By Chrétien Herben
and Math Kohnen
and Math Kohnen
LifeSciences@Work (LS@W) started in 2008, and now in 2023, it proudly celebrates its 15th anniversary. To mark this festive occasion, this special edition of the Health~Holland Update is devoted to the successes of LS@W throughout the years. You will find interviews with entrepreneurs and investors, facts & figures about the business accelerator support programme that LS@W offers and lots of experiences of LS@W participants. Get inspired and discover where many Dutch Life Sciences companies have their roots.
Idea to innovation
So many great life sciences ideas stay great ideas, whether we are talking about pharmaceutical products, medical devices, diagnostics or enabling technologies. And that’s most unfortunate, especially if ideas are promising. However, as a researcher, turning an idea into a business is challenging. You need to combine two completely different worlds in such a way that they amplify each other.
Expert by experience
15 years ago, the idea of combining both worlds in a programme to support life sciences researchers with business aspirations became a reality with the start of LifeSciences@Work. The idea did not come out of the blue: ‘I knew from experience what it was like to take a research result
out of my own PhD work and translate it into a commercially viable product’, says Chrétien. ‘It involved more than just translating the research to the market. It was about building a team, a company and raising venture capital to pay for it all. I gained so many lessons from this experience.
I used those to bring together the right support programmes to do something for people who were about to jump on the same train as me.’
Math and Chrétien joining forces
Math had worked for many years as a management consultant for corporates. He helps them to identify new business opportunities and make those happen through corporate venturing. In 2007, the Netherlands Bioinformatic Consortium (NBIC) asked him to help their researchers translate their bioinformatics tools into new business. Chrétien, who was working as Valorisation Manager for the Netherlands Genomics Initiative that funded NBIC,
learned about this Venture Challenge workshop, and its value was immediately clear to him. He decided that the Venture Challenge had to become a crucial part of the LS@W programme. Math and Chrétien joined forces, and together, they built the Venture Challenge into the most successful startup support programme in the life sciences.
Setting up the programme
The unique position and funding of the Netherlands Genomics Initiative made it possible to shape a national support programme for life sciences researchers who aspired to start a company based on their research results. And now, fifteen years later, LS@W has supported more than 200 Biotech and MedTech startups. Together, these startups have attracted more than 850 million euros and generated over 1250 direct jobs, a multiple of those in indirect jobs.
In 2022, the Lifesciences@Work Venture Challenge won the European Enterprise Promotion Award (EEPA) in the “Improving the Business Environment and Supporting the Digital Transition” category. This annual prize is awarded to initiatives that help (to promote) small and medium-sized enterprises.
Winning the EEPA award gives us a boost to keep up the good work with the Venture Challenge. ‘We hope that this international recognition makes it clear that this instrument is something we should keep going!’
- Math Kohnen & Chrétien Herben
LS@W and the Venture Challenge are supported by Health~Holland, the Top Sector Life Sciences & Health and several private sponsors such as Loyens & Loeff (see all sponsors on the right). Both the Top Sector and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy recognise the importance of the programme for the Dutch life sciences and health sector. LS@W brings together the best ideas from all the regions and offers specialised support in this niche of science-based startups. Over the years, Venture Challenge has become a recognised programme within both the investor and scientific communities.
‘Innovation development in the lifesciences and health sector is a complicated process with many hurdles and stakeholders. A well-rounded support system starting at the initial idea and ending at market introduction is key and much valued by the start-up teams. The Venture Challenge, the Expert Classes and MedtechPartners have been the perfect start-up support cascade, supporting teams with the development of their innovation. At MedTechPartners, the whole team would love to continue the collaboration for the coming 15 years! ‘
- Team Medtechpartners: Joep Welschen, Boris Polm & Celine Haukes
‘It’s always a pleasure to host the finals of the Venture Challenge at our office, since we know how important nourishing the next generation life-sciences companies is. By supporting the Venture Challenge, we provide a steppingstone for great innovations that will help patients in the future. We have seen the lifesciences@work team grow and professionalize over the years and hope to be a part of the community for many years to come. ‘
- Kim Lucassen, Partner, Loyens & Loeff Life Sciences & Healthcare Team
‘A common denominator among many NWO funding lines is that we want to increase and accelerate the economic or societal impact of the research. With the Venture Challenge, we support researchers in bringing their scientific findings to market by providing funding, training and coaching. At NWO we are a proud partner of Health Holland in bridging the gap between science and society with the Venture Challenge. ‘
- Simone Ordelman, NWO
‘Starting a company in life sciences comes with many hurdles. In every phase new questions arise. The Venture Challenge focuses on the idea and the business plan. The Expert Classes that follow provide practical tools. “How do I organise the finances? How do I protect our IP? How do I negotiate with potential investors?” The knowledge, but even more importantly the network, is what we provide.’
- Simone Hermans, Programme Coordinator LifeSciences@Work
In this special magazine of the Health~Holland Update, we would like to share some of the success stories through interviews with LS@W alumni, an overview of the results, and some quotes from the participants.
We’re inspired to see the growth of the companies concerned. They show that starting a business in the life sciences is a long but worthwhile process. We look forward to the next anniversary!
- Chrétien Herben and Math Kohnen