Anyone establishing a start-up at the University of Zurich (UZH) is not alone. This is essential, especially for biotechnological innovations: The market is fiercely contested and the hurdles of long, expensive lead times are high. However, a successful support system has become established at the UZH that also includes close-by renowned research institutions and the innovation ecosystem of the Greater Zurich Area. Among other things, exchange between start-ups has been institutionalized. “This is worth its weight in gold,” says Deana Mohr, who founded the biotech spin-off MUVON in 2020. “You witness formulas for success and can learn from mistakes.” MUVON is based on twelve years of research on cell therapy, and soon a treatment for stress urinary incontinence in women is to be offered.
Consistent focus on biotechnology brings success
Since 1999, 143 spin-offs have been founded at the UZH and seven arrived in 2020 alone. The majority of these are in the fields of biotech and medicine active. This is down to the fact that this is one of the three key focus areas of the UZH. Biotech can include for example tissue engineering or protein engineering, in which tailored biomolecules serve as targeted therapeutics. As such, the UZH is investing heavily in the area of personalized medicine and has had a number of successes. Molecular Partners AG is an internationally known UZH spin-off that was founded in 2004, for instance. It backs innovative protein therapies based on DARPins, which started out at the UZH. The DARPin active substance class is a new hope for oncology and virology and is currently being used as an innovative therapeutic approach for the treatment of COVID-19.
UZH Innovation Hub supports start-up projects
With the UZH Innovation Hub, the university has created a platform that acts as a catalyst as well as accelerator for innovations and offers a wide range of funding. At the same time, strategic subjects are driven forward, such as the innovation cluster Biomedicine and Life Sciences. Onur Boyman, Professor of Clinical Immunology and Director of the Clinic of Immunology, runs the innovation cluster. He explains: “This support and the access to the university infrastructure aims to enable researchers to dare to tackle even difficult questions.” Maria Olivares, Head of the UZH Innovation Hub, points out: “Entrepreneurial activities are supported at various stages of a project – from ideation and proof of concept to validation and implementation of an innovative idea with market potential – by a range of programs, training courses and coaching sessions, but also by financing instruments.” Targeted financial support is then provided by vessels such as UZH Entrepreneur Fellowships or the UZH Life Sciences Fund.
Greater Zurich Area offers fertile ground for biotechs
However, the ecosystem also plays an important role with regard to success according to Boyman: “The density and thematic scope of biotechnology companies as well as the academic biotech network substantially contribute to the innovative power of the Greater Zurich Area and enable access to venture capitalists.” All of this offers fertile ground for establishing and anchoring start-ups.
MUVON Founder Deana Mohr also confirms this. She has already benefitted early on from the proximity to the Swiss Federal Technical Institute (ETH), the University Hospital Zurich (USZ) and, of course, the UZH in order to work with complex, cross-functional subjects. She also adds: “We are able to find very good collaborative partners in the Greater Zurich Area, which enables us to advance much more efficiently.” The award-winning spin-off is currently seeking further funding rounds and new premises. Deana Mohr is certain that she wants to stay in Greater Zurich with MUVON.
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