opened its global headquarters in Basel. In celebration of their newly established location, Roivant, together with BaselArea.swiss, invited stakeholders from the life sciences sector to “Halle 7, Gundeldingerfeld” in Basel on June 8th 2017 for a panel discussion on the future of healthcare.

More than 150 guests were interested in hearing this success story first-hand from Roivant Sciences’ founder and CEO, Vivek Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy, a member of the renowned “Forbes 30 Under 30” list and also named a “prodigy” by Forbes magazine for the biggest biotech IPO in US history, gave a trenchant keynote speech before being joined by a panel of experts from Basel’s pharma and biotech industry.

Ramaswamy explained his mission: “We concentrate on promising science and passionate people to systematically reduce the time, cost and risk of bringing new medicines to market”, he said. Roivant Sciences buys and develops drugs that are shelved by other large pharmaceutical companies, and that are stuck in the middle of the drug development traffic within the organization. Ramaswamy’s mission is to create an “alternative highway” by bringing together top talent in drug development and other industries and focus on those assets within lean and dynamic structures. Ramaswamy is certain that data will make the difference in bringing drugs speedily to market.

Roivant Sciences is the umbrella company of five (and the number growing!) late-stage biopharma companies in different therapeutic areas: Axovant tackles dementia, Dermavant deals with dermatology, Myovant focuses on women’s health, Urovant concentrates on urology and Enzyvant develops therapies for patients with rare diseases. All Roivant-family companies can tap into standard capabilities built at Roivant, while each company can develop capabilities of their own to address their specific market requirements.

Settling in Basel without red tape

In his speech, Ramaswamy also made a case for Basel as a headquarters location: “Different nationalities are coming together in this place, three different languages are spoken on the street.” Although relatively small, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft would be “punching way above their weight”. He also mentioned the thriving biotech scene and the deep humanistic tradition in Basel. In addition, Ramaswamy thanked the Basel authorities for lowering barriers in setting up a business: “There was no red tape. They made setting up here a pleasure.”

During the subsequent panel discussion, Vas Narashimhan, Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer at Novartis, Jonathan Knowles, Chairman of the board of directors at Immunocore Limited, David Hung, CEO of Axovant and Vivek Ramaswamy discussed the future of healthcare. Moderated by Alethia de Léon from BaseLaunch, the conversation included topics such as data collection, and critical questions about the current challenges and opportunities of the pharma industry were raised. Big data and biomarkers were some of the highlighted topics as potentially helping to address some of the R&D productivity issues the industry is currently facing. 

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Non-dilutive fundings – great offers of Innosuisse and European Programs

29.03.2018

report Invest in Basel region

Technologiepark Basel verdoppelt seine Fläche

19.03.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Investing in strengths – Swiss leadership in life sciences

15.05.2017

How can Switzerland and the Basel region maintain their international leadership role in life sciences? As part of the Biotech and Digitization Day, Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann visited the Basel region to discuss current trends and challenges with a high-ranking delegation from politics, business, research and start-ups.

The importance of life sciences for the Swiss economy is enormous. Last year, the sector was responsible for 45% of total Swiss exports. Similarly, the majority of new relocations are active in the healthcare sector. Switzerland is said to a leading life sciences location in the world with the Basel region as its engine.

It is against this backdrop that Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, was invited by BaselArea.swiss and digitalswitzerland to visit the Basel region as part of the Biotech and Digitization Day to discuss current trends and challenges in life sciences with a high-ranking delegation from politics, business and research.

The event was held at Actelion Pharmaceuticals and the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area in Allschwil in the canton of Basel-Landschaft. Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann emphasised the significance of the region and life sciences industry: “The two Basels have a high density of innovation and successful companies, research institutes and universities. This fills me with pride and confidence. Pharmaceuticals and chemistry are rightly regarded as the drivers of innovation.” But Switzerland cannot rest on its laurels if it is to remain successful in the future; business and politics, science and society must all use the digital transformation as an opportunity, he insisted.

The event was organised by BaselArea.swiss, which promotes innovation and business development in the northwest Switzerland cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura, and digitalswitzerland, the joint initiative of business, the public sector and science, whose aim is to establish Switzerland as a leading digital innovation location in the world.

Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann is currently visiting Switzerland’s leading regions to get an impression of the effects of digitalisation on different business sectors and to talk about promising future concepts.

Supporting biotech start-ups

Life sciences are regarded as a cutting-edge sector with considerable growth potential. But competition among the different locations is becoming more aggressive as other regions in the world are investing heavily to promote their location and attract large companies. A central question of today’s event was: How can Switzerland and the Basel region maintain its leadership role in the face of international competition?

Given its major economic importance in life sciences and when measured against other leading locations worldwide, Switzerland has comparatively few start-ups in this industrial sector. With the launch of BaseLaunch, the new accelerator for healthcare start-ups, BaselArea.swiss and the Kickstart Accelerator from digitalswitzerland have taken a first step to changing this. However, in addition to the lack of seed capital in the early phase of a company’s development, there is also a lack of access to the large capital that an established start-up requires in order to expand. Said Domenico Scala, president of BaselArea.swiss and a member of the steering committee of digitalswitzerland: “We have to invest in our strengths. This is why we need initiatives like Swiss Future Fund, which aims to enable institutional investors to finance innovative start-ups.”

The importance of an innovative start-up scene for Switzerland as a centre of life sciences was also a topic for the roundtable discussion that Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann held with Severin Schwan, CEO of the Roche Group, Jean-Paul Clozel, CEO of Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Andrea Schenker-Wicki, rector of the University of Basel, and others.

Digitalisation as a driver of innovation

The second topic at the Biotech and Digitization Day was digitalisation in life sciences. According to Thomas Weber, a member of the government of the canton of Basel-Landschaft, this is an important driver of innovation for the entire industry and is crucial to strengthening Switzerland as a centre of research.

In his speech, Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann focused on three aspects: first, the creation of a new and courageous pioneer culture in which entrepreneurship is encouraged and rewarded for those who dare to try something different. Second, more momentum for start-ups by realising an initiative for a privately financed start-up fund. And third, shaping the role of the state as a facilitator that opens up spaces rather than putting up hurdles or bans.

In the public discussion round, in which representatives from research and industry as well as entrepreneurs participated, it became clear that digitalisation is changing life sciences. Everyone agreed that Switzerland has the best conditions to play a leading role in this transformation process. The basis for this are its powerful and globally actively pharmaceutical companies, its world-renowned universities and an innovation-friendly ecosystem with digitally driven start-ups from the healthcare and life sciences fields. 

digitalswitzerland wants to promote this, too. According to Nicolas Bürer, CEO of digitalswitzerland, healthcare and life sciences are key industries to making Switzerland the leading digital innovation location.

A further contribution can be made by the DayOne, the innovation hub for precision medicine. Launched by BaselArea.swiss in close cooperation with the canton of Basel-Stadt, it brings together on a regular basis a growing community of more than 500 experts and innovators in an effort to share ideas and advance projects.

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Branch of Innovation Park in Jura

14.03.2018

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New Venture Assessment turns young entrepreneurs into experts

13.03.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

BaseLaunch can take full advantage of the potential of Basel's life sciences ecosystem

15.03.2017

The new accelerator for healthcare ventures, BaseLaunch, wants to link the best start-ups to the Basel region – and in doing so, provide impulses for major players. The project will consistently focus on quality and the concentrated know-how in the region, says Managing Director Alethia de Léon.

Financial support through BaseLaunch can be as high as CHF 10’000 per project. Startups accepted for the second phase will receive grants up to CHF 250’000. Other regions have tens of millions at their disposal. Are you even competitive?

Highly generous programmes in the EU and around the world have shown that it is not enough to distribute a lot of money with open hands. Rather, we have to make sure that the investments go to the most promising projects, namely those with a suitable team likely to effect a successful development from an idea to the market. In short: quality – and not quantity – has topmost priority for BaseLaunch.

What makes BaseLaunch unique?

BaseLaunch focuses on the entrepreneurs. Startups accepted for the programme will receive non-repayable funding, instead of equity financing that has to be repaid. Additionally, Basel is a life sciences ecosystem with one of the highest densities of biopharmaceutical enterprises globally and has an incredible pool of talents and specialists. Our healthcare partners, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and Novartis Venture Fund offer direct access to valuable industry knowledge and experience relevant to develop and boost transformative healthcare solutions. Together, this allows us to give market-relevant advice suited to the needs of every single start-up company.

What types of projects is BaseLaunch especially suitable for?

BaseLaunch is open to all projects in the healthcare field. Geographically, our focus is on Switzerland and Europe. Our laboratories in Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area specialise on therapeutics, but innovative concepts in the diagnostic and medtech fields are also welcome to participate in the accelerator.

Operationally, the accelerator is managed by BaselArea.swiss but operates under a different name. Why such a setup?

BaseLaunch seeks to find the most innovative and promising healthcare start-ups, support them and embed them into the local healthcare ecosystem. This makes BaseLaunch an important part of the core activity of BaselArea.swiss. Due to the different financing and decision-making structures and in line with a focussed market presence and a particular target groups, it made sense to launch the project under a different name.

Is it then the role of the state to invest in start-ups?

No public funds are invested in the projects. The cantons are financing the operational running of BaseLaunch. But what goes directly into the start-ups comes from the private sector. With BaseLaunch, BaselArea.swiss is thus providing the right framework conditions as a neutral partner of industry fostering the emergence of new companies with suitable programmes. And don’t forget that other places are very much on the offensive with public resources. It’s important not to fall behind. We have to remain in the fiercely competitive bid to be an attractive location – without, however, distorting our liberal economic order.

Why do we need more start-ups?

Start-ups are needed first and foremost to create added value from knowledge. If we invest billions into academic research, this also needs corresponding structures to make innovations out of inventions. It’s been shown that start-ups are taking on a more and more decisive role in this respect. In addition, start-ups have the potential to grow rapidly when successful and create a great number of high-quality jobs. Actelion, which began as a start-up, is the best example of this. While BaseLaunch succeeds in working with the best start-up projects, this also generates impulses for established companies and the ecosystem as a whole. BaseLaunch thus contributes toward raising the region’s attractiveness as Europe’s leading life sciences hub.

Is the Basel region even interesting for start-ups? Isn’t the cost of living likely to frighten away entrepreneurs?

Silicon Valley, London or Boston is not more affordable. The unique advantage of Basel’s life sciences ecosystem – its concentration of talent, pharmaceutical decision-makers and capital, which are unrivalled in Europe – ultimately tip the balance in our favour in the eyes of company founders. We have seen that the Basel region scores well in these critical areas – which are “must haves” especially for young companies – that, all things considered, the overall package is more than enough. This can be seen in the steady increase in companies being founded from outside the region in recent years.

For more information about the project, please visit www.baselaunch.ch

 

About Alethia de Léon

Born in Mexico, Alethia de Léon studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School. After working in healthcare investment and product development, she was Global Head of Search and Evaluation, Business Development and Licensing for the Neuroscience Business at Novartis until 2015. In addition to managing BaseLaunch, Alethia de Léon is CEO and founder of the start-up Senes Science GmbH.

 

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La deuxième édition de l’Innovation Lounge s’est penché sur l’industrie 4.0

12.03.2018

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Indian biotechnology firm to build plant in the Canton of Jura

12.03.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Blogging, tweeting, sharing and liking: BaselArea.swiss goes social media

09.02.2017

BaselArea.swiss has a new social media presence. At its heart is the Innovation Report, which serves as a blog regularly providing information on important issues from our services segments and technology fields, as well as delivering important information for the innovation landscape of Northwest Switzerland. The Innovation Report offers the opportunity to filter, share and comment on innovations.

BaselArea.swiss on LinkedIn
On LinkedIn we not only have a presence with a general company page, but also have four so-called showcase pages on our services segments Invest in Basel Region, Connecting Innovators, Supporting Entrepreneurs and Accessing China. These are managed by our experts and offer a broad view of activities and events both in Northwest Switzerland and further afield. We love to attract followers – also on the general company page, which provides information primarily on events or regional news.

Even more interaction and up-to-date information from the various fields of innovation are promised by our LinkedIn groups Life Sciences by BaselArea.swiss, Medtech by BaselArea.swiss, Micro, Nano & Materials by BaselArea.swiss and Production Technologies by BaselArea.swiss, which are administered by the respective Technology Field managers. They keep visitors who are interested in these fields informed about the latest developments in the technologies concerned both in Northwest Switzerland and further afield.

Special groups on LinkedIn
BaselArea.swiss also has another three LinkedIn groups: 3D Printing Schweiz, Entrepreneurs in Northwestern Switzerland and Precision Medicine Group Basel Area. In the Precision Medicine Group, industry experts from Novartis, Actelion and Roche, together with BaselArea.swiss, form an open and highly specialized community of experts, researchers and entrepreneurs. The aim is to tap into the growing digitalization with a view to developing new chances and opportunities for the life sciences and healthcare industry.

The aim of the 3D Printing Group is to document the rapid development of this technology worldwide and invite those interested to share their thoughts and comments. The Entrepreneurs Group is designed for people who have already benefited from our services and also investors, experienced entrepreneurs and SMEs that would like to know what young entrepreneurs in the region need and what drives them.

BaselArea.swiss also on Twitter and Xing
@BaselAreaSwiss tweets on Twitter. Whether you keen to receive notice of events, the latest news, information on interesting innovations from partners or even just an amusing story, BaselArea.swiss keeps you up to date here with its own contributions, retweets and favourites.

BaselArea.swiss is also represented on Xing with a company page. Here we provide regular information on exciting events and innovations in a wide range of fields from the north-western region of Switzerland.

Look us up on the social media channels and get in touch!
We look forward to a lively exchange of ideas and hope to gain lots of new followers.

Link list

Innovation reports: Link
Twitter: Link
Xing: Link
LinkedIn BaselArea.swiss
company page:
Link                                                                  
LinkedIn showcase pages: Invest in Basel Region
Connecting Innovators
Supporting Entrepreneurs
Accessing China
LinkedIn technology groups: Life Sciences by BaselArea.swiss
Medtech by BaselArea.swiss
Micro, Nano & Materials by BaselArea.swiss
Production Technologies by BaselArea.swiss
Other LinkedIn groups: 3D Printing Schweiz
Entrepreneurs in Northwestern Switzerland
Precision Medicine Group Basel Area

 

Article written by Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss  

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Call for the Swissbiolabs Challenge at the 2nd Swiss Diagnostics Start-Up Day in Olten

01.03.2018

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report Life Sciences

“The Basel region should not simply be part of the transformation, but should be helping t...

07.12.2016

Dr Falko Schlottig is Director of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwest Switzerland (FHNW), in Muttenz. He advises start-up companies in the life sciences and has founded start-ups himself.

In our interview, he explains how the School of Life Sciences would like to develop, why close interdisciplinary collaboration is so important and what future he foresees for the health system.

You come from industry and have also been engaged in start-ups yourself. Is it not atypical now to work in the academic field?
Falko Schlottig*:
If it were atypical, we would be doing something wrong as a university of applied sciences. Many of the staff at the FHNW come from industry. That’s important, because otherwise we could not provide an education that qualifies students for their profession and because through this network we can drive applied research and development forwards. With our knowledge and know-how we can make a significant contribution to product developments and innovation processes.

Is this how the FHNW differs from the basic research done at universities?
It’s not about making political distinctions, but about a technical differentiation. As a university of applied sciences, we are focused on technology, development and products. The focus of universities and the ETH lies in the field of basic research. Together this results in a unique value chain that goes beyond the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland. This requires good collaboration. At the level of our lecturers and researchers, this collaboration works outstandingly well, for example through the sharing of lectures and numerous joint projects. On the other hand, there is still a lot of potential in the collaboration to strengthen the life sciences cluster further, for instance in technology-oriented education or in the field of personalized health.

Does “potential” mean recognition? Or is it a question of funding?
Neither nor! The distinction between applied research and basic research must not become blurred – also from the students’ perspective. A human resources manager has to know whether the applicant has had a practice-oriented education or first has to go through a trainee programme. It’s a question of working purposefully together in technology-driven fields even better than we do today in the interest of our region.

Are there enough students? It’s often said there are too few scientists?
Our student numbers are slightly increasing at the moment, but we would like to see some more growth. But the primary focus is on the quality of education and not on the quantity. What is important for our students is that they continue to have excellent chances on the jobs market. Like all institutions, however, we are feeling the current lack of interest in the natural sciences. For this reason, we at the FHNW are committed in all areas of education to subjects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM subjects.

You have now been head of the School of Life Sciences at the FHNW for just over a year. What plans do you have?
We want to remain an indispensable part of the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland. We also want to continue providing a quality of education which ensures that 98 percent of our students can find a job after graduation. In concrete terms, this means that we keep developing our teaching in terms of content, didactics and structure and follow the developments of the industrial environment and of individualization with due sense of proportion. In this respect, we’ve managed to attract people with experience in the strategic management of companies in the industrial field and people from institutions in the healthcare and environment sectors to assist us on our advisory board.
In research, we will organize ourselves around technologies based on our disciplinary strengths and expertise in the future and will be even more interdisciplinary in our work. We will be helped by the fact that we are moving to a new building in the autumn of 2018 and will have one location instead of two. In terms of content, we will establish the subject of “digital transformation” as an interdisciplinary field in teaching and research with much greater emphasis than is the case today. Finally, we should not simply be part of this transformation, but should be helping to shape it.

Apropos “digital transformation”, IT will also become increasingly important for natural sciences. Will the FHNW train more computer scientists?
Here at the School of Life Sciences we are successfully focused on medical informatics; the FHNW is training computer scientists in Brugg and business IT specialists in Basel. But we also have to ask ourselves what a chemist who has attended the School of Life Sciences at the FHNW should also offer in the way of advanced IT know-how in future – for example in data sciences. The same applies to our bioanalytics specialists, pharmaceutical technology specialists and process and environmental engineers. Nevertheless, natural science must remain the basis, enriched with a clear understanding of data and related processes. Conversely, an IT specialist who studies with us at the School of Life Sciences also has to come to grips with natural science issues. This knowledge is essential if you want to find a life sciences job in the region.

Throughout Switzerland – but also especially in the Basel region – there is a lot of know-how in bioinformatics. But from the outside, the region is not perceived as an IT centre. Should something not be done to counteract this perception?
We do indeed have some catching up to do in the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland. The important questions are what priorities to focus on and how to link them up. Is it data mining – which is important for the University of Basel and the University Hospital? Or is it the linking of patient data with the widest variety of databases in order to raise cost-effectiveness in hospitals, for example? Or does the future lie in data sciences and data visualization to simplify and support planning and decision-making, which is one of the things we are already doing at the School of Life Sciences? The key issue is to know what data will serve as the basis of future decision-making in healthcare. Here it is also a question of who the data belongs to and both how and by whom the data may be used. This is one of the prerequisites for new business models. Since we are engaged in applied research, these issues are just as important for us as they are for industry. This hugely exciting discussion will remain with us for some years to come.

The School of Life Sciences at the FHNW covers widely differing areas such as chemistry, environmental technology, nanoscience and data visualization – how does it all fit together?
It is only at first glance that these areas seem so different – their basis is always natural science, often in conjunction with engineering science. The combining of our disciplines will be even better when they are all brought together in 2018, at the very latest. You can see it already, for example, in environmental technology: at first glance, you wonder what it has to do with bioanalytics, nanoscience or computer science. But the School of Life Sciences is strong in the field of water analysis and bioanalytics, and one of the biggest problems at the moment is antibiotic resistance. To find solutions here, you need a knowledge of chemistry, biology, analytics, computer science and also process engineering know-how. As from 2018/19 we will have a unique process and technology centre in the new building, where we will be able to visualize all the process chains driving the life sciences industry today and in the future – from chemistry, through pharmaceutical technology and environmental technology to biotechnology, including analytics and automation.

You’ve been - and still are - involved in start-ups. Will spin-offs from the School of Life sciences be encouraged in future?
We are basically not doing badly today when you compare the number of students and staff with the number of start-ups. But we do like to encourage young spin-off companies; at our school, start-ups tend to spring from the ideas of our teaching staff. Our Bachelor students have hardly any time to devote themselves to starting up a company. On the other hand, entrepreneurial thinking and engagement form part of the education provided at the School of Life Sciences. After all, our students should also develop an understanding of the way a company works. A second aspect is entrepreneurial thinking in relation to founding a company. The founding of a start-up calls for flexibility and openness on our part: How do we deal with a patent application? Who does it belong to? How are royalties arranged? Our staff have the freedom to develop their own projects. Our task is to define the necessary framework conditions. We already offer the possibility today of a start-up remaining on our premises and continuing to use these facilities. We have reserved extra space for this in the new building. We also make use of all the opportunities that the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland offers today. This includes, for example, the life sciences start-up agency EVA, the incubator, Swiss Biotech, Swissbiolabs, the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, BaselArea.swiss and also venture capitalists, to name just a few. We are well-networked, and here too we are doing what we can to help foster the development of our region

Why do you think it is apparently so difficult in Switzerland to establish a successful start-up?
There are two factors in Northwest Switzerland that play a part: a very successful medium-sized and large life sciences industry means the hurdles to becoming independent are much higher. When you found a start-up, you give up a secure, well-paid job and expose yourself to the possible financial risks associated with the start-up. The second big hurdle is funding, especially overcoming the so-called Valley of Death. Compared with the second step, it is easy to obtain seed capital. Persevering all the way to market with a capital requirement of between one and five million francs is very difficult.

That should change with the future fund.
It would of course be fantastic if there were a future fund of this kind to provide finance of between one and two million francs. This would finance start-up projects for two or three years. In this respect, it is incredibly exciting, challenging and moving to see the whole value chain from research to product in use, to be familiar with networks and to be involved. Today this is almost only possible with a start-up or a small company. But in the end, every potential founder has to decide whether he or she would prefer to be a wheel or a cog in a wheel.

Will the healthcare sector look dramatically different in five or ten years?
Forecasts are always difficult and often wrong. The big players will probably wait and see how the market develops. The healthcare sector may well look different in five to ten years, but not disruptively different. We will see new business models, and insurers will try exploring new avenues. This may lead to shifts. At the moment we are experiencing the shift from patient to consumer. On the product side, the sector is extremely regulated, so it is not easy to launch a new and innovative product onto the market. In my view, many regulations inhibit innovation and do not always lead to greater safety for the patients, which is actually what they should do.

How could this transformation be kick-started?
I believe that we at the University of Applied Sciences in Northwest Switzerland have a major contribution to make here. For example, we take an interdisciplinary and inter-university approach collaborating on socio-economic issues based on our disciplinary expertise within strategic initiatives. In this way we are trying to our part to help find solutions or answers. Switzerland and our region in particular have huge potential in this pool of collaboration. This now needs to be exploited.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

*Prof. Dr. Falko Schlottig is Director of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) in Muttenz. He has many years of experience in research and product development and has held a variety of management positions in leading international medical device companies. Falko Schlottig has also co-founded a start-up company in the biotechnology and medical devices sector.

He studied Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry. He holds an Executive MBA from the University of St Gallen.

 

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Dr App – Digital transformation in the life sciences

30.11.2016

The future belongs to data-driven forms of therapy. The Basel region is taking up this challenge and investing in so-called precision medicine.
An article by Fabian Streiff* and Thomas Brenzikofer, which first appeared on Friday, 14 October 2016, in the NZZ supplement on the Swiss Innovation Forum.

So now the life sciences as well: Google, Apple and other technology giants have discovered the healthcare market and are bringing not only their IT expertise to the sector, but also many billions of dollars in venture capital. Completely new, data-driven, personalized forms of therapy – in short: precision medicine – promise to turn the healthcare sector on its head. And where there is change, there is a lot to be gained. At least from the investor’s point of view.

From the Big Pharma perspective, things look rather different. There is quite a lot at stake for this industry. According to Frank Kumli from Ernst & Young, the entry hurdles have been relatively high until now: “We operate in a highly regulated market, where it takes longer for innovations to be accepted and become established.” But Kumli, too, is convinced that the direction of travel has been set and digitalization is forging ahead. But he sees more opportunities than risks: Switzerland - and Basel in particular - is outstandingly well-positioned to play a leading role here. With the University of Basel, the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering ETH, the University of Applied Sciences Northwest Switzerland, the FMI and the University Hospital Basel, the region offers enormous strength in research. It also covers the entire value chain, from basic research, applied research and development, production, marketing and distribution to regulatory affairs and corresponding IT expertise. The most important drivers of digital transformation towards precision medicine include digital tools that allow real-time monitoring of patients – so-called feedback loops. The combination of such data with information from clinical trials and genetic analysis is the key to new biomedical insights and hence to innovations.

Standardized nationwide data organization
In rather the same way that the invention of the microscope in the 16th century paved the way to modern medicine, so data and algorithms today provide the basis for offering the potential for much more precise and cheaper medical solutions and treatments for patients in the future. At present, however, the crux of the problem is that the data are scattered over various locations in different formats and mostly in closed systems. This is where the project led by Professor Torsten Schwede at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) comes into play.

As part of the national initiative entitled Swiss Personalized Health Network, a standardized nationwide data organization is to be set up between university hospitals and universities under centralized management at the Stücki Science Park Basel. Canton Basel-Stadt has already approved start-up funding for the project. The standardization of data structures, semantics and formats for data sharing is likely to substantially enhance the quality and attractiveness of clinical research in Switzerland – both at universities and in industry. There is no lack of interest in conducting research and developing new business ideas on the basis of such clinical data. This was apparent on the occasion of Day One, a workshop event supported by BaselArea.swiss for the promotion of innovation and economic development and organized by the Precision Medicine Group Basel Area during Basel Life Sciences Week.

More than 100 experts attended the event to address future business models. Altogether 14 project and business ideas were considered in greater depth. These ranged from the automation of imaging-based diagnosis through the development of sensors in wearables to smartphone apps for better involvement of patients in the treatment process.

Big Pharma is also engaged
“The diversity of project ideas was astonishing and shows that Switzerland can be a fertile breeding ground for the next innovation step in biomedicine,” Michael Rebhan from Novartis and founding member of the Precision Medicine Group Basel Area says with complete conviction. The precision medicine initiative now aims to build on this: “Despite the innovative strength that we see in the various disciplines, precision medicine overall is making only slow progress. The advances that have been made are still insufficient on the whole, which is why we need to work more closely together and integrate our efforts. A platform is therefore required where experts from different disciplines can get together,” says Peter Groenen from Actelion, likewise a member of Precision Medicine Group Basel.

There is also great interest among industry representatives in an Open Innovation Hub with a Precision Medicine Lab as an integral component. The idea is that it will enable the projects of stakeholders to be driven forward in an open and collaborative environment. In addition, the hub should attract talents and project ideas from outside the Basel region. The novel innovation ecosystem around precision medicine is still in its infancy. In a pilot phase, the functions and dimensions of the precision medicine hub will be specified more precisely based on initial concrete cases, so that the right partners can then be identified for establishing the entire hub.

Leading the digital transformation
The most promising projects will finally be admitted to an accelerator programme, where they will be further expedited and can mature into a company within the existing innovation infrastructures, such as the Basel Incubator, Technologiepark Basel or Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area.

Conclusion: the Basel region creates the conditions for playing a leading role in helping to shape digital transformation in the life sciences sector and hence further expanding this important industrial sector for Switzerland and preserving the attractiveness of the region for new companies seeking a location to set up business.

* Dr Fabian Streiff is Head of Economic Development with Canton Basel-Stadt

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“I find it motivating to succeed together with others”

02.11.2016

Patrick Vergult is managing director of Actemium Switzerland Ltd, a provider of networked industrial and building automation with headquarters in Basel and five other sites in Switzerland.

In our interview, the native of Belgium explains what brought him to Switzerland, what objectives Actemium is pursuing and why he believes that, while Industry 4.0 will result in a revolution, we will only see an evolution in terms of the technology.

Your story sounds fascinating: you are Belgian, came to Switzerland in 1991 to work for Cern and are now the CEO of Actemium Switzerland – how did that come about?
Patrick Vergult*: In 1991 I arrived at Cern in Geneva as a freelance software engineer commissioned by ABB. At Cern I programmed cryogenic systems that could be cooled to minus 269 degrees Celsius. These systems are used to cool the magnets in the long ring of the particle accelerator until they reach the superconducting state. These magnets, which are as big as 10-storey building, detect the particles that arise when accelerated positrons and electrons collide. Actually my plan was to return to Belgium after six months, but then I stayed in Switzerland and have steadily extended my network. At that time, I was also co-founder of a company in Belgium called Iproco. The business was going very well here in Switzerland and so in 1998 we decided to establish a branch of Iproco in Switzerland. In 2001 this gave rise to Else Automation. Actemium came into being in 2013 as a result of the merger of Etavis Engineering, Controlmatic and our company, Else Automation.

What exactly does Actemium Switzerland do?
Actemium is basically a product-neutral automation company. We do not develop any products of our own, but integrate various automation and IT systems for our customers. In short, with our six business units we offer electrical, automation and IT technology for networked industrial and building automation, as well as overarching production management. Our objective is to remain with the customer from consultation, planning and implementation of a project right through to maintenance of the systems. After all, we have a strong connection with the products that we use and are very familiar with our customers’ processes.

What excites you about working for Actemium?
I find it motivating to create something together with other people and to be successful together. Actemium enables people like me, who have a very entrepreneurial spirit, to remain entrepreneurs, even though we belong to the large VINCI Group. Actemium is a network with a decentralized management structure. That means that, in this large entity, there are various small organizations – so-called business units – that operate as autonomous and agile players on the market. All our BUs are highly segmented, so that there is no competition between them.

Why was it decided to opt for Basel as headquarters?
The companies from which Actemium Switzerland emerged in 2013 already had a presence in the region. So in 2013 everything ultimately came together in Basel-Stadt. Originally we were competitors, if anything, which meant that our business units had to be well segmented. For us the pharmaceutical and chemical industries were and are hugely important. The pharmaceutical industry in particular invests a lot, Switzerland is an attractive hub and, above all, the Basel region has a very stable market.

Is it not difficult to prevail against the competition in the pharma hub of Basel?
Our competitors of course have a similar strategy. We try to stand out through other factors: The Actemium University offers training for customers and staff, and we also cultivate an internal network of talents for staff under 30 years of age known as Young at Actemium. Our young employees give presentations on the company from their own perspective at graduate fairs or universities – without the presence of a member of management. Trust is very important to us. This year we also introduced a Talent Award, for which theses can be submitted once a year by technicians and engineers. This annual prize will be awarded by us and external jurors from our customer base – for example from Roche, Novartis or Endress+Hauser. The aim of this award is to foster greater contact with universities and develop our own talents more. As part of this effort, we also train 20 apprentices every year and offer dual education studies for five or six students.

Is the strength of the franc a problem for Actemium?
We are fortunately heavily engaged in the pharmaceutical sector, where the strong franc only plays a minor role. Many pharmaceutical companies also export in dollars, a currency that has appreciated in value – which has offset the weakness of the euro to some extent. In fact, despite everything, we have steadily grown more than 10 percent in the last few years.

Aside from Switzerland, Actemium also has sites in Alsace and in Southern Germany – does this lead a trinational exchange?
It’s very important to us that our regional network is cultivated. The advantages of this to our customers and employees, however, depends heavily on their own personality. Some make intensive use of the opportunities, while others are perhaps a little more introverted and do not set as much store by networking. Beyond the three-countries corner, Actemium has business units in a further 35 countries. We are thus ideally positioned to service our customers; there are international working groups that share ideas and information on various issues. Recently, for example, a meeting took place in Paris on the topic of Industry 4.0. In the Basel region, we have established a three-countries corner network that meets three times a year to pool their strengths. We have already seen the first successes: a project in French-speaking Switzerland, for example, could only be tackled in the first place thanks to the pooling of knowledge by mechatronic experts from France and automation experts from Switzerland. This offers our customers huge added value of course, because they get everything from a single source. Actemium in Switzerland goes a step further: we have developed our own CV database, in which each of our 215 employees has posted his or her CV and expertise. The information is updated once a year at the performance appraisal interview with employees. In this way we can easily search for experts internally – regardless of whether we are looking for language skills or other expertise. And in fact we usually also find the skills we are looking for. Not the global Actemium network is expressing a strong interest in this solution. Digitalization continues its advance, and everyone is talking Industry 4.0.

How will this impact the work of Actemium?
We notice how the subject of Industry 4.0 tends to confuse our customers, because most of them don’t know exactly what it means. Industry 4.0 is not a ready-made solution that you can take out of a drawer – it differs from one customer to another. For this reason we will usually first get customers to explain what Industry 4.0 means for them – and then explain what we understand by it. In this way, we arrive at a shared understanding and a good starting point for successful projects. It’s not only about networking objects and gathering data in the Cloud – that’s just the beginning! When the data is in the Cloud, it requires smart conversion for the customer in order, for example, to improve the value chain. Industry 4.0 per se is not a revolution: technologies are used that have already been around for years. But it will lead to a revolution.

So it will take some time yet?
I believe so, because a lot of customers don’t yet seem ready to completely embrace the subject. Take a meat producer that organized a workshop on Industry 4.0, for example. The talk there was almost exclusively about SAP. The fact that the weather, for example, can influence people’s meat consumption and the production of meat could be rescheduled early on as a result did not register. In the future, visionaries who can show customers business opportunities in the area of Industry 4.0 will be in demand – I see great potential here. The strengths of the systems and technologies used have also not yet been exploited to the full by any means. There is still a lot of upward scope in the next 20 years.

What other trends do you see besides Industry 4.0?
We set great store by robotics, manufacturing execution systems and energy efficiency. As regards the latter in particular it is still early days. Our customers have so far had little incentive to invest in energy efficiency – this will probably not come about until there are legal requirements in place. I firmly believe that you always have to step outside your comfort zone, reinvent yourself and adapt in order to survive in the future. And I try to apply this philosophy at Actemium – so that the staff and thus also the company do not remain seated in their comfort zone for too long.

What do you expect from BaselArea.swiss and what would you like to see from the promotion of a region and innovation?
I think it’s great that there are neutral platforms like BaselArea.swiss. For when companies organize such events themselves, then it always happens for reasons of a concrete benefit that the company expects to derive from it. So neutral platforms are an advantage because they can also link up different networks.

What does Actemium want to achieve?
The basic values of the Actemium network place the focus on people. We invest an annual three to five percent of the payroll sum in further training for our employees. We cultivate the network and generate our own talent through the training of apprentices and the dual education system. But of course we also want to grow further – in order to establish a nationwide presence in the longer term. To make sure we remain sustainable, each business unit should occupy an innovative and future-oriented business area aside from its core expertise. But regardless of whether we are talking about employees, customers or shareholders, everyone should be happy. And we try to achieve this through healthy, stable and profitable growth.

And if you could wish for something for your company?
Then I would wish that we become the best automation company and the best employer in the field of automation nationwide. And we are well on track. If we achieve that, we can achieve anything – and we enjoy working hard on this every day.

Interview: Sébastien Meunier and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

*Patrick Vergult is the CEO of Actemium Switzerland Ltd., a company that offers solutions and engineering services in the field of industrial and building automation. Actemium sees its mission as helping its industrial customers to modernize their factories and buildings and increase their profitability.

In 2001, Patrick Vergult was co-founder and major shareholder of ELSE Automation Ltd. The company joined the VINCI Group in May 2011 and became part of the Actemium network of VINCI in 2013. In addition, he founded curaVer Business Support, a company that provides consulting and support services mainly to foreign companies settling up business in Switzerland. He was also successfully involved in the restructuring of travel company Venture Europe, where he underwrote the financial risk.

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“This is the century of biology and biology for medicine”

05.10.2016

Andreas Manz is considered one of the pioneers in the field of microfluidics and at present is a researcher at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Saarbrücken (KIST Europe) and professor at Saarland University.

In our interview, the successful scientist explains the motivation that drives him to research and what it means to receive a lifetime achievement award from the European Patent Office.

You are known as a pioneer of microfluidics. How did you come to start researching in a completely new field?
Andreas Manz*:
Even as a child I was really fascinated by small things. They were mostly stones, insects or bugs that I took home with me. This interest in small things stayed with me, and eventually I went on to study chemistry at the ETH Zurich. In my PhD thesis I examined the natural law of molecular diffusion. If you entrap two molecules in a very small volume – rather like two birds in a cage – they cannot get away and become faster. I was instantly fascinated by this acceleration. My professor Willy Simon, an expert in chemical sensors and chromatography, talked in his lectures about processes can also get very fast when they are reduced in size. And that instantly fascinated me.

But so far you have been talking about pure chemistry – when did you get the idea of using chips?
I started working for a company in Japan in 1987. That’s where I first came into contact with chip technology. I was part of the research department myself, but I kept seeing colleagues disappearing into cleanrooms and coming back with tiny chips. That inspired me and got me wondering whether you could not also pack chemistry onto these chips instead of electronics. After all, even the inner workings of the tiniest insect involves the transportation of fluid, so it should also work on a small chip. At Hitachi I was eventually able to get my first microfluidic chip produced for test purposes.

From Japan your journey then took you to Ciba-Geigy in Basel. What prompted that move?
Michael Widmer was then Head of Analytical Chemistry Research at Ciba-Geigy in Basel. This brilliant fascinated me from the word go: he had the vision that you should also integrate crazy things in research and not only look for short-term financial success. Industry should allow itself to invest in quality and also develop or promote new methods in the research activities of a company if it could be of benefit to the company. So Professor Widmer brought me to Basel, where it was my mission to pack “the whole of chemistry”, as he put it, on a single chip. While Michael Widmer did not yet know what to expect, he had a feeling that it could be worthwhile.

How did you go about it?
At that time, chips were very new and not entirely appropriate for the world of pharmaceuticals. Ciba-Geigy, too, was not enthusiastic about the new application initially. There was no great interest in making changes to existing technologies and processes that worked. But in my research I was able to try out what might be possible. I found, for example, that electrophoresis – a method for separating molecules – could work. It would be relatively easy to miniaturize this method and test it to see whether it also speeds up the process. And the results were very good: We were able to show that a tenfold miniaturization of electrophoresis makes the process 100 times faster without compromising the quality of the information. This realization was really useful for clinical diagnosis and the search for effective molecules in drug discovery. At the same time, we were also testing different types of chips that we sourced from a wide variety of producers.

When did the time come to go public with the new technology?
At the ILMAC in Basel in 1996, Michael Widmer organized a conference in the field of microfluidics – which proved to be a bombshell. We had planned for this effect to a large extent, because in the run-up to the meeting we had already invited selective researchers and shown them our work. This hyped things up a little, and at the conference we were eventually able to mobilize researchers from Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, Japan and other countries to present the new technology of microfluidics.

Although the attention was there, Ciba-Geigy nevertheless later brought research in this field to an end. Why was that?
Basically we lacked lobby groups within the company and a concrete link to a product. Our research was somewhat too technical and far ahead of its time, and within Ciba-Geigy they were simply not yet able to assess the potential of the technology. Added to which, we had not given any concrete consideration to applications; we were more interested in the technology and experiments than in its commercial use. When a large picture of me then appeared in a magazine with a report on microfluidics, and the journal pointed out on its own initiative that Ciba-Geigy was not adequately implementing the technology, the research was stopped. I was quite fortunate under the circumstances: Since the company had terminated the project, I found that – despite a non-compete clause – I was able to follow the call to Imperial College in London within a short time, where I could continue research in microfluidics with students. In addition, I joined a company in Silicon Valley as consultant.

Is it not typical that a large company fails to transform a pearl in its portfolio into a new era?
You should not see it so negatively, because microfluidics was a pearl not for the pharmaceutical industry, but rather for environmental analysis, research or clinical diagnosis. The pharmaceutical industry dances to a different tune. It prefers to buy in the finished microscope at a higher price than get it constructed itself for relatively little money. Michael Widmer and his team in research and analytical chemistry at Ciba-Geigy developed many things in a wide variety of fields – with which were far ahead of their time.

Microfluidics is an established field today. What are the driving forces now?
To my mind there are two driving forces: firstly the application and the users and secondly academic curiosity as regards the technology and also training. The first of these is the stronger driving force: there are cases in which the application of a microfluidic solution is not absolutely necessary to do justice to the application. Take “point of care”, for example. The objective is to analyse a patient directly at the place where he or she is treated – for example, in intensive care. The patient is evaluated, blood and respiratory values are analysed, and it is possible to assess immediately whether the measures taken are having an effect in the patient. Another possibility is to integrate the widest variety of analytical options in smartphones – similar to the Tricoder in Star Trek. I’m pretty sure that something like that is feasible. But at the moment the hottest topic in the commercial sector is clinical diagnostics. This came as a surprise to me, because you cannot reuse a chip that has come into contact with a patient’s blood. You need a lot of consumable material, which is also reflected in the price. But perhaps new funding models can be found in which, for example, the device is provided, but the consumable material – i.e. the chips – are paid for separately, rather like a razor and razor blades.

Where do you see opportunities for Switzerland in this field?
The education of qualified people is important. Here the ETH and EPFL play a particularly important role for Switzerland, because they attract students from all over the world. They hopefully leave Switzerland with good memories and could possibly campaign later for the commercialization of technologies. That could be a huge opportunity. Of course there are also generous people within Switzerland, but there is a tendency here to economize and think twice before deciding whether and, if so, where to invest one’s money. It’s a question of mentality and not necessarily typically Swiss. It’s also not a bad thing, because in precision mechanics, for example, reliability and precision are essential – and this technology fits with our mentality. “Quick and dirty” works better in Silicon Valley and Korea – but the products then often fail to ensure up to the quality standards here. As a high-price island, Switzerland offers little, opportunity for cheap production, which is why the focus is on education and existing technologies. This too is very important and has a good future.

Will microfluidics one day become as big as microelectronics is today?
I don’t think so, because it is limited to chemical and cytobiological applications and is also not as flexible as microelectronics. At most, I see the new technology being used on existing equipment or processes.

But most of the systems on the market today are very much closed, so it is difficult to integrate new technologies here.
Yes, but that’s only partly true, because existing devices also have to be upgraded. Take a mass spectrometer, for example. You can buy one of these, and there are certainly many companies that sell this equipment. But if ten companies offer something equivalent, you have to stand out from the mass. So if a “Lab on a Chip” is added on, then this mass spectrometer enjoys a clear advantage. While the company makes money from the sale of the equipment, it is the microfluidic chip that gives the incentive to buy – and there is certainly a lot of money to be made from this. You see, we are living in the century of biology and medicine and are only just beginning to takes cells from the body to regenerate them and then perhaps re-implanting them as a complete organ. When you see what has been achieved in physics and electrical engineering in the last century, and translate that into biology and medicine, then we have an awful lot ahead of us. Technology is needed to underpin these radical changes. SMEs in particular are very good at selling their products to research; that’s a niche. In most cases, small companies use old technology and modify it – such as a chip in a syringe that then analyses directly what the constituents of a fluid are when it is drawn up into the syringe. This opens up many opportunities.

You have also co-founded companies, but describe yourself mainly as a researcher. How do the two go together?
Actually I was never an entrepreneur, but always just a scientific advisor. I preferred to experience the academic world instead of becoming fully engaged in a company. Deep down, I’m an adventurer who comes to a company with wild ideas. Money is also never a priority for me; I always wanted to improve the quality of life or give something to humanity. It is curiosity that drives me. When I see a bug that flies, that drives me to find out how it works. There are ingenious sensors in the tiniest of creatures, and as long as we cannot replicate these as engineers, we still have work to do. This inspires me much more than quarterly sales revenue and profits.

But money is also an important driver for research.
Yes, it’s all about money, right down to university research. Research groups are commissioned by companies because of the profit they hope to gain. Even publicly funded research always has to show evidence of a commercial application. Curiosity or the goal of achieving something of ethical value is hardly a topic in the engineering sciences. Of course it’s important that our students can also enter industry; after all, most of the tax revenue comes from industry. But if I personally had the freedom to choose, then I would prefer to pursue work as a form of play – which can by all means result in something to be taken seriously. Take electrophoresis on a chip: That was also quite an absurd idea to begin with, and it led to something really exciting! A lot of my work therefore has a playful, non-serious aspect to it – for me that is exactly right. You see, I can produce a chip which deep inside it is as hot as the surface of the sun, but which you can nevertheless hold in your hand. It’s crazy, but it works, because only the electrons have a temperature of 20,000 Kelvin. The glass outside does not heat up very much as a result, and the chip does not melt. And suddenly you have plasma emission spectroscopy on a chip as the result of a crazy idea. I feel research calls for a certain sense of wit, and I often like to say that, with microfluidics research, we take big problems and make them so small that you can “no longer see them”.

You have covered so many areas of microfluidics yourself – are other researchers still able to surprise you with their work?
Admittedly, I am rather spoiled today by all the microfluidic examples that I have already seen. Sometimes I feel bored when I go to a microfluidics conference and see what “new” things have emerged – I somehow get the feeling I’ve seen it all before. The pioneering days, when there was also a degree of uncertainty at play, are probably definitely over. Today you can liken microfluidics to a workshop where you get the tools you need at any given time. This means of course that the know-how has also become more widespread: Initially I possessed perhaps a third of all knowledge about microfluidics worldwide; today it is much less. So I now enjoy casting my research net further afield.

You received a lifetime achievement award from the European Patent Office last year. What does this award mean to you?
You cannot plan for an award – at most you can perhaps hope for one. When you then get it, it brings a great sense of joy. The award process itself was also exciting: as with the Oscars, there were three nominees: a Dutchman who developed the coding standard for CD, DVD and Blu-ray discs, which is still used to this day, and a researcher from Latvia who is one of the most successful scientists and inventors in medical biochemistry with more than 900 patents and patent applications. Faced with this competition, I reckoned I did not have much chance of the award and was absolutely astonished when I was chosen. The jury explained that its decision was down to the snowball effect: citations almost always refer to my patents at the time with Ciba-Geigy.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

*Andreas Manz is a researcher at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Saarbrücken (KIST Europe) and professor at the Saarland University. He is regarded today as one of the pioneers in microchip technology for chemical applications.

After positions in the research labs of Hitachi in Japan and at Ciba-Geigy in Basel, he took up a professorship at Imperial College in London, where he headed the Zeneca-SmithKline Beecham Centre for Analytical Chemistry. In the meantime he was also a scientific advisor for three companies in the field of chip laboratory technology, one of which he founded himself. In 2003, Manz moved to Germany and headed the Leibniz Institute of Analytical Sciences (ISAS) in Dortmund until 2008.

Around 40 patents can essentially be attributed to him, and he has published more than 250 scientific publications, which have been cited more than 20,000 times to date.

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BaselArea.swiss welcomes Biopharmaceutical Company Ultragenyx

06.07.2016

BaselArea.swiss Economic Promotion is pleased to announce that Ultragenyx, a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of novel products for rare and ultra-rare diseases based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, is opening their European headquarters in the city of Basel, Switzerland. Stefano Portolano, M.D., has been appointed Senior Vice President and head of Ultragenyx Europe. In this role, Dr. Portolano will be responsible for building and leading the Ultragenyx commercialization efforts across Europe and developing the company's European organization.

«Ultragenyx selected Basel as our European headquarters because of the area’s thriving life sciences community, accessibility to the rest of Europe, business-friendly environment and strong international talent pool,» said Dr. Portolano. «On behalf of Ultragenyx, I would like to thank the team at BaselArea.swiss for their partnership throughout this process, as they have been invaluable as we look to establish our European presence and help bring promising therapies to patients throughout the region. We are focusing on key hires to establish necessary capabilities so that we are ready to launch if we receive approval, and we are confident we will be able to find and attract key talents in Basel».

Dr. Portolano brings over 20 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry, in medical, commercial and general management roles in both Europe and the United States. He has worked both on pre-launch and launches of products for rare diseases, both at Genzyme and Celgene. Before joining Ultragenyx, he spent ten years at Celgene Corporation in increasing leadership roles, most recently as Vice President of Strategy & Commercial Operations, EMEA. Prior to Celgene, he worked at Genzyme for eight years. Dr. Portolano received his M.D. degree from Federico II University in Napoli, Italy. He completed his postdoctoral fellowship and served as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

About Ultragenyx
Ultragenyx is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company committed to bringing to market novel products for the treatment of rare and ultra-rare diseases, with a focus on serious, debilitating genetic diseases. Founded in 2010, the company has rapidly built a diverse portfolio of product candidates with the potential to address diseases for which the unmet medical need is high, the biology for treatment is clear, and for which there are no approved therapies.

The company is led by a management team experienced in the development and commercialization of rare disease therapeutics. Ultragenyx’s strategy is predicated upon time and cost-efficient drug development, with the goal of delivering safe and effective therapies to patients with the utmost urgency.

The company's website for more information on Ultragenyx

About BaselArea.swiss
BaselArea.swiss is responsible for the international promotion of the economic region of Basel, Switzerland. In a joint effort, the economic promotion agencies of the Swiss cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, and the Jura support expansion and relocation projects of foreign companies, and offer consulting services to entrepreneurs and startups. The identification and procurement of suitable real estate and properties for international and national companies is an important service of BaselArea. BaselArea’s consulting services for interested parties are provided free of charge.

report Precision Medicine

Basel Region - a fertile ground for Precision Medicine

03.10.2017

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BaseLaunch Accelerator gains another healthcare partner

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report Micro, Nano & Materials

«If a scientist doesn’t know how to recognise commercial potential, he won’t found a busin...

02.12.2015

Robert Sum and Marko Loparic are both entrepreneurs with a scientific background. In the i-net interview, they tell the stories of Nanosurf and Nuomedis, explain why the Basel region is a great place for their startups and what could be done to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the scientific environment.

Robert Sum, you co-founded Nanosurf in 1997, just shortly after completing your thesis. What motivated you to create your own startup?
Robert Sum*: I was motivated by the possibility of using my knowledge from university in a practical way. Towards the end of my thesis in 1995, I had the good fortune that Hans-Joachim Güntherodt was the rector, and together with the department of economic sciences he created a seminar for PhD students. The seminar was called «Start-up into your own company». My friend Dominik Braendlin and I registered for this innovative format. We had already worked together on research projects and we felt the need for a concrete application. Another good friend, Lukas Howald, approached us with the idea of Professor Güntherodt to design a simple and easy-to-use Scanning Tunnelling Microscope for schools. We liked the project and started to work on it. Luckily, the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) launched its startup initiative shortly after this. Thanks to the coaching, we were able to write our first real business plan and CTI decided it was worthy of support. Nanosurf is the only company from the first CTI support round which survived. I stayed with the company until 2014, but in 2009, I stepped back from operational management.

The next project followed immediately: Nuomedis.
Robert Sum: After Nanosurf, I started to work intensively with universities on scientific projects. This is how I met Marko Loparic. We worked together on two projects for a specific application in tissue diagnostics, which again was supported by CTI. In the end, we decided to found a «spin-out/start-off» company from Nanosurf plus the University of Basel, which became Nuomedis.

Marko Loparic, did you have any entrepreneurial background?
Marko Loparic*: I’m a medical doctor by profession. During my PhD at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, I worked with atomic force microscopy, AFM, and immediately realised that this nanotechnological device had very high potential for resolving crucial clinical questions. We saw not only great scientific potential - for example for understanding not only the mechanisms of tissue engineering, cancer development and metastasis, as well as drug activity, but also the diagnostic applications, such as early detection of osteoarthritis or cancer diagnosis. AFM helped us to explain biological functions because at the very first phase of a disease, the alterations in tissue are occurring at the nanometre scale. However, it was time consuming and very complicated using the microscope. So we developed little innovative algorithms which automated, simplified and enabled AFM applications in life sciences and clinics. At the end of my PhD studies, I spoke with my supervisors about how to commercialise all the simplifications when the collaboration with Nanosurf was initiated and the creation of the easy-to-use, AFM «Automated and Reliable Tissue Diagnostic», «Artidis», began.

What steps are planned next for Nuomedis?
Marko Loparic: We plan to take «Artidis» to the next level. From its use in physics, biology, chemistry and science, our next step is rather a big jump: to be the first company to introduce AFM technology into clinics.

This almost sounds like you had no choice but to found a company.
Robert Sum: We found an ideal situation: I had the experience to build up a company, combined with experience in technology development and knowledge of the startup environment; and Marko brought vast scientific and clinical experience at a high level. We started by thinking about the possible need and how to do business with it. Out of these ideas, we created a deck of PowerPoint slides – a lean business plan so to speak. It was clear to us that there was huge business potential which we wanted to realize.

Marko Loparic: From the start in 2005, working on the project was great, as the whole team was fully motivated. Everything developed very smoothly and nicely. Supporters even became investors, and we still enjoy a strong scientific collaboration with the Biozentrum. It’s great that the main patents are now granted worldwide – this is very important and will help us to attract further investors. Currently we are focusing on the transformation of the «Artidis» device into a clinical in-vitro medical device.

In fact, you have to create a demand among doctors and oncologists, don’t you?
Marko Loparic: At the moment, our main focus is on introducing to clinicians the breakthrough technology of nanomechanical profiling and the benefits which it brings to clinicians, hospital and patients. Our prototype is currently being evaluated and used in ongoing clinical studies at the Pathology Department of the University Hospital Basel. In the near future, we aim to confirm its effectiveness for breast cancer prognostics in order to reduce the problem of chemotherapy overtreatment. Nowadays, markers are not specific enough to distinguish with a high degree of probability which patients will benefit from chemotherapy and which will not. If we could reduce chemotherapy treatment just a fraction, we could make a big difference. Our main hurdles to entering the market are now regulatory obstacles, which we plan to overcome in the next two to three years.

How does your experience in founding Nuomedis compare with founding Nanosurf 18 years ago?
Robert Sum: Many things have changed regarding the environment. When we founded Nanosurf, the university was not focused on commercialising an idea. Business was perceived as something strange, and science was sacrosanct. This has changed dramatically. The word startup is almost a must nowadays for PhDs. Additionally, through TV shows and articles in the media, people are more aware that startups are a culture which needs to be fostered. However, starting a business is a lot of work, which has to be done with care. It is easier for me today, as I have some experience and won’t make the same mistakes again.

You support a lean startup approach – are business plans not needed anymore?
Robert Sum: I think there is a big misapprehension regarding the idea of the lean startup. A business plan is still needed - it’s essential that you know what your plans are. You need a concept, but it doesn’t have to be a book. You still need to know the basics at the very least, for example what the product is, who the customers are, where you see risks, how you produce or how you finance – to mention only a few. What lean startup means to me is that you should focus on the market and keep the customer in the centre.

Is it at all possible to use the lean startup method in the complex healthcare environment of Nuomedis?
Robert Sum: The problem in healthcare is that you don’t simply have a customer and sell a product. We are facing a complex health insurance environment based on a solidarity principle, and we have many stakeholders influencing the system, such as the hospital, the clinicians, other healthcare institutions, society or the company itself. It is indeed much more difficult to use the lean startup approach here.

Marko Loparic: Our major focus is on clinicians, and we use the experience we have in science and clinics to create awareness. Nevertheless, we are actively cooperating with other key stakeholders, such as hospitals, patient organisations, health insurers, clinical societies or government bodies, to facilitate accelerated development and keep the time to market as short as possible. Finally, at our demo site in the Pathology Department of the University Hospital Basel, we learn how the clinicians and hospital system operate, which is important to help us shape the device to match their needs. Hence, proximity to measurement site is key for the successful development and acceptance of technology, and our plan is to relocate in order to be as close as possible to the hospital.

Robert Sum: This is the typical process of understanding the market – and I think this is where Nuomedis has benefited from the lean startup approach.

How important was it for you to be in the Basel region? How does it foster your business?
Marko Loparic: Basel is a centre of nanotechnology and especially AFM, since Professor Christoph Gerber, who built the first AFM, is still active here together with many distinguished professors who are making great use of the technology to boost their scientific output. For us, Basel has all the ingredients for success: We have a city where technology is well supported and hospitals which are open-minded and ready for new technologies. Not to mention the Biozentrum and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, which offer great expertise and facilities for innovative projects.

Robert Sum: Another aspect is the economic environment of Basel with many pharma and medical technology companies. There is an entrepreneurial environment here with investments available. Not to mention the role of government: Basel-Stadt and Baselland collaborate very closely and, if we need some support for administrative issues, they are extremely open-minded and helpful.

What makes Basel a startup-friendly environment?
Marko Loparic: Positive factors in the region are its good infrastructure, both a national and international network, and its spirit of entrepreneurship. If you work in Basel, there are many options for learning how to commercialise your idea. This is true for the whole of Switzerland by the way. There are dedicated organisations and funds for each step you have to take in developing a business, ranging from CTI to investors and incubators. The i-net Business Plan Seminar was very important for me. In only one day, I learned a lot about how to construct a business. In my opinion, there is still a big gap between basic research and translational science.

Robert Sum: Either you are a good scientist or an experienced business person – it’s difficult to be both. This is an art that is nicely managed in Silicon Valley, and successful entrepreneurs become investors. And I guess something could be done here. Organisations like i-net are very important for networking ideas, and you can also find support at EVA or business parks. Not to mention Unitectra, which provides workshops for students on how to exploit intellectual property created at university. Indeed there are many supportive organisations, which can make you feel a little lost. CTI Start-up helped us to get an overview of the whole support landscape.

Marko Loparic: In my opinion, it’s all about education: If a scientist doesn’t know how to recognise commercial potential, he won’t make it. There are seminars to help, but you need an incentive to go to such seminars. What about scientists being approached from the business side? When you apply for a grant, you always need to stress the long-term outcome of your project and sometimes its commercial purpose. It would be great to have an organisation with the skills to read those grant applications and search for business potential. A person or organisation that could offer this could help create a great start-up environment.

Interview: Ralf Dümpelmann and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Robert Sum is one of the co-founders of Nanosurf AG and has served in different management positions as CEO, Head of Sales & Marketing and Business Development. During his time working in business development he managed the research collaboration with the Biozentrum for the project «Artidis», which is now the prime project of Nuomedis AG. After 17 years of management experience at Nanosurf Dr. Sum left to found Nuomedis AG with members of the Biozentrum team. Now Dr. Sum serves as CEO and member of the board.

*Marko Loparic, MD, is the key inventor of «Artidis» technology from the Biozentrum University of Basel. He managed the collaboration with Nanosurf for the «Artidis» project, which is now the prime project of Nuomedis AG. Now Dr. Loparic serves as the Chief Medical Officer and member of the board at Nuomedis AG. He is responsible for medical related concerns of the project and its implementation in the clinical setting.

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Basel start-up farms sustainable gourmet mushrooms

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Baloise to acquire MOVU moving platform

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report Medtech

«We will be certificating the world’s first autonomous robotic surgical device»

04.11.2015

The laser physicist and entrepreneur Alfredo E. Bruno is co-founder and CEO of the medtech start-up Advanced Osteotomy Tools (AOT) in Basel. Their surgical robot «Carlo» (acronym for Computer Assisted, Robot-guided Laser Osteotome) is an award-winning project (Pionierpreis 2014 and CTI MedTech 2015). The company will exhibit «Carlo» at the Swiss Innovation Forum 2015 on 19th November.

In the i-net interview, Alfredo E. Bruno explained his roadmap for AOT and what drives him to be an entrepreneur.

You are a laser physicist – what brought you to medtech?
Alfredo E. Bruno*: My younger daughter needed difficult orthognathic surgery to correct conditions of the jaw and face. This brought me into contact with Professor Hans-Florian Zeilhofer and Dr. Philipp Jürgens from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the University Hospital Basel. I was worried about my child, but the surgeons devoted a lot of time to explain the procedure to us. Their pre-operative approach to surgery fascinated me more and more. I asked the surgeons why they were not cutting bones with a miniaturized laser instead of mechanical tools to best reproduce the software-planned intervention. In another project, I had developed a laser of this kind to cut and drill through nails. At this point, we all realized that we could create something very useful together.

How did you gain your knowledge in surgery?
I had absolutely no idea about surgery until I met the surgeons – despite the fact that my father was a rural medical doctor. Indeed, when I see a drop of blood, I panic. But I wanted to know more about this new type of planned and navigated surgery the surgeons were talking about. I managed to find a good 160 publications and about 20 patents in the field, read them during vacations and became a «theoretical» surgeon. Reading these documents, I noticed that Professor Zeilhofer appeared as co-author in many of these publications and realized that he knew a lot about pre-operative planning and navigation. I started to design «Carlo» from scratch using all available state-of-the-art technology, and trying not to be biased by the robotic surgery products already on the market. What worried me most was the software, which is crucial to integrating the whole system. Hans-Florian Zeilhofer introduced me to Professor Philippe Cattin, an expert in navigation who liked the idea from the outset. He was the «missing link» to the realization of «Carlo».

Was it always clear that «Carlo» would be the goal of AOT?
As an entrepreneur, I made it very clear from the beginning that I wanted to have a product rather than a nice academic idea. Instead of writing a business plan, we first applied for patent protection of the innovations. The business plan came afterwards with a business model in which we at AOT would only focus on core technologies and would outsource the technologies mastered by other companies under contractual partnerships in order to reduce development time.

Were you ever afraid that AOT might fail?
While writing the business plan, I clearly saw that there was a need for our product. We had the right founder’s team, but I was worried about the funding, because there was a global economic crisis and investors had become cautious. Therefore, I decided to talk to a few experts I knew in the start-up media in Switzerland before launching the initiative. They reviewed the AOT case and encouraged me to pursue the project, because it was truly innovative and, for this kind of project, they argued that there are always funds available in Switzerland. And indeed, with our first pitch in BioBAC, we gained a lead investor. Shortly afterwards, we won the three stages of Venture Kick and I was then asked to participate in the Swiss Venture Day of CTI Invest to make a pitch. Despite some doubts I had about the completely new surgical device, many potential private and institutional investors were literally queuing right after my presentation to talk to me about the «Carlo» device and AOT as an investment opportunity.

Why do you think your pitch attracted potential investors?
I think the every one of the technical founder’s team had a remarkable technical record which inspired trust, and I also have a good entrepreneurial record, all of which make up the ingredients investors are looking for to fund new projects. The pitch is key to convincing investors. We cannot afford to devote much time to making «professional» slides, but the audience realizes that we have an unbeatable project and know what we are doing; and they can see during the Q&A sessions that we are very authentic.

In the beginning, you faced some criticism with regard to the feasibility of a complex medical device such as «Carlo». Do you still face negative reactions?
No, not anymore! When I started speaking of «cold» laser ablation, many physicists questioned this paradoxical term. Today, after we assessed the remaining surfaces of the bones and captured the ablation process with thermal cameras showing that this cutting method is even cooler than mechanical cuts, nobody has any doubts about our assertion anymore. Another critical issue raised by some experts was depth control. Some argued that we would never be able to have depth control working in real time. Again, this is no longer an issue.

You recently presented this depth measurement system for the first time. How does it work?
With the help of external academic partners we developed a laser interferometric method suitable for our device that provides not only the depth of the cut but also its width right after every laser shot so its entire profile can be reconstructed in real time. This «probing» laser beam is co-axially mixed with other visible pointing laser beams to ensure that the surgeon can observe the cut on the monitor. There are many computer-controlled processes such as the depth control running in parallel during some of the tasks. They are processed by a microprocessor which sends values that are already calculated to the «Carlo brain» to decide what to do next. With this software technology, we are pushing the envelope in three disciplines: laser physics, data processing and synchronization.

Could this know-how be used for other applications in or beyond surgery?
As pioneers in this field, we encounter many new problems to solve. But on the other hand, once we have found the solution, we file for patent protection and, in this way, we’re strengthening our patent protection. Some of these innovations could be used for other applications, but we have to remain focused on one thing: getting device certification. Once we «put our foot on the moon», we could follow up on other options with the technology we have discovered.

It sounds as if you are not facing any difficult situations anymore with AOT?
Problems are constantly arising, but we have a very professional and courageous team that brainstorms the problems at hand in complete transparency and always comes up with one or more solutions. Although scientists are trained to present nice results in conferences while leaving the bad results aside, we are upfront with the bad news. If a problem appears, it’s immediately brought to the attention of the team so we can find a solution together.

What in your opinion are the key factors for an innovative company?
Everyone knows what the main ingredients for innovation are: You have to have a product that addresses a need, a unique proprietary technology, the right people and the financial means. However these ingredients do not guarantee success, and many start-ups that have these ingredients fail. The causes of failure are often underestimated, but should be addressed in the risk analysis of the business plan. A classical killer of technological innovation is when investors strategically decide to sell the start-up to an established competitor. But the buyer wants to get rid of a potential competitor! A possible antidote is to have a good legal adviser. A lawyer can help you to set clear goals for the steps after the acquisition and implement penalties in the contract. Also, it is good to keep the founders of the company in-house, because these people are part of the success and often the «engine» of a start-up.

What makes Switzerland a good place for you to launch a medtech start-up?
I have worked with people and projects in a few countries. What I find unique in Switzerland is the scientific family: Everybody knows each other and has close relationships. For instance, when the issue of a suitable depth control appeared, we spoke to other scientists who had solved similar problems for eye surgery. They came up with friendly and open advice without speculating on what the benefit would be for them. This is by no means the rule in other countries, where often knowledge is seen as power. But the free flow of information in this country is crucial in ambitious high-tech projects.

Where do you see room for improvement of entrepreneurship in Switzerland?
Switzerland already ranks as leader when it comes to innovation, but I see there are three things that could be changed to foster even more innovation – namely, the no-risk mentality, the fear of failure and the loss of reputation. The Swiss education system teaches students to avoid risks instead of focusing on the possible reward associated with a risk. Indeed, the word risk has a negative connotation in Switzerland, but entrepreneurship without risk is as hypothetical as perpetual motion.
How can we overcome our fear of failure? One recipe for passing an exam is «to do the homework in time to get a good sleep the night before». In a high-tech start-up, this recipe means firstly drafting a comprehensive and realistic business plan and strong IP protection. Failure is part of the game, and the question needs to be how fast you can get back up after getting knocked down, not whether you are going get knocked down.
Regarding the loss of reputation, people look at you with suspicion when you’re trying to build your own company based on an unusual idea. And your employer may think you’re not happy with the job. But large established companies don’t have the framework for promoting new ideas. They should support their employees to pursue their own ideas and get trained on founding a new company.

What drives you as an entrepreneur?
I have always tried to do things I like and am capable of realizing. I have always been a curious person. As a child, I built rockets and blew the fuses in our house with my experiments – for example – to split water into O2 and H2 with 240 volts! My grandfather, who was a full-blooded entrepreneur, also taught me the basics of entrepreneurship. I guess the ideal situation for high-tech entrepreneurship is a «born scientist» with a flair for entrepreneurship, as management skills can be acquired.

Do you have any entrepreneurial role models?
Columbus has always fascinated me since childhood. Only later did I realize that he was an incredible entrepreneur who first had to convince the queen to get funds and had to overcome many odds. He definitely had the intelligence, the passion and the courage required to literally embark on such a project. And although pirates are not exactly good role models, they were excellent start-up entrepreneurs. Pirates planned their attacks rigorously in advance, had to get funding or develop advanced boats with higher masts to sail faster. Their structure was similar to a start-up nowadays, and they even had the equivalent to stock option plans, where the loot was distributed among all the hierarchies in proportion to their performance.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Alfredo E. Bruno holds an M.Sc in Quantum Chemistry and a PhD in Laser Physics from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada). Alfredo came to Munich in 1985 as an Alexander-von-Humboldt fellow followed by a teaching position at the University of Zürich. In 1988 he joined Ciba-Geigy and later Novartis where he accumulated more than 25 years of experience in biomedical, preclinical and clinical research in joint projects with Spectra Physics and Chiron Diagnostics.

At Novartis, Alfredo Bruno invented Transungual Laser Therapy for nail diseases, which was the basis for the spin-off of TLT Medical Ltd in 2004, where he was the sole founder and CTO. After three years of successful operation under his leadership, TLT Medical was sold to Arpida Ltd in 2007, where he became the Head of Antifungals. In 2009, he co-founded FreiBiotics in Freiburg (Germany), where he was CEO until mid-2011. In 2011, he co-founded Advanced Osteotomy Tools (AOT), where he is the CEO. He has published over 35 peer-reviewed publications and holds more than 15 patents and has been on the editorial board of three international scientific journals.

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«As an entrepreneur you have to be a little paranoid»

07.10.2015

Adrian Bult, the Basel private investor and member of various boards of directors, is an acknowledged expert with an in-depth knowledge of Switzerland’s ICT sector. Since March 2013, he has been engaged on a voluntary basis as head of the i-net Technology Field ICT. In this interview he explains that makes entrepreneur types and why he is convinced that Switzerland could quite easily produce the next Google.

What’s it like being a Business Angel in Switzerland?
Adrian Bult*: Basically I have an exciting life. I am constantly confronted with new ideas and incentives. I have to do with young entrepreneurs, and that is very enriching for me.

Do you also mean that in a literal sense?
Certainly, because I am primarily interested in the content and people. So I also don’t see myself as an investor but as an interested developer of companies.

You invest above all in ICT – are there enough interesting cases?
Yes, in my view there are an awful lot of good ideas in Switzerland and a distinct sense of enterprise. But most is privately funded. In this respect Switzerland is unique. There is probably no other country anywhere in the world where so much in the way of financial resources flows into innovation from private investors or companies. This is also different from Silicon Valley, where enterprise is driven by a highly professional venture capital industry.

So you also have to lower your sights accordingly in Switzerland?
Yes, and Switzerland also has a small domestic market. This therefore begs the question of ambition right at the outset of any start-up. In the B-to-C segment, if you don’t step up to the plate with a global vision, then you usually have little chance from the start. Switzerland is therefore above all a country with lots of interesting niche providers – especially in the B-to-B segment.

What is lacking in most of the cases you encounter?
Switzerland has a distinct pharmaceutical, engineering and chemical culture. But a good sales and marketing culture is also important for the success of a start-up. In this respect, other countries - especially the USA, for example - have a head start. They give much more emphasis to marketing. Young technology-driven entrepreneurs in particular believe the best product will succeed. But that is often just not the case. In most cases it is the product that is marketed best that comes out on top.

But in Silicon Valley aren’t companies still being founded by techies and nerds, not by marketing people?
That’s true, but marketing has the same importance as engineering operations. If you tell someone at a party that you’re a salesman, then the reaction is usually very muted. This has to do with the fact that, in Switzerland, understatement is seen as a great virtue. Self-marketing is nothing like as important as it is in other cultures. That’s something we Swiss have to learn.

Does a start-up founder without salesman qualities have no chance?
Absolutely. How else does he want to attract investors for his project? This is where it starts. And then you also need a certain ambition. There are founders who focus on the global market from the outset. In Switzerland, this is immediately greeted with smiles. But basically this is the right attitude in order to reel in the first customer. This is also a typical approach of many technology-driven start-up founders in Switzerland: pick up the phone and work through a list of leads. Most people feel this is beneath them.

Are there other patterns you often come across in young Swiss entrepreneurs?
Something I always see especially in start-ups is an underestimation of the time that is needed to achieve the desired results. If you underestimate the time and the funding is linked to this time axis, then you have to react in good time when you see that you are going to need longer. Otherwise you run out of steam.

So you should always plan for twice as much time and money as you think?
No, that would be wrong. I’m in favour of setting a tight deadline and keeping funds short. But you have to react in good time if you see that things are getting tight. You need the pressure – otherwise you don’t move.

Can Switzerland and Europe ever produce an ICT giant?
Why not? You always only hear of Google, Airbnb or Uber. But there are also companies that are working very successfully one or two steps below this radar. There are some areas where technologically very advanced solutions are being developed in Switzerland. Such as “Over the Top” internet TV.

Does Switzerland not simply make too little of its opportunities? It is not Zurich but London that is the FinTech centre of the world today.
In Switzerland there have certainly been developments in this direction; for example, companies invested early on in e-private banking, and apps from big Swiss banks lead the field today. But a cluster has not formed around this as it has in London. Why is that? To succeed in the FinTech sector, banks have to cannibalize their own business. Under these conditions it is simply difficult to drive innovation forward within your own organization. This is why I argue in favour of cooperative ventures. Twint from Postfinance is a good example of how this can succeed.

With the coalescence of ICT and Life Sciences, the next opportunity presents itself for Switzerland and the Northwest region in particular. What needs to be done to make sure this opportunity is not missed?
Innovation arises through collaboration. Small companies often lack the know-how and the resources for major roll-outs. Established companies on the other hand lack the agility to achieve the best-possible result with few resources. I would therefore suggest approaching such issues more in project networks. It is typically just a few people in the management of large companies who decide whether an idea is good or bad. A completely different approach is taken in Silicon Valley, where there is a sponsor for any given idea. This sponsor gets together with financial investors and technical experts and interacts with them. If the idea goes down well and there is potential for improvement, then it is on the right track. If the comments are constantly negative, then it is probably the wrong way. The upshot is that, in Silicon Valley, it is the competent people with a competent opinion who are the decisive actors, not an individual in management. It is noticeable that this model is slowly coming to be accepted in Switzerland as well.

And yet Switzerland is world champion in innovation?
I would take the assertion that “Switzerland is world champion in innovation” with a very large dose of salt. Such statements just make you feel comfortable. If an innovation is in the process of redefining a market, then it can never be too soon to notice it. As an entrepreneur you have to be positively paranoid in this respect and should be constantly considering whether you are good enough and what could be improved.

It is often said that enterprise is not highly regarded in Switzerland and the willingness to take risks is given too little regard.
I feel this has changed a lot. In fact I see a lot of young people who set about projects with a very strong appetite for risk. Failure today is also no longer so serious. It is also very valuable for personal development if you have established your own company. I see young entrepreneurs today who are much further on than I was at the same age because they have established their own company.

You said at the start that in Switzerland it is mainly private individuals who invest. What could be done to ensure that even more is invested?
It could be encouraged by giving people the possibility to experience this themselves. For example, instead of investing heavily in training and continuing education, large companies could give management staff the opportunity to invest training money also in a start-up. If an MBA costs 20,000 francs, for example, the company could get the manager to pay up 20,000 francs themselves on top in order to support a small company with this capital. I’m convinced the learning effect in terms of reading balance sheets and profit-and-loss accounts or driving projects is at least as great as it is when compiling a case study at a prestigious university. If you can convey this credibly in a job interview, then this experience is just as valuable as a title.

What do you think of tax incentives for companies that create added value?
Basically I always find it positive when incentives are created for people who are prepared to take a risk. If someone takes a big risk, he should also be rewarded for this. Tax incentives are one possible way of doing this.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Adrian Bult has worked on an honorary basis for i-net as Head of ICT since March 2013. Bult is an acknowledged expert with an in-depth knowledge of Switzerland’s ICT sector. From 1998 to 2007 he was a member of the group management of Swisscom and from 2007 to April 2012 he was COO of Swiss-based bank software vendor Avaloq. Today Adrian Bult is a consultant and investor. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors at Swissgrid and Enkom Group and a member of the Board of Directors at Adnovum, Swissquote, Regent Beleuchtungskörper and Alfred Müller AG.

Adrian Bult (born in 1959) studied business administration and marketing at the University of St. Gallen.

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More money for start-ups and reaching for the stars toward the digital future

08.06.2017

report Micro, Nano & Materials

«My experience with nanomaterials is welcomed in Bern»

10.09.2015

The company Polycompound from Sissach specializes in the incorporation of nanoparticles in plastics. Each year it processes amongst other things more than 1000 kilograms of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which are long cylindrical structures with a diameter of less than 10 nanometers. Safety in the processing of these tiny particles is extremely important, especially since the effects of CNTs in the human body have not yet been conclusively studied.

Peter Imhof, Sales Manager at Polycompound, has been working with nanomaterials himself for around 10 years. He is not only a regular guest in the i-net Technology Circle NanoSafety, but also serves as adviser to the Federal Offices for the Environment (FOEN) and Public Health (FOPH). In this interview, he explains what measures are needed when working with nanoparticles and what regulations still need to be defined more precisely.

How did Polycompound come to work with nanomaterials?
Peter Imhof: To some extent that has something to do with me. In 2004 I was working as Product-Manager with a well-known company trading in polymers, raw materials and fine chemicals in Basel, where I came into contact with nano products for the first time in the field of phyllosilicates. In 2008 I had the privilege of presenting the first version of the safety matrix for nanomaterials in Bern, where I was one of the first people from industry to offer practical experience. In 2009 I moved to Polycompound and remained true to nanotechnology. Besides phyllosilicates and CNTs, nanosilver was also a topic of interest. Other additives in the nano field, such as flame retardants, came along later.

What are carbon nanotubes actually used for?
CNTs can reinforce a material or increase its electrical conductivity. Soot is usually added to cables to make then conductive. But the soot also reduces their flexibility and makes the cables more brittle. When CNTs are added, the same conductivity can be achieved with a much lower concentration and without essentially altering the mechanical properties, making the cables more durable. CNTs are used in a variety of applications, especially when the product has to meet more stringent requirements without the positive properties of the basic material being lost. The problem is that additives with nanotubes are still very expensive. This is a psychological barrier – as are the safety issues that remain to be clarified and the uncertainty surrounding nanomaterials.

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«Only when it is shared in the team does an idea take shape»

03.09.2015

Hans-Florian Zeilhofer is a surgeon, innovator, scientist and entrepreneur. He has performed pioneering work in many fields of reconstructive facial surgery. Always driven by the goal of improving the situation for his patients, Zeilhofer is constantly initiating new projects that meet with international acclaim – as also with his latest project, Miracle, which his team will present at the Lift Basel Conference 2015.

In this interview he explains why work in an interdisciplinary team is so important for him and why he is convinced that new impulses are being generated worldwide from Northwest Switzerland.

You are a surgeon with an extraordinary background – how would you describe yourself?
Hans-Florian Zeilhofer*: Above all I’m an inquisitive person who likes to explore new paths. Even in areas where there is no path as yet, and even if I don’t know whether and how I will arrive. It‘s an enriching experience to keep meeting new people on the way and finding the solutions together that will hopefully fulfil their purpose. It’s really inspiring when you approach and arrive at a goal in this way.

You perform surgery, establish companies and are scientifically engaged in diverse areas. How do you manage with your work-life balance?
I dislike the term work-life balance. I don’t put my professional life and private life on the scales to make sure they are in balance. You should always do your work with joy and passion and find fulfilment in your work. Then you will also no longer speak of work-life balance. If work is done or has to be done without any consideration of the overall context behind it, then there will be no sense of purpose or meaning. It is therefore important to establish working conditions that help to invest the work with meaning – and that applies in all kinds of work.

You have already done a lot in your life: medicine and dentistry, philosophy, science and management – how do you reconcile all that?
I don’t see my different activities as contradictory, but rather as mutually complementary. Today I can do a lot of things that I could not do five or ten years ago and am constantly trying to appreciate what new perspectives there are and what I would like to keep working on. You never stop learning, and I learn a lot from younger colleagues. That’s very enriching for me in the late stage of my professional career.

Do we live in an age where more Leonardo Da Vincis are needed? Should doctors acquire a broader knowledge?
It’s not absolutely necessary to emulate the universal genius, but a certain knowledge base is extremely important. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon has to study both medicine and dentistry. But that is no longer enough by many means. A budding specialist should acquire a wide variety of knowledge, for example in engineering and the use of computers or media, but knowledge of economics and ethics is also become increasingly important. I also believe that the training has to change. I’m in the fortunate position that I am able to influence developments and guide the youngsters. That’s a really nice experience.

You are a pioneer in many areas of medical technology. How do those famous Eureka moments come about?
My innovations always start out from an everyday problem for which I am seeking a solution. If I find a conventional solution for our patients is no longer adequate or satisfactory, then I start looking for an alternative. Solutions often emerge quite suddenly or spring from a moment of meditative calm.
The idea then comes, for example, when I’m sitting in the train with my eyes closed or in the morning under the shower. It’s working there somewhere in the subconscious and then suddenly an approach to solving the problem presents itself. As a rule it will not yet have clearly defined contours, but will be sufficient to allow me to make some brief notes. Then it is important to have friends and partners with whom I can exchange ideas. For only through this exchange can the idea come into being and take concrete shape. If a partner then asks the right questions, this quickly takes it forwards and you can see what aspects of the idea are still incomplete, where there might be a hitch that has to be considered to ensure the solution will work.

You’re known as a doer – many of your ideas are implemented and you have been involved in many spin-offs. What does the risk of failure mean for you?
The risk of failure is a very serious matter, and it’s always there wherever you go – for surgeons in particular this is a huge challenge every day. When a patient entrusts himself to me, he wants the operation to go well. For me this means I have to plan a lot to make sure the procedure is as safe as possible. And I also have to be aware that Plan A might have to be abandoned in the course of an operation and that an unpredictable moment may spontaneously necessitate a new Plan B.
In the course of my professional experience I have learned to cope with this. We have often tried to learn from other professional groups such as musicians, who also have to improvise. It can only enrich us all to think outside the box and to learn from other disciplines; in my case, that is art and the humanities above all.

And what does entrepreneurial risk mean for you?
This also requires courage. It took me a long time to venture taking this step for the first time. I have often found that outstanding and especially innovative medical ideas have hardly been taken up by industry. There are a wide variety of reasons for this: sometimes it is down to production processes that don’t fit, or there are logistical problems, and the regulatory approval processes are also often too protracted. I came to realize that we doctors and scientists need to find the courage to start companies ourselves if we do not want good ideas to land in the drawer. However, we then take an entrepreneurial risk that brings far-reaching strategies for action with it. For example, I first have to protect my idea before I go public with it. After the patent and the start-up, you then have to develop the product to market readiness and resolve the problems associated with this. Not least, and here lies a more complex part of the venture, you have to find investors who are prepared to provide financial support for a new development. But such investors of course also want to keep the risk as low as possible if they are to come in with several hundred thousand to a million francs. But ultimately, it is precisely the riskier ideas that are the really exciting projects.

Where does your enthusiasm for entrepreneurial risk come from?
You know, as a young doctor in Germany I developed my first idea for a product innovation. And when I presented this to experts, I was told no one needed it. Soon after that I attended a congress on medical imaging in Silicon Valley. There everyone congratulated me and encouraged me to pursue the idea. Eventually I found my partners in related subjects, such as mathematics and engineering. Leading research and cutting-edge technology can no longer be developed today in a monoculture. You need small and flexible, interdisciplinary teams of physicists, computer scientists, biologists, engineers and physicians for creative and quick solutions. There is enormous energy and dynamics here. It’s a culture that we have developed in Basel and taken almost to perfection. This is precisely the secret and the key to our success in the region. Such a culture needs sufficient space and time to develop and does not work as a solo effort – you always need a team.
I see my role increasingly in encouraging others, offering security and trust and also simply being present. Trust always rests on people, and you have involve yourself as a whole person. The partners feel this. I like being described as a door opener, but actually I only support the teams – they open the doors themselves.

And was this also the case with your last two coups: the MIRACLE project and the MedTech Fund MTIP?
Put simply, the MIRACLE project is about minimally invasive, computer-assisted, robot-guided bone cutting. The project is almost like a miracle. We are already world leaders in the use of laser technology to process hard tissue. In the next generation we want to work with flexible instruments directly in the body in order to make the procedures less stressful. I’m quite sure the MIRACLE project will have major significance for our society around 2050. Then there will be almost two million people aged over 65 in Switzerland. Greater life expectancy will bring an increase in age-related diseases due to wear and tear. The treatment of these diseases will require very complex technology and should not compromise the quality of life of patients. We therefore have to develop technologies with specific solutions for elderly people that allow the minimum possible invasiveness and rapid healing. With MIRACLE we will broaden the spectrum for surgical procedures and also make therapeutic measures accessible for elderly patients in relatively poor general health. At the same time, it will be possible to shorten the length of hospital stays and the subsequent rehabilitation phase.
It is our task today to research the basic principles that can deliver satisfactory results for the population in 30 or 40 years.
The special feature of MTIP is that the University of Basel and Basel University Hospital are partners in the fund. Both are sharing the entrepreneurial venture with us. I see this as a commitment that gives us courage and trust in science to continue down this path with industry.

Last year you made a highly regarded impression at the Lift Basel Conference that aroused a desire for more. What can visitors expect on the subject of Surgeon Superpowers this year?
We will present the Miracle project at the Lift Basel Conference 2015 and show the robot in Action. I very much hope that physicians will also be at the event and that we can dispel any reservations they may have about this technology. I believe it’s very important that we develop technologies out of our field, design them ourselves, keep them under our control and don’t place them unconditionally in the hands of industry. We will also present the latest 3D printing at the Lift conference. We already worked with this technology many years ago, when it found use in the automobile industry. I was one of the first to use 3D printing for medicine. Today we can produce individual implants from titanium powder that are better accepted by the body and are adapted to the needs of the patient. A third important issue is Big Data in medicine. We need cross-sectional images through the body for diagnostic purposes. These images contain an awful lot of information and we use only a small percentage of this – if any of it at all. Using today’s computing power we could process this data and use it, for example, for prophylaxis. We therefore intend to pay greater attention to Big Data here in Basel.

What other visions do you have for the region?
My vision is for the structures we are building up now to endure. I call the environment here a Medtech Innovation Hive. Beekeeping has been a hobby of mine for more than 30 years and I‘m fascinated by the way 40,000 individuals live together in a superorganism with a highly complex organization. For me the beehive is a source of inspiration and problem solving. And precisely for this reason I call our environment a hive, because like a bee population we need to be sensitive and flexible in the way we react to our environment. The research structures are like an organism which is in a state of constant change, can divide and grow, but is also vulnerable. In view of the high degree of interdisciplinarity, we need to develop new structures of cooperation. These will have an impact on industry, on the way a company is organized. And I’m sure these structures will also have an impact on universities. There are structures - such as the division into faculties - that are difficult to overcome. In Basel we have had help in resolving this problem with the establishment of departments. But in my opinion that is only an interim solution. At university level we need to find new ways to give structure and support to this form of research and facilitate a sustainable development for the future. And I’m delighted to have the privilege of playing a part in helping to shape this.

You came to Basel from Munich in 2002. Certainly a stroke of good fortune for Northwest Switzerland. And for you too?
I find very open people in Basel with whom I can discuss my ideas. And I appreciate the fact that Basel has a full university. For I believe there is an advantage in this that cannot be overestimated. In the Basel region we have not only a strong university, but also universities of applied science that are doing very good applied research. At the same time, we have very short paths of communication with the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETH) and Lausanne (EPFL) and with EMPA and the CSEM. The triregional metropolitan region lends the Basel region a cultural diversity that we need to put our ideas into practice. I know many places in the world where people are engaged in innovation. And I’m convinced that something like a Silicon Valley for Europe can grow here – with impulses for the world and of similar consequence. And you talk of good fortune: yes, I do see it as a real stroke of good fortune that I can initiate and follow such a process together with i-net, the Swiss Innovation Park Northwest Switzerland, the university and university hospitals – I won’t get another chance like this.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Professor Hans-Florian Zeilhofer heads the clinics for oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University Hospital Basel and the Cantonal Hospital Aarau, as well as the High-Tech Research Centre at the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Basel. After studying human medicine, dentistry and philosophy, he trained as a specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery and gained his postdoctoral qualification at the university hospital Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University Munich. In June 2002, he joined the University of Basel. In 2004 he established and headed the High-Tech Research Centre at the University Hospital Basel. In 2005 he became the founding president of the annual International Bernd Spiessl Symposium for Innovative and Visionary Technologies in Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery. Since 2013 he has been establishing the Med-Tech Innovation Hive in collaboration with i-net and the Swiss Innovation Park (SIP) Basel. Since 2007 he has been president of the Swiss Society of Maxillo-Facial Surgery. He has received numerous honours and awards for his innovative research work. He holds a number of international patents and has created several startup companies in recent years out of high-tech innovations from university research. Most recently he founded the new innovation platform Med-Tech Innovation Partners (MTIP) as a private public partnership together with the entrepreneur Felix Grisard and the manager Christoph Kausch with the involvement of the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel.

Project «MIRACLE»

Webpage of MTIP

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Video of Hans-Florian Zeilhofer at Lift Basel Conference 2014

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«If you’re after eight-figure investments, it’s always going to be very tight in Europe»

05.08.2015

With its award-winning Erlenapp, the company known as qipp made both a national and an international name for itself. But with its Allthings platform, success came to the Internet of Things startup in a different market from the one initially in mind. In this interview Stefan Zanetti, founder and CEO of qipp, explains what hurdles the Basel startup had to overcome and ventures a glimpse into the future for qipp.

In the past few months, qipp has reaped a host of startup awards. Does that also do something for the business or are the awards just good for the ego?
Stefan Zanetti*: Of course we wouldn’t have taken part in the competitions if we had not been convinced that they would get us somewhere. There are two considerations here. Firstly, our business idea is pretty abstract. To be successful, we have to package this in a good story. Competitions force us to get to the heart of our own story. Secondly, awards bring not only publicity, but above all also trust. It’s like a third opinion which certifies that we have a promising business idea. The awards have opened doors to investors in particular.

The idea of qipp matured over time. What has changed?
I would put it differently. The basic idea has always been the same: With our Allthings platform, we aim to equip the physical world with digital services. What has changed a lot is the market focus. At first we thought qipp could be interesting above all for producers of high-end goods. Our technology, for example, enables products such as watches, bicycles or kitchen devices to be equipped with digital services so that the producers can deliver their products directly with value-added services. This idea is still what guides us and was also well accepted by producers. Only this is unfortunately a slow-moving market and the sales cycles are much too long for a startup like us, who has to show concrete results very quickly.

So you had the right product, but were on the market too soon?
Yes, the producers we initially had in mind were simply not mature enough for our story. But fortunately another industry got wind of our product: the real estate sector. It was above all the initiative of a partner, namely the general contractor Losinger Marazzi, who wanted to explore new avenues for the Erlenmatt estate. And so we developed the Erlenapp on Allthings. Everyone who moves into an apartment in Erlenmatt is given access to this app, which covers all the services relating to the apartment and the estate: from the apartment documentation, a local social network where users can exchange their views or interfaces for reporting damage to the visualization of energy data. So far, 92 percent of the apartments have downloaded the app and use it on average every other day. These are fantastic values.

So is that now the breakthrough?
Since launching the Erlenapp, we have indeed been bombarded with queries. These come partly from the real estate sector and also from other sectors.

How are you coping with this rush?
At the moment we are working at two levels. Besides the further rollout of real estate apps, we are also working flat out on the publication of our API, which will then also open up the Allthings platform for third-party providers outside the real estate sector.

Can this balancing act work in the long run? Will you not have to decide at some stage: «World Leading Real Estate App» or horizontal platform for Internet of Things applications?
That’s a valid question. The real estate market is actually huge. And it’s not only about the market for apartments; a very attractive option of course is also the office segment, not least in view of new forms of work, such as shared desk and co-working, which are a growing feature of offices. There is huge potential in the real estate sector for micro-applications that can then be offered by third parties via our platform. This shows how crucial the local graph is - whether you want to get rid of the surplus food in your fridge before you go away on vacation or the local pub invites you to a BBQ evening.

So qipp positions itself as a sales and service outlet?
I could well imagine apps comparable with the Erlenapp in future being offered as basic infrastructure by cities, municipalities or districts. But at the same time you have to watch out that you don’t find yourself drifting out too wide, because a lot of things are possible, but not everything really makes sense. So it will be important to get the scalable core to crystallize out even more clearly in the coming months together with our partners.

You have been to Silicon Valley on various occasions. Will qipp have to move to the ICT mecca at some stage? Or to put it differently: can you also live out your ambitions in Basel?
If the success lasts, then the day will come when we have to touch ground in Silicon Valley. But we cannot and don’t want to take this step right now. We are also aware that there are hotspots like London and Berlin, where things are taking off at present and a European startup eco system has emerged. But you can also profit from this if you travel there now and then and actively network. You don’t necessarily have to locate your headquarters there. Conversely, a location like Basel also has advantages. For example, when you see how companies in London and Berlin poach developer talents off each other, then this is not something you necessarily want to get involved in. I can count on people here who above all are convinced of the qipp idea and find it exciting to develop this further. There are also top developers who don‘t desperately want to live in the most hip places in the world.

Is that not rather too defensively minded?
If you’re after big investments running to eight-figure sums, it’s always going to be very tight in Europe and you will also seek your fortune Silicon Valley. But no one there is waiting for a company from Europe and conversely no US venture capitalist invests to any substantial degree outside the US. Establishing a startup in Europe is fundamentally different from establishing a startup in the US. Take Nextdoor. This startup is doing something very similar to us in the US, but the approach is quite different. First it is all about conquering territory. The business model and sales don’t play any role. For as soon as you have the masses on the platform, these things then develop of their own accord. You can’t operate like that in Europe. You have to earn money from the outset. But this only works if you know your market, and the market you know best is where your home is.

So you can finance qipp yourself?
I have already built up two companies that were completely organically financed. To date qipp is also self-financed and could also continue to develop further organically. But the question is whether we would then risk missing out on great potential. For this reason we will hold our first external round of financing in the autumn.

How much capital is needed?
We will conduct an initial round among business angels, friends and employees and only then open up. And we need additional staff in order to meet the current strong growth in demand. But this will then enable us soon to generate new income, which we plan to use for the development of our platform in order to get third-party providers involved.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Stefan Zanetti is founder and CEO of qipp, the third company that he has founded after synesix (2005) and careware (2006). Within qipp, Zanetti is focusing on business development and key account management. All the companies he has founded are profitable and manage entirely without external financing. They achieve sales of 2 to 6 million francs a year and employ between 8 and 20 people.

Website of qipp

Video about qipp's Erlenapp

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«We benefit from many years of research in Basel»

08.07.2015

While Switzerland is innovation world champion in many rankings, promising innovations in the field of medical technology often lack the funding needed in Switzerland to get them to the market. The start-up investor MedTech Innovation Partners AG (MTIP) closes this gap.

CEO Christoph Kausch explains in the i-net interview what MTIP does differently from other investors and outlines the start-up projects that are especially interesting for his company.

MedTech Innovation Partners has recently established its presence in the market. How did this come about and why did you not take this step earlier?
Christoph Kausch*: About two-and-a-half years ago, the idea was conceived of bringing the work and research of Prof. Hans-Florian Zeilhofer together in a business model under the MTIP brand. This means that MTIP benefits from many years of research in Basel. Since then, the organization has developed and the concept refined. In short, we are strongly rooted in Basel thanks to our history and promote innovation here. Our work can help to prevent start-ups taking their good ideas abroad because they are unable to find the necessary funding and resources here.

And who are the people behind MTIP?
Apart from me, the core team includes Professor Zeilhofer, Head of the High-Tech Research Centre at the University Hospital Basel, who has been engaged in the field of medical technology throughout his career, and also the entrepreneur and investor Dr. Felix Grisard, who has been investing in medical technology for more than ten years. We have a strong team of board members and an equally top-class advisory board. Our skills range from medical technology and research expertise, through investor and entrepreneurial know-how to knowledge of how to manage innovation projects.

The MTIP board of directors is made up of highly renowned individuals. How were you able you motivate these people?
Until now there has not been a business concept anywhere in Switzerland with such strong links to research institutions. We are closing this gap in the market in order to promote innovations in Switzerland. The opportunity to play a part in this is very attractive.

MTIP promises to put the emphasis on sustainable development. What do you plan to differently from other funds?
Our integrated business model takes the long-term view; we are not in it to make a fast buck. We also make a contribution to society by reinforcing the power of innovation strength in Basel. What no other venture capital fund in this area possesses is our unique Swiss network and our excellent access to research institutions. At international level we are developing an “innovation ring”. For example, when we carry out a clinical trial for a start-up, we can do this much faster but to the same quality standard in collaboration with top-flight international partners. This shortens the time to market enormously.

What does MTIP expect in return from the companies you support?
A trusting collaboration and thus the people involved are very important to us. Intellectual property rights, such as patents or brands, must be clearly regulated before the technology can be developed further. We ourselves are a minority investor and strive for at least a 10 percent stake in a start-up. Our objective is to support the entrepreneur behind the company and to help him avoid the pitfalls that occur during the establishment of a company.

You write on the website that MTIP wants to get involved as early as possible and provide long-term support. For how long do you plan to support start-ups?
It’s somewhat easier here in Switzerland than elsewhere to get seed capital ranging from 100,000 to a million francs for the first round of financing. But what is incredibly difficult is the follow-up funding. This leads to many start-ups having to move away. So we also support the follow-up funding after the seed funding. To facilitate this, we join forces with other investors.

Medical technology is a very broad term. It encompasses everything from gauze bandages through implants and robot-assisted surgery to treatment and nursing. Where does MTIP focus its attention in this enormous range of options?
We have five focus areas: imaging, robotics/navigation, IT/big data management, medtech meets pharma and smart materials. This is where our core competencies lie, but this does not mean that we would exclude other areas. Interdisciplinarity is also very important. A model organization is the High-Tech Research Centre of Professor Zeilhofer, where different disciplines, such as IT, biology, engineering, the humanities, art and medicine, work together on finding the best solution for a medical problem. For it is not possible today to develop anything innovative in isolation.

You have experience yourself as a young entrepreneur. What are the biggest challenges for start-ups and how can MTIP help to overcome them?
In the case of start-ups in medical technology I see two big challenges. First of all, it is important to address the question of certification or regulatory approval early on. Secondly, young entrepreneurs have to take care from the outset that they already define a patent strategy when they are setting up the company. We can offer assistance here with established experts in the field.

MTIP has recently set up home in Allschwil at the Swiss Innovation Park of Northwest Switzerland. Is it your aim to collaborate with the technology and innovation ecosystem and to pool resources?
The whole Department of Biomedical Engineering and the High-Tech Research Centre of the University of Basel have just moved into the temporary premises in Allschwil. To ensure that the collaboration is efficiently organized in a spirit of partnership, we have also moved in there for the time being and are managing innovations and start-ups in this setting. Where we will be based in future has not yet been decided, but we are open to cooperation with the Swiss Innovation Park of Northwest Switzerland.

The search for venture capital in Switzerland is challenging and time-consuming, MTIP promises to make this easier. Are you overrun today by requests for funding?
The number of queries has doubled since we went public. Now we have to evaluate the best projects.

And what does a project have to offer in order to get support from MTIP?
An important point is innovation: we want to know what sets it apart from the state of the art so far. Another important question is whether it is a technology that can be protected by a patent or a trade secret and what market potential the project offers. We place great value in particular on a good management team: if competencies are lacking, we are happy to help in the search for suitable employees. Traditional venture capital companies invest their money and wait for the exit of the company.

Where do you see MTIP in five years?
The aim is to have a presence in Switzerland with a very good portfolio of start-ups. An organization like i-net can play an important role for MTIP and it would be great if the shared network idea could lead to new projects.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Christoph Kausch has a sound knowledge of strategic management and experience in bringing innovations to market. Before founding MTIP, he led the global strategy department of Syngenta for several years. Prior to this, he was Managing Director at Hafiba AG, a boutique investment company, where he is still a member of the board of directors. He started his career at McKinsey & Company where he had specialized in private equity and life sciences.

Christoph Kausch studied mechanical engineering at the TU Munich and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Management (MIT) in Boston. He completed his PhD in innovation & technology management at the University of St. Gallen and at Harvard Business School.

About MedTech Innovation Partners AG
MedTech Innovation Partners (MTIP) headquartered in Basel, is an early-stage investor focusing on health technologies. MTIP offers more than traditional venture capital, delivering access to business building expertise, a systematic approach to intellectual property management, recruitment and a unique interdisciplinary culture for the entrepreneurs and start-ups that MTIP works with.
A local network which consists of well-known Swiss universities and research centres specializing in medtech, gives MTIP an early access to research outcomes. Furthermore, an international innovation ring offers scientists and entrepreneurs ideal conditions for bringing innovations to market.
Website of MTIP

 

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«It would be very good to try to widen everyone’s vision of what you can do with biology –...

11.06.2015

Neil Goldsmith and two colleagues started working on Evolva in 2001, moving its headquarters from Denmark to Reinach in Switzerland in 2004. The «Brewers of 21st Century» discover and provide ingredients produced with the help of biologically engineered yeast. CEO Neil Goldsmith explains in the i-net interview how this works and why, initially, they received their seed money for another business model.

You call yourselves the «Brewers of 21st Century». What does that mean?
Neil Goldsmith*: We make ingredients for food or cosmetics by genetically engineering baker’s yeast and brewing it. If we want to make Stevia for example, we take the genes the plant uses to make that molecule and put those genes into the yeast so the yeast can make the molecule. We then ferment the yeast by brewing, just like with beer. The yeast takes up the sugar, turns it into Stevia and pumps it out; we filter off the yeast and have Stevia in the «broth» which we can purify out.

Why should biosynthetically brewed Stevia be better than the grown one?
The Stevia plant makes a lot of sweet molecules. However most of these molecules start to taste bitter when you use a lot of them – that is why the current Stevia-based soft drinks only have about a one-third reduction in the level of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Now, the plant also makes some molecules that do not give a bitter taste, but it makes very small amounts of them. Therefore it’s not economic and sustainable to grow the plant to produce these molecules. But creating Stevia by brewing it is a very promising alternative.

So with yeast, you can make almost anything?
In principle, we can make anything that occurs in nature. The key is combinatorial genetics. For the yeast to turn sugar into Stevia it needs 32 genes that have to work together: Finding what those genes are and optimizing them so they all work well together is what we are founded around. It’s in principle more complex than making an antibody or an enzyme, because that’s just one gene or one protein. We were intrigued by the idea of taking the combinatorial thinking of chemistry and applying it to genetics. You can use our approach to make old molecules in better ways – which is what we do now – or you can use it to make new molecules, which was the original idea. You would get new structures that have never been seen before and they might cure diseases.

Evolva has pivoted from pharmaceuticals to the nutrition sector – how did this come about?
We pivoted because we weren’t finding interest from the pharma companies for our technology. Instead, food and cosmetic companies were approaching us. We initially agreed to work for some of these companies just to bring some money in. After a while, we started to understand that the business itself looked interesting. Then we had to persuade our investors, who invested in us because we were going to develop a new diabetes drug, that switching to food and other ingredients made sense.

A completely different market?
Yes and with lower margins. But also less risky, with lower development costs and much less competition compared to pharma. Today we’re actually a network business; our analogy is a railway company. Two molecules that might be very, very different – take vanillin and benzocaine, an anaesthetic – are actually on the same railway track from the yeast point of view. So we want to build and own this track and own that network. If we invest in making vanillin well, that also gets us towards benzocaine. It was interesting to realise that there are many different products by simply pursuing the same track. Maybe they’re not all so big in market terms, but they are built on the same research and can be produced with the same infrastructure: Everything is brewing. So you can produce one product this week and another one next week. Also it is possible to respond very quickly to market demand.

Pharma start-ups are mostly being exited through a trade sale. Will Evolva be a different story?
The food and personal care industries have seen very little transformative innovation. Companies typically spend only very little on R&D and that gives the opportunity to build something transformative. In pharmaceuticals you can’t do that because the big pharma companies will spot you and adapt pretty quickly. In a way it’s a problem for the biotech industry that it has stayed so reliant on pharmaceuticals and not innovated its business models for 30 years. In the ingredients business everyone collaborates with everyone, and by partnering and building a network you can get the resources you need. Using the railway analogy: If you want to build a track from Basel to Geneva and you want to fund this track, you fund it by selling off Yverdon-les-Bains to someone who wants this station, meaning this product. In pharma, this way of thinking is not possible. So I really believe we can grow our business organically and remain an independent company.

What is your business strategy with Evolva?
We want to make products where there is a clear benefit, not just that we can make it cheaper but also that we can make it better, like Stevia. We don’t want to compete with the big companies. Instead we are looking to develop products which have a new market or can open up a new market. In a nutshell, we focus on «high priced, small volume» in the health, wellness and nutrition industry. One of our latest products is Nootkatone, a grapefruit fragrance that turned out to be very good at killing and repelling the ticks that transmit Lyme disease. There is an unmet need for that and we have a product that is very safe, it smells nice and it’s very good at both repelling and killing the ticks.

Will you do the production yourself or enter into a partnership for the production?
At the moment, all we have is labs. In some cases we have a partner who does it, and in other cases we pay someone on a contract basis. But in the long term we want our own brewery, because it’s a business with constant improvement and ultimately, you need to have the bug and the brewery integrated. If you want to be flexible in manufacturing, it needs to be your facility. But this is a long-term plan that costs many tens of millions of dollars. We don’t want to do that too quickly and then find that we can’t sell enough products quickly enough to justify that.

Would you do that in Switzerland or somewhere else in the world?
I wouldn’t completely rule out Switzerland; it’s obviously a high-cost location for manufacture, but it’s possible to run these facilities pretty lean and there is a value in this market to being Swiss. If you’re selling a food ingredient and it’s a Swiss food ingredient you get a certain quality association. We don’t know the answer yet, but I think there will be something in the States and something in Europe.

Let’s talk more about the buzz around high-tech food, which is sustainable and healthier. There seems to be a lot of attention surrounding this issue that suggest you may be in the right place at the right time.
It’s clear that a lot of megatrends in society converge in the space we occupy at present. It started about four to five years ago, and it has taken a few years to build a momentum. But we don’t know how it will play out in reality. What’s going to be interesting is that food is fundamentally a very conservative culture, and innovation– by definition – is not. So how do you marry these cultures? If you look at the big food companies and if you take brewing beer, it’s a very conservative industry. But the rise of craft brewing is really challenging that. There are people experimenting with different flavours of beer made from different ingredients. The same could happen with synthetic biology: Innovation happens in small companies.

Is there a technological driver behind this trend?
I don’t see the development as technology driven; it’s rather about adapting technology to these needs because technology sort of arises for other purposes. Look at the smart farming movement: It’s just applying sensors; now you can image every single corn plant in the field and data mine. I think it’s more that various technologies have matured to the point where they can start to be used here, because they need to be robust and relatively affordable, and then you start to assemble them together. Now you can set up a biotech lab in your garage and start to do stuff – this is new for biotech. And it does raise important questions as to how we control it. There is no way you can track every single garage around the world.

What is the potential in this region; should there be more attention for this field?
I think it would be very good to try to widen everyone’s vision of what you can do with biology, because it’s not just cancer drugs. I think the limiting factor is investors, and that’s really why there are so few people in this space currently. Traditional biotech investors are investing in medical stuff – we only got our money because we started off doing that. We would never have got the money if we started off doing what we now do. I think you need new kinds of investors.

They are mostly likely to be found in Silicon Valley.
Yes, we need people that really think hard and deep about where trends will be and start playing there. Europe is not so good at doing that; it only follows. We need a different mindset. If you look at Silicon Valley, most of the people who are in the nutrition area come from the IT sector, whereas the biomedical guys find it very hard to get out of their way of thinking. The UK investment in food and agricultural research has declined, and you don’t have equivalents in Europe to the movement in the US of teaching farmer’s kids technology.

Next year will be a big year for you with Stevia hitting the market, will that be a booster? What do you expect?
We have a product we are very confident of in terms of taste and competiveness. Potentially, it’s very big. It’s clearly got the possibility of being a billion-dollar product in terms of revenue. But will it get there? We don’t know. It will take some years to get into the market. These products typically have 5 to 10 years to achieve peak sales, because we’re in a slow-moving industry. Unlike a pharmaceutical product that gets picked up immediately by the healthcare industry, market incumbents in the nutrition sector don’t change their flagship products and brands overnight. They normally extend their product lines gradually.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Neil Goldsmith is co-founder and CEO of Evolva SA in Reinach. He has a 25-year track record in building successful biotech companies, among them TopoTarget A/S and Personal Chemistry AB. Earlier in his career, he was Chief Executive Officer of Auda Pharmaceuticals, GX Biosystems and PNA Diagnostics.
He received a first-class BA Honours degree in Zoology from Balliol College, University of Oxford, and is a graduate of the New Enterprise Programme at the Scottish Enterprise Foundation, University of Stirling.

About Evolva
Evolva was founded by three people, Neil Goldsmith and two others as a spin-off of the US company Phytera, that was doing plant cell culture, had a lot of plant genes and was trying to find a way to put them in a host that was more robust than plant cells. Phytera IPO failed and the company needed to cut costs. It was clear that the project of putting the genes into yeast was going to be one of the things to be cut. Neil Goldsmith wanted to take this out and found a company around it. So in 2001 they set up Evolva – initially in Denmark – and raised some seed money just before 9/11. In 2003, they thought they had enough to raise a proper round as the market had improved. At this point the three partners already wanted to change our headquarters to another location than Denmark, as the country «wasn’t world class» in the field of small molecule pharmaceutics. In addition, they wanted to be where there was more money available. They looked at the States, Canada, UK but ended up choosing Switzerland.


Video explaining the fermentation process

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Pascal Bourquard: “We need more freedom: it's essential for creativity”

07.05.2015

At a recent «Out-of-the-Box» event, Pascal Bourquard agreed to give an in-depth interview to i-net innovation networks at his company Biwi in Glovelier, before showing us around his home in the  nearby village. As it happened, his mansion held the key to better understanding the man, who is the father, brother and son of an entrepreneur. Here, very close attention to detail and a clear preference for timeless objects were immediately evident.

In the interview, the businessman talked about his experience as an entrepreneur and his vision of innovation. At 58, Pascal Bourquard is about to embark on a maiden voyage marking the beginning of a new life, one that nobody, least of all him, is calling retirement. It is a trip that, in some ways, represents both a return to his roots and an exploration of the world with which he has engaged from a very early age. A sea journey that also satisfies an existential need for freedom, something vital for creativity.

Do you have to break the mould to think like an entrepreneur?
Pascal Bourquard*: Not necessarily, even though, since I was very little, I've always been the black sheep of the family. Even today, whenever I find myself trapped in a standard way of thinking, I try to break out. I'm a libertarian at heart. At the same time, I still have childlike curiosity and enthusiasm. I'm always raving about my latest discovery. My mother used to call me «Mr Gadget».

What other qualities go together with entrepreneurial spirit?
I think you need to be generous and not motivated by personal gain. You shouldn't be too calculating. Having a vision is essential. You need to know how to bring people together and how to share.

Is this something you've always known or something you've learnt during your career?
At the start, I was quite rebellious and anti-conformist. It took a while to learn that we never know, as Jean Gabin once sang.

Can you teach someone how to be an entrepreneur?
It can't be taught, unfortunately. You're either born with it or you’re not. That said, as you grow older you draw on certain knowledge, experience and contacts.

How do you view the current state of the Swiss economy?
With some defeatism, unfortunately. The diversity of paths leading to entrepreneurship — like mine — has been swept away by group think. Politicians are out of touch with economic reality.

What annoys you most in life?
There is too much emphases on making people do certain things rather than giving them greater freedom for thinking and creativity. Communist regimes have been forced to open up. Democracies continue to close in on themselves, to become trapped by restrictive dogmas.

Do you think that these constraints inhibit creativity?
I'm convinced of it. My twelve-year-old son, for example, is completely conditioned by video games and screens. When I take him to the circus, he's passive, because the images he sees on screen are far more impressive. When the extraordinary becomes permanent, we struggle when experiencing the ordinary.

How, then, can we revive some form of creative freedom?
We are lucky to have freedoms. We must exercise them and begin by voting for the right people. We need to create the conditions in which young people who perhaps have an apprenticeship rather than a university education can set up their own businesses; and without unnecessarily burdening them with high taxes. I think we should help young people who have completed an apprenticeship to become business people. I have little trust in politicians. I do, however, believe in young people when they are given freedom.

What is the right work-life balance?
That's a good question and one that is difficult to give a general answer to. What I can say, however, is that over the years I've learnt that having time to myself is very beneficial.

What else do you need to start a company?
Big international banks would do well to stop speculating and return to their roots, which is to say taking risks in supporting young entrepreneurs. Speculation is destructive and banks no longer know how to take the right risks. Most entrepreneurs want to create a buzz straight away to sell things. As far as I'm concerned, the success of a business lies in its longevity.  To last, you need to know how to be self-critical.

Is that your advice to young entrepreneurs?
When young entrepreneurs come to see me with a plan, I advise them to think long term. It's a vital message.

Do you foster a particular spirit of innovation in your companies?
Even if you have excellent champagne, it will not sparkle unless opened. The same goes for employees.

And how do you work?
Through listening, dialogue and training.

What form do you think future innovation will take?
It will undoubtedly be related to energy and the natural resources that we continue to use up. I believe in human ingenuity, despite the pessimism of some of my comments.

Will the third generation of Bourquards who will soon succeed you follow the same route?
I trust my children. I've conditioned them well... in freedom (laughs).

Interview: i-net

*Pascal Bourquard is a self-made entrepreneur who is active in many sectors like the watchmaking supplying sector, the electronic and microelectronic sector, the identification and security sector, the energy and car-sharing sector. Pascal Bourquard has a commercial and economical background, he is somehow the Richard Branson of Jura.

 

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Domenico Scala: «The Basel region is clearly undersold»

28.01.2015

In Domenico Scala, former CEO of Nobel Biocare, CFO at Syngenta and Group Treasurer of Roche, i-net appointed an experienced top manager from the life sciences industry as its president at the beginning of 2015. In an interview with «i-net Innovation report» Scala explains why Northwest Switzerland as an innovation hub for the life sciences should do more on its own account – and not only in terms of communication.

When it comes to innovation, US companies and startups leave the rest of the world standing. Why is this?
Domenico Scala: Is that really true? I’m not a fan of sweeping statements. I also don’t believe that we in Switzerland or in Europe are less innovative than the USA. But the fact is that the USA is very much more successful in the commercialization of innovation and, above all, also in self-presentation. The list of technical achievements developed in Europe but successfully launched on the market in the USA is long. Just think of the World Wide Web. And in medical technology it is largely American companies that are dominant today. This looked completely different ten years ago. Plant gene technology is also no longer a topic in Europe today, although we once led the world here.

The last example you mention has to do mainly with stricter regulations. An innovation killer?
Regulatory factors of course play a role. Plant gene technology was rejected in Europe. Today more than 80 percent of global soya and maize production is genetically modified. These products are also consumed by Europeans. When you look at it like this, people have quite clearly been cutting off their nose to spite their face. But the main difference between the USA and Europe is to be found elsewhere: historically, Europe’s economy has been built on debt ever since the Second World War. On the other hand, the USA has always set great store by entrepreneurship and venture capital.

Can you be more explicit?
The cantonal banks in Switzerland were founded in the 19th century to finance the development of infrastructure. What do the cantonal banks do today? They provide mortgages and that’s it. The venture capital function virtually no longer exists. In the pension funds, 60 percent of the money is invested in bonds and 40 percent in the stocks of listed companies. But in the USA, a much higher proportion of assets is invested in the establishment of new companies through venture funds.

The consequence of this system is that it supports the structure-preserving forces in Europe, from which mainly established companies benefit. And these companies less innovative. Is that also how you see it?
I’m constantly hearing that big companies are not innovative. But is that true? The perception in Basel should actually be quite different. We still have two mega-companies here today that have been among the most successful pharmaceutical companies in the world for decades thanks to their innovativeness. Most innovations in chemistry were driven by European companies, including also major companies from Northwest Switzerland. I don’t believe the size of a company alone is decisive – Apple and Google are also big companies. It is rather a question of mentality. Large companies are also more likely to take risks.

Does this mean we’ve lost our culture of innovation in Europe?
Yes, and this is drummed in at an early age. In the USA, it already begins with education: Americans largely have to pay for their education themselves. So for them even the university degree represents an investment that they somehow have to finance and that should eventually also pay off. And it does not stop there. The universities, too, are constantly seeking funds to finance their projects. Every president of a private US university gets up in the morning and tells himself: «Today I have to find ten million dollars.» There are no blank checks. This creates pressure, of course, and ultimately leads to innovators having to be very much more consistent in the commercial focus of their projects. This is lacking here. The Federal Institute of Technology and the Biozentrum of Basel University can match up to the best in the world academically. But when it comes to the number of spin-offs, then they are mediocre at most. Both systems have their pros and cons. The fact is simply that, in this way, more startups emerge from universities in the USA than here with us.

Universities are not the only resource of new companies. Basilea and Actelion are examples of very successful spin-offs of large companies. Should we not focus there instead?
That’s certainly an interesting idea. Innovations in established structures do indeed have a difficult time of it. There’s a lot of truth in the view that if you have a really innovative idea in a big corporation, you should push ahead with it unnoticed for as long as possible. In many large companies, more innovations are shot down than are driven forwards. For me, Kodak is the most striking example: They had all the patents for digital photography and still they let themselves get wrong-footed.

How can this be prevented? What can state-run innovation promotion organization like i-net do?
The question is whether a big corporation even allows the spin-off of an idea that it does not want to pursue further or not. Ultimately they never know whether the project might not perhaps be of benefit and at the same time they don’t want to create a potential competitor. So there are far fewer spin-offs from big companies than you might actually expect and would probably also be possible. When it comes down to it, such spin-offs also have to be decided and implemented top down. This is exactly how it happened with Actelion and Basilea. Bottom-up is much less feasible.

Unless there is sufficient venture capital and a suitable infrastructure, as well as other support services for entrepreneurs, such as coaching. This is precisely one of the objectives behind promoting start-ups. Do you see a conflict of interests with big industry?
An economist would say the state should keep its nose out of it and leave such developments to the market. But there is also a reservation: The market is focused on the short term; innovations on the other hand need the long-term view. New things don’t emerge from one day to the next. From the idea through proof of concept and funding to market launch quite often takes more than a decade. To this extent it is certainly not wrong if state institutions get involved here with the injection of appropriate resources in the right place.

And where will you apply the levers in future as president of i-net?
Basically, i-net is well positioned. I find it right, for example, that the emphasis is on the thematic promotion of innovation. And the choice of technology fields is right as well. The focus of i-net is on the networking of people and topics; this is an important service that cannot be provided in this form by the private sector. Many innovations today occur at the interface between the various technology fields. By offering a neutral platform here for the exchange of ideas and stimulating cooperation, i-net can make an important contribution to the future development of our economic region.
To some extent, Basel is something of a «one-trick Pony» and largely dependent on the life sciences.

How important do you think it is for a business center to strive for a certain diversification in this respect?
You can see the focus as a course or as a blessing. On the one hand the two big corporations absorb a lot of resources and talents. On the other they also create a lot of value and prestige from which our economic region can profit. I think we should look to this strength and use it as a springboard to new fields. For example, Roche employs more than a thousand ICT specialists in this region alone. That is already an outstanding basis for further development at the interface between life sciences and ICT. I believe there are dozens of such interesting fields that it would be worth advancing.

And how do you see Northwest Switzerland positioned in the global competition for inward investment?
The region is clearly undersold. Basel is not widely perceived as an innovation hotspot for the life sciences. The fact that we are should be much better communicated. In this, too, the Americans are unfortunately a step ahead. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

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«Geld allein bringt uns nicht weiter – man muss vor allem die richtigen Leute finden»

24.09.2014

Nach Obtree (heute Open Text) und Day Software (heute Adobe) führt Magnolia die Web Content Management-Tradition am ICT-Standort Basel fort. Mit 70 Mitarbeitenden und Kunden in aller Welt holen die Gründer Boris Kraft und Pascal Mangold inzwischen zu den nächsten Expansionschritten aus. In welche Richtung diese führen, verrät Chief Visionary Officer, Boris Kraft, im Interview mit i-net.

Versteht sich Magnolia eigentlich noch als Startup?
Boris Kraft*: Das ist eine interessante Frage und ich habe sie mir in letzter Zeit auch oft gestellt. Für mich persönlich hat ein Startup viel damit zu tun, rauszukriegen, was man selbst machen will und was der Kunde möchte, um dann den Bereich zu finden, in welchem das Unternehmen funktionieren kann. Hierfür braucht man ein paar Jahre und eine gewisse kritische Grösse. In der Schweiz liegt diese Grenze etwa bei zehn bis fünfzehn Mitarbeitenden. In den USA ist das natürlich anders. Dort kriegt man Millionen-Investments, die man erst mal verbrennen darf. Deshalb gelten in den USA Jungfirmen mit 100 Mitarbeitenden durchaus noch als Startups.

Magnolia ist also kein Startup mehr?
So gesehen nicht. Wir sind 70 Mitarbeitende in Basel, den USA, China, Spanien, Tschechien und Vietnam. Wir verbrennen auch kein Investorengeld, sondern finanzieren uns aus dem Cashflow. Trotzdem möchte wir möglichst viel von der Startup-Kultur beibehalten. Wir ziehen nächstes Jahr in den Dreispitz, wo rund um die Fachhochschule für Kunst und Gestaltung Basels Kreativ-Cluster am Entstehen ist. Hiervon und zusammen mit einer komplett neu nach unseren Bedürfnissen ausgebauten Location versprechen wir uns einige Impulse. Nichtsdestotrotz hat sich Magnolia natürlich auch verändert. Inzwischen haben wir eine zweite Führungsebene eingeführt. Pascal Mangold und ich sind als Gründer immer weniger im Tagesgeschäft involviert und können uns auf die strategische Entwicklung des Unternehmens fokussieren.

Und wo soll die Reise mit Magnolia hingehen?
Bildlich gesprochen haben wir in den letzten zehn Jahren die Geleise gelegt, die Loks und die Wagen gebaut, ein paar Bahnhöfe hingestellt und den Fahrplan bestimmt. Nun können wir mit der Eisenbahn richtig losfahren. Dabei entdeckt man viel Neues. Wir können den Betrieb optimieren, das Angebot erweitern oder auch völlig neue Wege gehen.

Was bedeutet dies in Umsatzfranken?
Wir haben uns keine quantitativen Ziele gesetzt. Bislang haben wir Umsatz und Mitarbeitende alle zwei bis zweieinhalb Jahre verdoppelt, und wir werden sicher weiter wachsen, wenn auch nicht mehr ganz in diesem Tempo. Unser Markt wächst um rund 10 Prozent pro Jahr. Heute haben wir 200 Kunden. Diese Basis würden wir gerne verzehnfachen. Ziel ist es, einen grösseren Footprint in den Markt zu bekommen. Hierfür müssen wir die Komplexität unseres Produktes reduzieren. Um kundenspezifische Anwendungen zu machen, muss man unsere Software sehr gut kennen. In Zukunft sollte auch ein Webentwickler mit geringen Java-Kenntnissen mit Magnolia komplexe Websites bauen können.

Könnte Magnolia mit Venture Capital nicht noch schneller wachsen?
Das könnten wir sicher, vor allem in den USA oder in für uns neuen Märkten wie Brasilien; oder auch im Mittleren Osten. Nur: Geld allein bringt nicht all zu viel. Man muss vor allem die richtigen Leute finden. Und das funktioniert bei uns derzeit auch ohne Investor sehr gut.

Das heisst bei Magnolia herrscht kein IT-Fachkräftemangel?
Wir haben einen guten Namen als Arbeitgeber. Unsere Mitarbeitenden sind sehr international. Das ist wichtig, weil wir global agieren. Die Leute kommen gerne nach Basel um zu arbeiten. Und es hilft, dass es hier aufgrund der Pharmaindustrie viele Expats gibt. Unser Marketingchef z.B. ist mitsamt Familie aus Austin, Texas nach Basel übersiedelt und fühlt sich wohl hier, weil er schnell Anschluss gefunden hat an die englischsprachige Community.

Ansonsten hinkt der ICT-Standort Basel sicher Zürich und der Westschweiz hinterher?
Ich sehe grosse Chancen für den ICT-Standort Basel. Doch um diese zu nutzen, braucht es auch den politischen Willen. Man müsste trinational denken und insbesondere in die Hochschulausbildung im Bereich ICT investieren. Der Nachwuchs ist heute entscheidend. Wenn jemand nach Zürich gehen muss für die Ausbildung, dann kommt er danach nicht wieder nach Basel. Er bleibt in Zürich. Daher ist die Chance eher gering, in Basel als Startup Fahrt aufzunehmen. Dass wir als Magnolia hier in Basel so weit gekommen sind, ist letztlich wohl eher Zufall.

Damit ist Basel nicht allein. Warum tut sich Europa eigentlich so schwer, ein eigenes ICT-Ökosystem aufzuziehen?
Es fehlt der Exit-Markt. Jeder US-Investor, der signifikant in ein Europäisches ICT-Startup investiert, wird dieses früher oder später dazu drängen, ins Silicon Valley umzuziehen. Denn dort sind seine Käufer.

Ist nicht auch Magnolia irgendwann ein Verkaufskandidat?
Man lebt nur einmal. Deshalb kann ich auch nicht behaupten, wir würden nie verkaufen. Vielleicht kommt einmal ein Angebot, das so gut ist, dass wir es nicht ausschlagen können. Von daher bleibt ein Verkauf immer eine Option. Aber es ist sicher nicht unser erklärtes Ziel.

Derzeit richten Sie Ihr Blick stark nach Asien, warum?
Stimmt, Magnolia gibt es inzwischen auch in Chinesisch und wir sind mit einem Büro in Peking präsent. Unser Fokus liegt zunächst auf westlichen Unternehmen, die in China tätig sind. Das Web wird in China noch anders genutzt als hier. Vertrauen in Marken und Produkte wird über Social Media und nicht über Webseiten gebildet. Aber das wird sich ändern und wir möchten von Anfang an dabei sein, auch weil Magnolia im Bereich E-Commerce sehr stark ist, und dies auch in China ein massiver Wachstumsmarkt ist.

Und was tun Sie in Vietnam?
Wir sind dabei in Saigon ein Dienstleistungszentrum aufzubauen. Wir haben gemerkt, dass es bei vielen unserer Kunden an Fachkräften fehlt, um die Projekte voranzutreiben. Deshalb bilden wir in Vietnam Spezialisten aus; diese werden unseren Kunden sowie Magnolia-Partnern zur Verfügung gestellt, um Engpässe

Offshoring ist also auch bei Magnolia ein Thema?
Als Entwicklungsstandort und -zentrale ist und bleibt Basel unbestritten. Aber als Softwareunternehmen muss man global agieren und die Ressourcen dort rekrutieren, wo sie vorhanden sind. Es geht dabei weniger darum, günstige Arbeitskräfte zu vermitteln, sondern den Projektstau zu lösen, der sich bei unseren Kunden aufgrund fehlender Fachkräfte immer wieder bildet. Davon versprechen wir uns einen grossen Wachstumsimpuls in unserem primären Geschäft, dem Verkauf von Software-Lizenzen.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer und Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Boris Kraft ist Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) und Mitbegründer von Magnolia. Seit 2003 befasst er sich mit der Entwicklung von Content Management Systems Magnolia CMS und betrachtet diese von einem strategischen und marketingtechnischen Standpunkt aus. Zu den Stationen seiner IT-Karriere zählen die objektorientierte Softwareentwicklung für NeXTSTEP, eine mehrjährige aktive Beteiligung an einem führenden Unternehmen für Internetsicherheit sowie die Programmierung der ersten Intranet-Lösung für die Roche Vitamins AG. Kraft ist verheiratet und Vater von drei Kindern. Er verbringt seine Freizeit im Sommer am liebsten beim Segeln auf dem Vierwaldstättersee und im Winter auf den Ski in den Alpen.

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«Europe is very much about stakeholders, Silicon Valley about shareholders»

21.08.2014

Michael Dillhyon is a US entrepreneur and investor living in Zug. Originally, he moved to Switzerland and only wanted to accompany the exit of a US spin-off company. But a growing family and new plans made him stay – he even discovered he has roots in this small country.

In our interview, Michael Dillhyon talks about his past and latest projects and explains what Swiss entrepreneurs do differently from US entrepreneurs.

What brought you to Switzerland and how did you end up staying in Zug?
Michael Dillhyon*: In 2003, I founded a company in the United States called «Netelligent». And we had an opportunity at Netelligent to spin-off a software company called «ActiveObjects» in Europe. The original plan was to be in Switzerland only for a short time until the exit took place and also to enjoy Europe. But in 2004, about two weeks before we were to leave Switzerland, I came home from the office and my wife said: «I’m pregnant.» We already thought that moving to Switzerland was a big change but on top of that, we were even going to have a child in this country.

Originally, you planned to return to the US afterwards. What was your reason to stay?
We liked our life in Switzerland a lot and saw that it was a good place for our children to grow up, but there is also another side to the story. As you may have noticed, I have quite a unique last name. My father discovered that his grandfather’s original name was «Jaeger-Blützinger» – and he was from Glarus. So you see, we moved to Zug firstly for economic reasons, then we stayed for the family and in the end it turned out that I have my roots in this country!

And the European expansion worked out for Netelligent?
Yes, it just evolved! In the end, ActiveObjects was acquired.

What made you become an investor in Swiss companies?
When I sold my stake in Netelligent and we sold ActiveObjects around 2010, I held some board roles and small jobs. Until then, I was not really involved with Switzerland business wise. I thought this was an interesting country and therefore decided to use my entrepreneurial skills. I travelled around Switzerland and realised that the Swiss do not think of themselves as entrepreneurs. But I can see that the idea of entrepreneurship is very strong in Switzerland; however, most of the people are more «lifestyle entrepreneurs». There is a big difference between this and «growth entrepreneurship». Risk capital doesn’t usually get invested in lifestyle entrepreneurship.

What projects are you following now?
When I travelled around Switzerland to make investments, I found that there weren’t enough companies that were ready that I could invest in. So I wanted to change the whole environment to create more investable alternatives. The idea was to change people’s mind-set. The difference between Europe and America is: The European community is all about stakeholders; but in America, in particular, Silicon Valley, it is about shareholders. The workforce here in Europe is not as flexible as it is in the United States.

There are many who think that Switzerland should be imitating Silicon Valley – what is your opinion?
The conservative market economy and the liberal market economy are very different and Switzerland should not try to be Silicon Valley. What’s missing in Silicon Valley is building sustainable long-term businesses. Everybody expects things to happen in three to five year increments. But a Raiffeisen or a Nestlé in Switzerland has a different approach. That’s why healthcare represents an unbelievable opportunity for Switzerland. These companies need long-term planning. The top 100 health software companies with 50 million or more revenue, aren’t fast-burners. Most of them take some time to reach 50 million in revenue and by that time, they are strong and solid.

So what should Swiss entrepreneurs do better?
I talked to many people here and invested in several small companies in Europe and the US between 2008 and 2012. If I approached a company in Switzerland and wanted to know plausible value-enhancing steps about how they were going to return my invested money, I usually got nice product descriptions but no business idea. It seems that for the engineering type of entrepreneurs in Switzerland, talking about figures and future steps are very difficult. They can tell you everything about their product, but they don’t know how to sell, how much money they need as an investment or when they will be able to return my investment.

But they have a business plan, don’t they?
The problem is that you get a cost-curve that goes up and an investment curve that goes down. But nobody can tell you at which steps you are getting to the break-even. I need to hear whom they will be calling to sell their product to.

So what you are saying is that we need more sales people in Switzerland?
Yes! Switzerland has a great history of micro engineering and bioinformatics; it’s the life sciences Mecca! It has the highest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita. But if you ignore Novartis and Roche, there are not many innovative companies left. The Swiss Government is very brave. It puts a lot of money on the table for early stage life sciences research. The problem is, the companies receiving the money need to sell their ideas to investors, to clients and to the media, etc.

But how can innovation be fuelled then?
Clusters of innovation are driving the innovation and building ecosystems. Rather than taking Swiss entrepreneurs to boot camps in Silicon Valley, we need more people who want to be part of this environment like lawyers, designers or marketing people. Because that’s the great thing about Silicon Valley, you can be in any room and create a team overnight because you have all the experts there.

So there aren’t enough talented people in the startup environment?
In the US, everybody is eager to work for equity and wants to be part of the next Facebook. But in Switzerland, nobody wants to be paid in shares and the most talented people take high-level jobs in large pharma companies and in the financial industry.

The big Swiss companies that make up for the innovation index were not built with venture money but with bootstrap money i.e. private people financing them. Is that still a good approach?
I totally believe in this. It shouldn’t be your goal to sell the company; you should rather see if you can sell your stuff. In Switzerland, we have far too many accelerators and incubators where companies easily get seed money! That is not enough; we need to build an ecosystem!

Doesn’t an ecosystem build itself? There is no agency of Silicon Valley.
No it doesn’t build itself; you need to seed the ecosystem. I believe that Silicon Valley got started because of the success of one company called «Fairchild Semiconductors» that triggered the development of the area. Here in Switzerland, we have the pharma business, but none of the big players has a real pipeline. Facebook for example has a serious, game-changing plan underneath the hood but I don’t see this in pharma. Switzerland is a great country to start something in - it is small and has a great setup to build a company. I think we would have a Fairchild in Switzerland if the key players were not so closed and so large. A very innovative company in the healthcare space is needed.

So your big bet on the future is «Healthbank». What is this?
«Healthbank» started in June 2012 and we have a long-term plan. The idea behind it is a platform to hopefully create the next Fairchild. In healthcare, it is still very difficult to trade data back and forth. There are many platforms to have data on, but you can’t trade it. Without a central platform, there is no open healthcare data and therefore, there is no collaboration. A company like Google can’t trade your data, because another big player like Microsoft will never plug into that. A middle ground is needed and our system, Healthbank, is completely unbiased. It’s self-sustainable and we have deep trust and complete interoperability. We started it as a Genossenschaft because this legal form has a long-standing tradition in Switzerland. The idea is that if you give us your personal health data, you become a member of the Genossenschaft.

What is Healthbank doing with my data?
Healthbank is not storing the data, but instead the transactions happening with your data – like credit cards. As a Genossenschaft, we have the trust of people. We are interoperable because the data can be shared through our platform and it acts as an intermediary. It is scalable because health data means a lot of money, as there is a very long supply chain and there are a lot of cross-sectional data. If a pharma company needs data for a study, we can tell you that and you can make the decision. You tell us if you would like to provide your data and then pharma receives it. Plus you receive a bit of money for your participation – it’s very simple.

How has this idea been developed so far?
Healthbank is still going through funding, as it was a bit difficult to find risk capital for a Genossenschaft. Personally, I’m leaving Healthbank as CEO for my next venture, which is to kick off a disruptive biosensor company in Europe. But I believe so strongly in the idea of healthbank, that upon my decision to step down as CEO, I made sure the reigns would be passed to a strong Swiss leader in eHealth. Mr. Reto Schegg is the new CEO of healthbank.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Michael Dillhyon was until mid-2014 the Founder/CEO of Geneva-based Healthbank, a citizen-owned, global open health data cooperative. In 2013, he was the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) for SystemsX, Switzerland’s largest (800M CHF) early stage life sciences fund, and served as a mentor for the ETH Entrepreneurship Lab. Prior to 2013, Mr. Dillhyon served as Chairman of Genebio, a bioinformatics software firm, and sat on the Strategic Advisory Committee for HealthTIES, an EU-backed consortium of four of Europe’s top regions in biosciences, medical technology and health entrepreneurship.

Previous to his move to Switzerland in 2004, Michael Dillhyon co-founded two US-based firms: Netelligent Corporation and ActiveObjects, where he held the roles of President, Chairman and CEO respectively. Mr. Dillhyon holds degrees in Biochemistry and Anthropology, as well as a MBA from the Olin School of Business.

 

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Michael Bornhäusser: «Schweizer Start-ups werkeln zu lange in der Comfort-Zone vor sich he...

03.04.2014

Als Gründungspräsident war Michael Bornhäusser der Spiritus Rector von i-net. Nach seinem Rücktritt im Februar 2014 wird sich der Serial Entrepreneur als ehrenamtliche Leiter auf den i-net Bereich Finance & Partner Netzwerk konzentrieren.

Im Interview erklärt Michael Bornhäusser, warum die Schweiz in vielen Bereichen vom internationalen Venture Capital gemieden wird und was in der Startup-Förderung zu tun ist, damit sich dies ändert. Michael Bornhäusser ist Mitinhaber der Basler Sallfort Privatbank und leitet dort den Bereich Private Equity, Products & Service.

Herr Bornhäusser, als zurücktretender Gründungs-Präsident von i-net überlassen Sie ihr Kind nun seinem Lauf. Wie sind Sie mit der Entwicklung zufrieden?
Michael Bornhäusser: Im grossen und ganzen können wir sehr zufrieden sein mit dem erreichten. Operativ sind wir gut aufgestellt, das Team funktioniert. Wir haben innerhalb von knapp zwei Jahren unser Netzwerk auf über 5500 Personen verdoppelt und mit rund 50 Veranstaltungen im vergangen Jahr 2500 Teilnehmende erreicht. i-net wird heute in der gesamten Region Nordwestschweiz wahrgenommen. Wo wir uns sicher noch verstärken müssen, ist in der Startup-und Investorenszene.

Wo sehen sie künftig die Schwerpunkte von i-net?
Es muss uns nun gelingen, noch mehr Multiplikatoren an Board zu holen, indem wir den Kreis von Ehrenamtlichen, die in unserem Netzwerk tatkräftig mitwirken wollen, vergrössern. Auch bei der Gründung neuer Unternehmen muss i-net eine noch wichtigere Rolle spielen als bislang.

Als Vielreisender haben Sie den Vergleich: Wo sehen Sie die Stärken in der Region Nordwestschweiz?
Biotech und Life Sciences sind ganz klar unser USP. Allerdings gewinnt die Interdisziplinarität zu unseren anderen Technologiefeldern, ICT, Cleantech, Medtech oder Nanotechnologien an Bedeutung.

Und wo sehen Sie die Schwächen der Region?
Die grosse Schwäche in der Nordwestschweiz sind die Universitäten und Forschungseinrichtungen. Es werden einfach zu wenige Spin-offs generiert, weil man im Bereich Company Building kaum Kompetenzen hat. i-net müsste hier unbedingt in die Bresche springen und aktiver auf diese Institutionen zugehen. Umgekehrt müssen sich die Universitäten und Fachhochschulen gegenüber diesem Thema öffnen. Im Zweifelsfall geht dies halt nicht ohne politischen Druck.

Was meinen Sie damit genau?
In Extremis müsste man halt den Geldhahn abstellen. Neben der Bildung und Forschung gehört es doch ganz klar mit zum Leistungsauftrag einer Universität, im Innovationsbereich Wertschöpfung zu schaffen. Nun sind Universitätsprofessoren in der Regel keine Unternehmer und das ist bis zu einem bestimmten Grad ja auch richtig so. Aber es braucht eben auch die Einsicht seitens dieser Institutionen, dass dem so ist, und dass es Partnerorganisationen braucht, die diesen Teil ihres Leistungsauftrages - nämlich das Unternehmertum zu fördern - besser machen.

An den Universitäten in den USA ist das aber anders, dort spielt Entrepreneurship eine gewichtige Rolle und man ist auch erfolgreich darin?
Das liegt daran, dass diese Universitäten sehr stark auf Fremdfinanzierung und damit von Spenden ehemaliger Studenten angewiesen sind. Deshalb hat eine amerikanische Hochschule auch ein grosses Selbstinteresse daran, dass aus Absolventen erfolgreiche Unternehmer werden. Denn diese werden später aus Dankbarkeit für die Ausbildung und aus gesellschaftlicher Verpflichtung, einen Teil ihres Erfolges an die Uni zurückgeben. Bei uns hingegen bekommt es schnell einmal ein «Geschmäckle», wenn etwa eine Bank einer Hochschule Geld zur Verfügung stellen.

Sie finden also das US-Modell besser. Immerhin gilt die Schweiz in allen Rankings punkto Ausbildungsstand ihrer Arbeitskräfte als Spitzenreiter?
Schon, aber laut diversester Ranking befinden sich die besten Universitäten der Welt in den USA sowie in England. Das angelsächsische Prinzip funktioniert also. Und es ist auch so, dass die angelsächsischen Länder die erfolgreichsten Neugründungen hervorbringen. Es ist schwierig hierzulande einen qualitativ hochwertigen Deal Flow für Investoren aufzubauen. Ganz anderes in den USA und England. Dort gibt es professionelle Setups, vielversprechende Cases mit grossem Gewinnpotenzial.

Aber Start-ups werden doch nicht ausschliesslich an Universitäten generiert?
Deshalb ist es in meinen Augen auch ein grosser Fehler, dass man hierzulande in der Startup-Förderung so eindeutig auf Universitäten fokussiert. Wir haben bereits festgestellt, dass - den Biotech-Bereich mal ausgenommen - die Erfolgsaussichten von Schweizer Start-ups, die direkt an Universitäten inkubiert wurden, relativ gering sind. Die Universitäten spielen in Relation zu dem, was sie an Förderungsmitteln von der Regierung bekommen, nur eine ganz kleine Rolle. Die erfolgreichsten Startups gemessen am Unternehmenswert beim Exit sind universitätsunabhängig als Spin-offs von Grossunternehmen entstehen. Typische Beispiel aus der Region Basel sind etwa Actelion oder Polyphor.

Fehlt es nicht einfach an Entrepreneurial Spirit?
Eindeutig. Die Ambitionen sind meist zu tief und die Unternehmen werden zu früh verkauft. Man gibt sich zufrieden, wenn man mit einem Startup ein paar Millionen Franken Umsatz erzielt und beim Verkauf einen tiefen zweistelligen Millionenbetrag löst. Deshalb ist die Schweizer Startup-Szene für global agierende Venture Capitalists nicht interessant. Diese steigen erst ein, wenn ein Exil dreistelliger Millionenhöhe in Aussicht steht. Schweizer Startups sollten ihre Ziele höher stecken. Doch dazu braucht es die entsprechenden Vorgaben der Investoren. Leider muss ich immer wieder beobachten, dass viele Startups hierzulande zu lange in der Comfort-Zone vor sich her werkeln können, weil die Business Angels zu viel Geld geben und zu wenig Druck machen.

Ist es nicht gar kontraproduktiv, wenn in der Schweiz einfach nur Unternehmen produziert werden, um sie später ins Ausland zu verkaufen. Dadurch wird doch keine nachhaltige Wertschöpfung generiert?
Das kann man auch anders sehen. Wenn wir in der Schweiz 10 Exits für 100 Millionen schaffen, dann sind das 1 Milliarde Wertschöpfung, die generiert werden und von dem ein grosser Teil in unserem Land bleibt. Als CH-Hightech KMU muss man sich sowie so von Anfang an global aufstellen. Hier hat die Schweiz aufgrund der existierenden Strukturen einen riesigen Vorteil.

Es gibt aber viele Unternehmer, die gar nicht mit VC-Geld aufgepumpt werden wollen um dann verkauft zu werden, sondern auf organisches Wachstum setzen. Ist das nicht auch legitim?
Natürlich. Als Gründer muss man sich einfach überlegen, was man will. i-net versteht sich ja keineswegs nur als Start-up-Plattform, wir bieten unsere Services ja auch dem klassischen KMU. Hierbei gilt es, Unternehmern ihre Wachstums- und Innovationspotentiale aufzuzeigen und sie mit unserem Netzwerk darin zu unterstützen, diese zu realisieren.

Dennoch, braucht es auch da Fremdfinanzierung. Gibt es denn keine Alternative zu Private Equity?
Die aktuelle Regulierungsvorgabe, Basel III, macht es tatsächlich sehr schwierig für eine Bank, Wachstumsvorhaben zu finanzieren, da sie in der Pflicht stehen, sehr viel mehr Eigenkapital hinterlegen zu müssen. Im Prinzip erhält ein Unternehmen nur noch dann Kredit, wenn es das Geld sowieso schon hat. Die Politik hat da im Prinzip einen Investitionsstopp veranlasst, mit dem Effekt, dass Expansionsvorhaben nur noch über Private Equity finanziert werden können. Gerade dies stellt die Schweiz vor grosse Herausforderungen. Deshalb müssen wir auch dringend attraktiver werden für das global agierenden Venture Capital. Und nochmals: dies gelingt nur, wenn unsere Unternehmen und ihre Business Angels aggressiver werden.
Ich habe kürzlich gelesen, dass 80 bis 90 Prozent aller Angel Investments hierzulande verloren gehen. Bei professionellen Investoren ist es gerade umgekehrt.

Hat das nicht auch damit zu tun, dass VCs später einsteigen, wenn das Risiko geringer ist?
Das sehe ich anders. Es wird meist falsch investiert und die Unternehmer werden nicht richtig unterstützt. Wir müssen dringen professionelle Strukturen schaffen, wie Accelerators und Innovationsparks. Besonders in den Life Sciences könnte man sehr viel mehr tun. In deinem Bereich gibt es zwei Städte die einem einfallen: Boston und Basel. Und ich bin sicher, dass Novartis, Roche oder Actelion sich beteiligen würden an einem entsprechenden Programm. Denn ein solches bringt auch für sie noch mehr Know-How in die Region, von dem sie wiederum profitieren können.

Und die anderen Technologiefelder?
Auch in den Nanotechnologien sehe grosses unmittelbares Potenzial. Bei den anderen Bereichen wird der Aufbau sehr viel länger dauern. Aber nichtsdestotrotz sollte man das machen. Zudem gibt es zwischen den Bereichen interessante Berührungspunkte, die man ausschöpfen sollte. Und hierzu können wir mit i-net die ideale Plattform bieten.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer

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Helmut Kessmann: «Biotech can be a real roller coaster ride»

06.03.2014

Helmut Kessmann has been involved in the life science startup scene on the Rhine from the beginning. Today, the native from North Germany is Head of Business Development at Polyphor. Previously, he was co-founder of Discovery Technologies and a member of the executive management of Santhera, both IPO companies.

In the interview with i-net he talks about the development of the Life-Sciences-Standorts Basel and the success factors for biotech startups.

Mr. Kessmann, how do you rank Basel as a location for biotech companies?
North Western Switzerland is one of the best locations for biotech startups globally and in Europe amongst the top three. However, we must not rest on our laurels; otherwise we risk ending up back where we were in the early 90s.

Wasn’t Basel already a pharmaceutical and chemical city at that time?
Yes, but no one wanted or could establish a biotech startup company here. The normal career path of people was that they joined one of the large corporations like Ciba, Sandoz, Roche, after studying and remained there until they retired. Then, in 1996, the merger of Ciba and Sandoz to form Novartis happened and suddenly there was a very active and successful biotech scene. This transpired within a few years - an experience that still fascinates me today.

Did you immediately jump on the bandwagon?
I was employed by Ciba-Geigy, but I have already played with the idea for a few years to start my own business. At that stage no one was willing to finance projects in Basel. This changed immediately after the merger of Ciba and Sandoz in 1996 when the Novartis Venture Fund was founded. Suddenly we were in the game. Discovery Technologies was among the first startups in which they invested. Our advantage was that we had a complete business plan in our pocket.

The Novartis merger was therefore the trigger for the startup scene in Basel?
Yes, but that alone was of course not enough. A fund needs to be managed by the right people. Jürg Meier and Ruedi Gygax were exactly the right people. In addition, there were many more important initiatives in the regions. If you summarize you’ll see that, in just two years, more than 20 companies were in the starting blocks, ready to move. Since then, a lot has happened and now there are extremely successful companies such as Actelion, Basilea, Evolva and Polyphor. More have since been acquired such as Speedel or Glycart. Today, there are not only many ways to gain access to funding, but also support networks such as that of i-net innovation networks. Without the positive environment for Biotech startups the establishment of a new company is very difficult. Also, one should not forget that globally there is active competition for new companies.

But Discovery Technologies, co-founded by you, then relocated to the USA?
Not quite, we opted for the IPO to go to the US, but the operational activities remained and continued unchanged in Allschwil. For this purpose we merged in 2000 with a US chemical company and created Discovery Partners Ltd. headquartered in San Diego. I think our company was one of the last with a successful IPO before the crash in the fall of 2000. Then the market lost 75 percent of its value in just a few months. Fortunately, Discovery Partners was profitable before the IPO and did not have to rely on further funding. Later, Discovery Partners became Infinity Pharmaceuticals through another merger, which is still successful today, especially in drugs for oncology.

Your next venture, Graffinity, did not proceed exactly as planned?
I had learned that investing in the life sciences sector is done in waves and the preferred areas for investors can quickly change. With Discovery Technologies, we were able to ride on the height of the investment wave in the late `90s. However, Graffinity in Heidelberg, found itself at the end of this cycle, even though the technology was very innovative and actually fitted the needs of the "genomic era" perfectly. Thereby, we could record 30 million euros in April 2001, which was at least the second biggest round of funding in Germany that year. But only months later, and as a result of the biotech market crash, the interest of the investors in "platform companies" decreased to zero and people wanted to see clinical products.

How did you continue with Graffinity?
We had to be creative. After some searching we found an ideal partner namely MyoContract located in Basel. MyoContract was the first spin-off of the Biozuntrum in Basel and was established due to the great vision and initiative of the founder and CEO, Thomas Meier. The company had a product candidate but no money, and we had money but no product candidates. The result was Santhera. Graffinity was leached out of the new company through a management buyout and now supplies the old technology to the service business. Thereby Graffinity could survive without further venture capital.

But after the great start Santhera is still waiting for the breakthrough?
Biotech is rarely straightforward, but I am convinced that Santhera will also be commercially successful. Their focus on rare diseases, for which there is virtually no treatment, was correct in any case. In 2006 the company made a successful IPO and we received outstanding support from investors, researchers and patient organizations. Unfortunately, the most important product demonstrated later in the clinical Phase III that it did not have the effectiveness we hoped it would have. At one stage over 80 percent of the goodwill was gone. But that is how it is in biotech - a real roller coaster ride.

Was there a Plan B?
Yes, the company is currently trying to obtain the European market approval for the treatment of sudden blindness, a rare hereditary disease. The decision will probably be made in 2015. For me, personally, there was not much to do at Santhera in 2011 and I accepted an offer from my present employer, Polyphor. I have been the Head of Business Development since 2011.

How do you see the local biotech startup scene today?
We have already achieved a lot, but I would like to see many more young companies. Basically, Biotech is one of the most profitable investments, but there are big ups and downs. Many investors show interest - but there is also uncertainty. This is manifested in the new financing models. Private capital plays an increasingly important role. In Polyphor, investments were made almost exclusively by individuals. These are usually wealthy individuals from the surrounding area with a great affinity for pharma.

What is the most difficult phase for a startup?
Once the effect of a drug in humans is demonstrated, the financing is often easier, although you then really need large amounts of money. At this time good deals with interested pharmaceutical companies are also usually possible. It is very difficult earlier, as well as between the early pre-clinical development and proof of concept phases. Here more money needs to flow and this is where the private investor plays a key role - not only in Switzerland. In Germany, for example, a large part of all biotech investments were made by three individuals: SAP founder Dietmar Hopp, and the brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann who sold Hexal to Novartis. Nevertheless, another early-phase innovative fund with an investment strategy similar to the Novartis Venture Fund of the `90s would be very helpful.

What alternative funding models are currently becoming important?
Non-dilutive financing, which means you acquire financing without relinquishing shares in the company, is making its mark. These include, for example, the US Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health, which are no longer bound to their investments in the United States. Local companies such as Evolva, Santhera and Basilea have already benefited. Patient organizations also play an increasingly important role as they have lots of money. The French Association for muscle diseases, the Association Française Contre Les Myopathies, has an annual budget of nearly 100 million Euros as a result of their famous Telethon. Also joining are organizations such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in the US or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has already invested billions, especially in the research of drugs for tropical diseases. The extent of these investments did not exist 10 years ago.

So, is the philanthropic sector strengthening?
Yes, the trend towards alternative financing models, including the Venture Philanthropy (VP) model, is clear. However, little is known about the latter in the biotech scene. Although it is profit-oriented work, in this financing model the profits are reinvested in non-profit organizations for research. In other words, the donors of these funds aim to keep their assets, but not to increase it such as has been customary, but to support a charitable cause. The European VP Association recently had a meeting in Geneva with 700 participants and I was impressed by the professionalism and presence of many bankers and venture capitalists who wanted to learn about this concept or are already active with VP models.

Would Venture Philanthropy also be an approach for North Western Switzerland?
Why not, after all there are already many biotechs that have received funding from such alternative models. It will however not be sufficient for the next wave of startups here in Basel. It also requires an intelligent infrastructure, better early-stage financing, and support organizations and networks such as i-net. It would be a shame if we now just await the next crisis; if it happens we must be one step ahead. Today we can operate from a position of strength and we must exploit it.

Interview by Christian Walter and Thomas Brenzikofer

A short CV of Helmut Kessmann can be found here

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