It is also in the interest of small companies to look beyond their national borders: biotechnology and medical technology specialists in neighbouring European countries offer excellent prospects to German companies – and vice versa. Regional life sciences networks help establish and intensify contacts and collaborative activities between international partners.
Following its launch in 2010, “FASILIS” became instrumental in giving small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) easy access to a wide range of public and private research facilities. In the STERN Bioregion, the transnational pilot project FASILIS functioned as a marketplace for life sciences companies interested in establishing and intensifying contacts with partners from selected regions in Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain and the Netherlands. A hallmark of the FASILIS concept was a voucher scheme to stimulate transnational innovation. A total of 82 FASILIS vouchers worth €6,000 each were awarded to small- and medium-sized companies or research institutions in the FASILIS partner regions. An SME could use the voucher to contract out research assignments or services to other institutions. If the cost of the service exceeded €6,000, the respective SME simply covered the difference from its own budget.
Dr. Manfred Kauer from BioRegio STERN Management GmbH who was in charge of the FASILIS programme in the STERN Bioregion commented on the positive outcome of the two-year programme: “For us, FASILIS was a kind of teaser programme to find out whether and how life sciences companies in the STERN Bioregion could benefit from the international contacts they establish. It turned out to be easier than anticipated – on condition that a company knew of suitable partners and knew who to contact for specific issues. Along with the other regional partner organisations in the six countries that participated in FASILIS, we acted as mediators to bring together suitable companies and research institutions.”
As FASILIS worked very well and has led to durable long-term cooperation between SMEs and facilities in the partnering countries, a successor programme (IN2LifeSciences; IN2LS) has been implemented that makes use of FASILIS’ most successful tools. The STERN Bioregion has already become involved in this programme. IN2LS, which receives more than €1.5 million in funding from the EU and the same amount from the cluster organisers, was launched in April 2012 and will end in spring 2015. IN2LS aims to accelerate the transition from research to market of products produced by SMEs in the field of life sciences and medical technology. It is also based on a voucher system. Manfred Kauer explains the differences between FASILIS and IN2LS: “The new programme has brought different partner regions on board; while our British partners are not participating in this programme, new partners from France have joined us this time around. Under IN2LifeSciences, we will enhance the use of social media and strengthen web-based networking between partners. However, it is worth pointing out that the use of social media alone does not equal good contacts. We have found that it is still very important for partners to meet face to face. And this is why we are offering vouchers that cover, or at least partially cover, travel expenses.”
IN2LS also awards innovation and cooperation vouchers that can be used – just like the FASILIS vouchers – for ‘purchasing’ services and/or research assignments. The IN2LS regions plan to award between 150 and 200 vouchers of different monetary value. They also have the declared goal to award as many vouchers as possible to as many different partners as possible. “We are now very excited to see whether and how the voucher system will be accepted,” Kauer said.
Targeted bilateral meetings are an integral part of the ‘Meet & Greet’ concept. In addition to providing small monetary incentives for SMEs to travel and meet potential partners, IN2LifeSciences also organizes larger meetings that focus on access to financing for transnational cooperations and projects. Such meetings are new to IN2LS; the FASILIS programme focused mainly on specific subjects, technologies and products. “With the new programme we hope to provide companies with a platform for presenting themselves to potential internationally active investors. In addition, we will also work with business angel networks and venture capitalists whose field of action is not solely centred on their home country,” Kauer explained.
Biomat-IN (Biomaterials Innovation Network), another EU project funded under the European Interreg IVB Programme, is also aimed at bringing together partners across the EU, both in person and virtually. Biomat-IN aims to stimulate international cooperation between companies active in the field of biomedical materials that can be used for a broad range of different purposes, including in the field of regenerative medicine, electronics and other technical applications. The Biomaterials Innovation Network brings together five European regions, including two in France, and one each in Germany, England and the Netherlands. Eurosanté Lille is the project leader of the Biomat-IN project and selects the partner regions. The STERN Bioregion was selected as a partner due to already existing good contacts and its recognized competence in biotechnology and biomaterials. Biomat-IN has also launched a voucher system (innovation voucher).
Dr. Margot Jehle from BioRegio STERN Management GmbH in Stuttgart, who coordinates the project in the STERN Bioregion, explains the concept: “Each partner region can award five cooperation vouchers worth up to €10,000 each. Another special Biomat-IN offer is the so-called SIG events; SIG stands for ‘Special Interest Group’. SIG events are aimed at bringing together partners from different countries whose projects and competences are similar or complement each other.” The SIG events provide an overview of specific regional strengths, feature talks given by companies and research institutions and face-to-face meetings to encourage in-depth discussions among participants. SIG events will be held in each of the five partner regions. The first SIG event took place in Nottingham (England) at the end of June 2012 and focused on the general exchange of information between the partners; the second SIG event will take place in the French city of Lille in December 2012 and will specifically focus on the topic of orthopaedics, including the kinds of biomedical implant that can be used for specific applications, the surface and material properties of specific implants, implant solutions that have already been placed on the market and will also identify future research needs.
The German SIG event is in the planning stage; it will be the third of a total of five and will take place in the trade fair congress centre in Stuttgart on 27th February 2013 concomitantly with Medtec Europe 2013 (26th – 28th February), which offers a suitable platform for the planned meeting. People interested in participating in the third SIG event are welcome to contact BioRegio STERN Management GmbH for further information about the meeting including details on how to participate. The meeting in Stuttgart will focus on multifunctional biomaterials and surfaces. The short face-to-face meetings held at the SIG event in Nottingham will also feature in the third SIG event in Stuttgart. The Stuttgart meeting will also offer small discussion panels. “SIG events are kept relatively general, only dealing with specifics where necessary,” said Dr. Manfred Kauer explaining the core concept of SIG events. The fourth SIG event will take place in the French city of Nantes in June 2013 and the final SIG event will take place in the Netherlands.
Information about the Biomat-IN project is available to interested members of the public through www.biomatin.eu. The Biomat-IN Internet portal features a database that lists companies and institutions in participating regions that are active in the field of biomaterials. The database lists key information, and users can search for companies, research centres, technologies and services as well as locate them according to countries, research institutions and companies. This facilitates the search for and contact with suitable partners. In addition, the Biomat-IN website functions as a virtual marketplace: “Companies can for example present technologies and know-how that might help them in their search for cooperation partners in the other regions. The information they provide does not necessarily need to focus on biomaterials: for example, there is one company that presents heating cords that have nothing to do with biomaterials in the first instance, although they have the potential to be used for specific applications,” Jehle explained. The ‘Biomaterial Technology Marketplace’ also lists product licenses, technologies and methods. As the legal conditions relating to transnational IP issues are highly complex, the partnering regions also put interested parties in contact with experts who are able to provide advice.
• BOM Brabant, the Netherlands (lead partner)• OOST Gelderland, the Netherlands• BioRegio STERN Management GmbH, Germany• BioMeTi Hannover, Germany• Liège, Belgium• Biopeople Copenhagen, Denmark• CRITT Santé Bretagne, France • Atlanpole Nantes, France
• Eurosanté, France (lead partner)• Atlanpole Biotherapies, France• BioRegio STERN Management GmbH, Germany• MedilinkEM, England• LIOF, the Netherlands