HollandBIO is an industry association that represents more than 200 biotechnology companies in the Netherlands. Its members mirror the biotech sector: from start-ups and mid-sized to small companies to the big firms, active in healthcare, nutrition or the bio-based economy. They are the pioneers, the movers and shakers that form the heart of the sector. Working in close partnership with its members, HollandBIO aims to create a society in which biotechnology makes a maximum contribution to health, sustainability and economic growth.
Here, Bio Market Insights’ Liz Gyekye catches up with Annemiek Verkamman, managing director at HollandBIO (@HollandBIO).
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind HollandBIO?
Annemiek Verkamman (AV): The biotech sector is immensely innovative. Biotech companies transform cutting edge scientific findings into applications that go straight where they are needed: to people and society. These endeavours seldom avoid hitting a snag or two, because by definition, frontrunners are the first to reach the limits of what is possible. Therefore, frontrunners need room to innovate. HollandBIO concentrates its efforts on removing the obstacles that get in the way of these frontrunners. We are convinced that this approach generates much more impact than simply defending the status quo.
LG: What trends are your members seeing this year?
AV: The sense of urgency for change in society is growing, mainly driven by climate change. I also think that the awareness that technology, especially biotechnology will deliver a major contribution to the challenges we face. That is also what I hear back from our members; societies slowly but steadily are opening up to and becoming more and more enthusiastic about that innovative applications they are working on.
As these products get increasingly closer to society, the call by consumers for them to be adopted on a broad scale is louder than ever. Although the outlooks are bright for the sustainable, bio-based products that life sciences and biotech companies and others are working on, it is also becoming clear that regulations and policies are not always up for these innovations. However, also there we see a trend of national and European institutions gearing up towards making room for these innovations. The recently launched Green Deal by the European Union is for example a big step forward in terms of putting forward some big ambitions for the near future.
LG: What were you doing before you took up this role?
AV: Life sciences and biotech have been front and centre of my career so far. I have a background in Chemistry and Economics & Business Administration and started off as a product developer of diagnostic products. Subsequently, I was program director of the Life Sciences & Health innovation program of the Dutch Government. Before the merger six years that formed HollandBIO, I was the head of one of the two associations. So, all in all, I have been active in the life sciences sector for over 20 years now.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody looking to get involved in this sector?
AV: I would recommend anyone looking to make a difference in this sector to find an organisation or company that makes work of research, development or marketing of products that is close to what makes that person tick. Nothing is better than combining your personal drive with a job or employer that has the same purpose or is striving for similar goals. In addition, companies and organisations throughout the life sciences and biotech sector are looking for new talent as they growing rapidly.
LG: What challenges are your members facing?
AV: One of the biggest challenges in the biotech and life sciences field is access to enough capital. Our sector is characterised by a risky, lengthy and capital-intensive development process which scares off most conventional public and private providers of capital. This leads to the so-called valley of death in which a lot of promising companies and innovation encounter major delays or even stop to exist. This is also the case for companies that want to really scale up their production, especially in the bio-based and industrial biotech field. One of the other challenges in the sector is the relative novelty of these innovations, which leads to a lack of awareness and knowledge of the advantages they bring amongst key stakeholders and consumers. This in turn makes acceptance or future-proof regulations and policies that stimulate the transition towards a biobased or circular economy also more difficult.
LG: What are you going to be discussing at WBM 2020?
AV: During the session I will be participating in at WBM 2020, we will be diving into the companies and innovations that are the drivers of change and what these frontrunners need to become successful in their quest. What is it that these companies need, what is the role of governments and what do we have to do as society to make change happen? It is about money, models and markets. Several aspects are crucial: from access to capital to market adoption, and from stimulating regulations and policies to
LG: What’s your favourite sustainability product?
AV: One of my favourite sustainability products has actually not hit the grocery stores and supermarkets yet, but is one of the ultimate promises for the near future in the transformation to a greener agricultural system and a better world. I am of course talking about cultivated meat! I am fascinated by the concept that are increasingly able to take animals out of the process, whether is it pork, cow, chicken or fish in a way that provides us with healthy, tasty and more sustainable alternatives for meat consumption. What also makes this my favourite, is that the Netherlands has been (and still is) one of the pioneers in this field.
Annemiek Verkamman will be will be speaking at the World Bio Markets Conference, the leading assembly for the bio-based economy, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on 25th March.