The new district at Zurich Airport, the Circle, is filling up with life since its opening last fall. Life science and high-tech companies in particular are settling down there in order to benefit from the dynamic innovation ecosystem in the Greater Zurich Area and the international links.

The Circle blossoms into innovation hub
A cluster of life science and other tech companies is growing at The Circle directly at Zurich Airport. (Image: Zurich Airport)

It reads like a Who’s Who of the most innovative companies in the world: Microsoft, SAP and Oracle are among those renting at the new complex called The Circle at Zurich Airport. Life science companies are also particularly involved, turning the Circle into a biotech innovation hub. For example, international pharmaceutical companies such as Novo Nordisk and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) are moving in. They are joined by Benchling, the leading cloud-based platform for life sciences R&D, which has chosen the Circle as its EMEA headquarters as the company drives global expansion. 

Benchling drives regional growth from Greater Zurich

Benchling has been a unicorn since 2020, meaning that it is a startup valued at over one billion US dollars. Benchling plans to double its total number of employees in 2021 and  its EMEA headquarters in Greater Zurich will play a big part in the expansion plans. Nishant Neel, Benchling Head of Services EMEA, says: “The Greater Zurich Area has one of the most innovative pharmaceutical and biotech ecosystems and the location of the Circle is ideal for attracting both talent and clients.” 

Neel sees parallels in the innovation structure between Greater Zurich and Benchling’s home region of San Francisco. Today, in addition to companies such as Sanofi, the company’s cloud service clients also include many researchers, such as those from the University Hospital of Zurich (USZ), which is also located at the Circle.

The Circle promotes innovative processes

The USZ already started operation of the airport’s outpatient health center last October. This is a vital step, as this uses state-of-the-art infrastructure and technology as well as driving forward innovative processes. The various disciplines and professional groups there cooperate on operational platforms – infrastructure and services are shared and digitalized even further. 

The pharmaceutical giant MSD is also treading innovative paths at the Circle with its new global Innovation & Development Hub. From the fall, more than 250 specialists will work there in a space spanning 4,300 square meters. Laura Luchini, EMEA Regional Head of Global Clinical Trial Operations and responsible for the MSD Zurich Hub, says: “Here various teams are oriented along a product line. This means that experts from research, data evaluation or even marketing are united under one roof and work in close exchange.” According to Laura Luchini, the Circle is the perfect location for this, with its cutting-edge work infrastructure as well as its proximity to the universities’ talent pools and to the airport as international hub. 

The location with the best links in Switzerland is buzzing

Great emphasis has been placed on the community spirit at the Circle in the sense of innovation from the very start; according to Raffaela Ackermann of Zurich Airport, the innovative usage modules are an example of this. Out of around 70,000 square meters of office space, only an area of just under 10,000 square meters is available. This is not least because of the fact that the Circle is the location with the best links in all of Switzerland, with connections to train, tram, bus and freeway networks as well as the largest airport in Switzerland, of course, which can be reached by foot. This has come alive again following the coronavirus pandemic too: In May, 8,043 planes from all over the world took off or touched down here. 

By Yvonne von Hunnius

Life sciences cluster close to the Zurich Airport:

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