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“Persistence leads to success” - corporate development in the biotech sector

For graduates with innovative business ideas, becoming independent entrepreneurs can be an interesting alternative to traditional career paths. This is exactly what Dr. Reinhold Horlacher thought 15 years ago. He had just been awarded his PhD from the University of Konstanz, and had a business idea that he decided to turn into reality by establishing a company called Trenzyme GmbH. In the following interview with BIOPRO, he describes his experience of establishing and developing the biotech company.

Dr. Horlacher, what made you decide to set up your own company? 

When I was doing my PhD, a business idea came up that I decided to develop further. After completing my PhD, I received support through the "Young Innovators" funding programme for a period of two years, which gave me the financial backing that I needed to start my own business. As part of this programme, I could attend training and coaching events and the university allowed me to use its technical resources, which was absolutely decisive for the start-up project. During those first two years, the services offered developed very well, to the extent that I decided to venture into independent entrepreneurship and establish Trenzyme.

What were the obstacles you had to overcome in the beginning? What about financial success? Did it come quickly?

The first few years after the company was established were quite difficult because it did not have any venture or other foreign capital and therefore had to make money from the word go. This could be a challenge at times, but was also a constant motivation to keep the final goal in sight. In retrospect, this was a positive thing because it also meant that we always got direct feedback from the market. It also kept our feet firmly on the ground. We were forced to constantly assess the original business idea and optimise it further. It goes without saying that huge developmental leaps were not possible. But sometimes, small steps in the right direction are better than huge leaps. I also think that it makes unexpected collapses highly unlikely. This type of development is certainly not always possible in all areas, but I think we did the right thing, especially as far as the service sector we are active in is concerned.

Are there any typical pitfalls you would have liked somebody to have told you about before you actually established your business?

The number of envious people grows as you get more successful and the more the company grows. As a young company founder, you are perhaps a little naïve and dewy-eyed. However, you eventually realise that not everybody has the best intentions. Young entrepreneurs need to be far more cautious and thicker-skinned than they tend to be. I had to learn this as well.

Over time, you decided to have Trenzyme certified according to DIN ISO 9001. What role does this type of certifications play for biotech companies?

Dr. Reinhold Horlacher has had his business for 15 years and has never regretted his decision to become self-employed. © Trenzyme GmbH

Certification is becoming increasingly important. Our customers, the pharmaceutical companies, operate in a highly regulated environment. Therefore, we as suppliers have to adapt to these requirements.

Just over five years ago, we had our quality management system certified according to DIN ISO 9001, and shortly after we put a lot of energy into a professional LIMSthat enables gapless documentation and sample traceability. This would for example enable us to carry out work according to GxP2 whenever we choose to do so. With this, we have established a standard that our pharmaceutical clients often do not have in place; this builds trust and, for us, is an investment in the future

LIMS: Laboratory information and management system

2 GxP: Good x Practice, where x can mean laboratory, manufacturing, clinical, pharmaceutical, etc.

How have things changed for biotech company founders since you established your company?

In the years leading up to the biotechnology hype in 2000, huge sums of money were generously injected into new business ideas and start-ups, with the result that companies often outpaced their own growth. This was not good. The new market then collapsed, and many of the companies were swept out of the market. After that, life for development- and capital-intensive start-ups, as well as newly established companies with moderate capital needs was much more difficult. Venture capital companies as well as banks tended to be very reluctant to inject money into start-ups, and many excellent ideas and motivated company founders fell by the wayside. In the meantime, the situation has improved somewhat. Nevertheless, in Germany, we need to take care not to lose touch with the most important biotech growth countries.

What kind of developments do you foresee for small biotech companies in the future?

Small biotech companies can remain up to date technologically and maintain their presence in the market with own research and development projects. © Trenzyme GmbH

We have a lot of good people and ideas in Germany; the university landscape is attractive and education and training are excellent. These are no doubt the best conditions for setting up a large number of new companies. Nowadays, I would say it is more up to the politicians to pave the way for new companies by giving company founders better starting conditions and the support they need. In my opinion, we need incubators with excellent equipment and low rents for start-up companies as well as special start-up programmes and funds. I also think it is the duty of government and society to support high-technology developments in order to secure long-term prosperity and jobs – and this of course applies to the biotech sector too. 

You have been able to successfully establish yourself on the market. What are your future plans, especially for the future development of your company?

It used to be clients who approached us and we tended to survive mostly by word of mouth and recommendations. As we are still present on the market and our customer base is increasing steadily, it seems that we are doing a pretty good job. So we are in an ideal starting position to initiate an active growth process and focus intensively on marketing and acquisition activities. Don't be surprised if you hear and read more about Trenzyme in the future. We will continue to pursue own R&D projects, keep up to date in terms of technology and offer this added value to our customers.

If you look back on the past 15 years, what do you think are the greatest motivations for starting a company?

Setting up one's company means that you can realise your dreams, be creative and turn ideas into reality. You are the architect of your own fortune and you assume responsibility for yourself and your employees. However, if you want to have an 8-hour working day and a five-day working week, you are well advised to think carefully before starting your own business. But for me this is no problem, I think all the work and time invested has been worth the effort.

Reinhold Horlacher holds a PhD in biology and is the founder and managing director of Trenzyme GmbH, a contract research organisation offering services for pharmaceutical companies and scientific institutions. The biotech company develops genetically modified cell lines and proteins, thus providing its customers with essential components for pharmaceutical research and the development of new drugs. In 2015, Trenzyme celebrates its 15th anniversary. Its customers are well-known pharmaceutical companies in Germany and Switzerland as well as numerous biotech companies and small research institutions.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/persistence-leads-to-success-corporate-development-in-the-biotech-sector