The story of a forward-looking company making its way to the Greater Zurich Area
When speaking about our work, we are often asked what a typical settlement in the Greater Zurich Area looks like. Actually, there is not one answer, but hundreds. This is because every settlement project is unique and differs, in some cases considerably, depending on the industry, technology area, origin, company size – or even what the motives and drivers for expansion were. Even if the settlement projects differ considerably, there are still commonalities and recurring patterns; I have here packed all these elements into a fictional story. The following could therefore very well stand for one of these numerous companies that the Greater Zurich Area Ltd (GZA), together with the economic development agencies of the nine member cantons, establishes each year.
Biotech and artificial intelligence - two main technologies of GZA
We virtually fly to the US Westcoast, to San Francisco. Here is the main settlement of our company with the invented name BioRev. Rev is an abbreviation for revolution –since the company's mission is to apply the latest computational technologies in artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning to genomics to revolutionize drug discovery and development. The company wants to make its technology available to large pharmaceutical companies as well as develop its own drugs. BioRev thus combines characteristics of companies from two of the most important technology fields for GZA: Biotech/pharma on the one hand, and information technologies on the other.
BioRev was founded in 2012 as a spin-off from Stanford University and today employs around 250 people. The company recently closed a large financing round of 150 million US dollars and is now valued at around 1.5 billion dollars. Commercialization and internationalization are the current major strategic issues. In the past, BioRev was mainly active in its American home market, but in the last six months it has been able to win several major contracts with partners and customers from the pharmaceutical industry in Europe.
Exemplary ‘Customer Journey’ of an international expansion
GZA keeps an active eye on what is happening in the biotech scene in their focus markets. This is the reason why successful financings are often an indication of an expansion abroad in the near future. When BioRev's latest financing round became public, we had already known about the company for a little over a year. In spring 2020, GZA's US. team held a roundtable event for executives from US biotech companies titled ‘Avoiding Pitfalls - Tips for Biotech Companies Expanding into Europe.’ Due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually via Zoom.
BioRev's co-founder and CEO attended to gain insights and knowledge from a variety of experts:
- the European head of a US biotech company that expanded into the Greater Zurich Area three years ago,
- a recruiting expert who specializes in attracting top executives in the life sciences industry
- and a lawyer who advises companies such as BioRev on issues regarding company foundation, labor law, taxes, etc. The location promotion staff of a GZA canton was also available to answer questions.
In addition to the GZA event, BioRev has another powerful connection to Switzerland: a high-ranking manager who previously worked and lived in the Greater Zurich Area for several years for another American biotech company. Such personal connections and good experience in the area - as well as recommendations from peer group companies - naturally simplify both, the entry for GZA, as well as the task of developing a convincing investment case for the Greater Zurich Area together with the company. After the virtual roundtable event in spring 2020, GZA remains in active and continuous dialogue with BioRev.
The needs of the company regarding its expansion into Europe are becoming increasingly clear: the company would like to start at a single location in Europe which will be headed by a general manager with experience in the sector. This person’s key responsibilities will be to recruit the necessary professionals and work with them to prepare for market entry. Based on how things develop - both commercially and in terms of developing the technology platform and proprietary drugs - BioRev could also consider setting up a research and development center in Europe. However, there are no concrete investment intentions or projects for this yet.
How we help
From site visit to settlement i.g.for example i.e.
Throughout the summer and fall, the GZA team (USA, Zurich, and cantonal representatives) works closely with the BioRev project team and provides the relevant information for the location decisions or carries out project-specific clarifications. In October, a delegation from BioRev flies to Zurich for a site visit, i.e. in order to get to know the economic area on site. The team consists of the CEO/co-founder, the Head of Corporate Development, the Chief Innovation Officer, and the manager with GZA experience, who is designated as General Manager Europe.
The fact that the Chief Innovation Officer is joining us on the site visit was facilitated by GZA. In several online meetings arranged by us with professors from research institutes and with founders of local spin-off companies, the Chief Innovation Officer has already developed a good feeling that the Zurich economic area could also be suitable as a research and development center for BioRev in the future. The company's Head of Innovation would now like to strengthen these contacts on-site and explore the possibility of research collaborations. After the site visit in the Greater Zurich Area, the BioRev team visited other locations in Europe - specifically London, Amsterdam, and another region in Switzerland.
The recruitment potential for top international talent, the combination of the ecosystems for biotech and for the latest computer technologies, together with the reliable environment in Switzerland were key factors for BioRev's business case. Additionally, there was the strong recommendation and personal preference of the new General Manager Europe for the GZA region.
The official settlement then took place in May 2021. BioRev Switzerland Ltd will be founded and registered in the commercial register of a GZA canton. The future will show if BioRev will write a success story in the Zurich region. In any case, we wish the pioneering technology company from Silicon Valley every success!
* The story of the company BioRev is fictitious but close to reality. It was first told at the GZA Perspectives 2021.