“Being part of a cluster is a competitive advantage for startups”

The auditing and consulting firm KPMG has been a partner of the healthcare accelerator BaseLaunch since November 2017. Martin Rohrbach, Partner and Sector Head Life Sciences at KPMG Switzerland, is involved in KPMG’s biotech initiative and supports international companies and startups alike. In an interview with BaselArea.swiss, Martin Rohrbach explains how innovations strengthen Basel as a centre for life sciences and how KPMG supports BaseLaunch projects.

KPMG advises companies in the life sciences sector. How has the field changed in recent years – and what do you expect in the future?

Martin Rohrbach: Technological progress, new treatment possibilities and a focus on consumers have led to major upheavals. New fields of activity have emerged in the industry and cross-sector developments can be observed. Two examples: companies that were not previously active in the pharmaceutical sector, such as those from the food industry, are building up special healthcare sectors. A tobacco company confronted with declining tobacco consumption. Their products have to receive approval in the U.S., which is very similar to those for medications. For such a company it is obvious to look for new fields of activity in the life sciences sector. Technology companies are also stirring up the industry. They are mainly concerned with managing large data volumes and making them available. The competition will change. Traditional pharmaceutical companies are at risk of being overrun by these changes.

What do startups have to bring in order to survive on the market?

Historically, all parts of the added value chain in life sciences have always been close together. This is illustrated in the Basel region – and these close networks will intensify. Being part of a cluster is a competitive advantage for startups. As competition accelerates, pharmaceutical companies will have to acquire new projects for their product pipeline earlier than before. For startups this means that they must be able to position themselves clearly and size up their future market potential. A convincing narrative helps them accomplish this: they must know right from the start what they want to achieve with their company.

Where are the challenges?

Entrepreneurs must take a step away from their research goals if they are to develop a convincing narrative for their company. To go from a researcher to a salesperson is not always easy for scientists. But an airtight story helps tremendously to win over stakeholders. You also need a lot of stamina for a startup. You have to be convinced and want to reach your goals at any cost. The BaseLaunch accelerator initiated by BaselArea.swiss helps set an idea in motion – such a kick is needed at the beginning of a project. But the so-called “Valley of Death” awaits every startup, absorbing strength and resources. It’s like a marathon: those who are well prepared and have their eyes on the goal succeed in persevering.

How do you support the BaseLaunch entrepreneurs reach their goals?

We help them on the one hand develop a convincing narrative so the startups can better sell themselves to potential investors. We also have a broad network of specialists and assist the startups gain access to these specialists. On the other hand, we help them with business and operational questions: for example, which legal form, which structure is the right one for each company? What formalities have to be dealt with or how does it work with the taxes? We help look into a startup’s marketability with professional eyes and provide business input.

What convinced you to become involved with BaseLaunch?

The team convinced us: their independent let’s-do-it mentality is tremendously important in international competition, where Basel is in league with Boston, Singapore, Berlin and London. BaseLaunch fits in with our strategy: we want to promote Switzerland’s innovative capacity and help shape the Basel region’s appeal as a centre for life sciences. This is why KPMG has a strong interest in supporting young, innovative companies. The entire life sciences sector raises many questions. KPMG has decided to focus on this sector and find answers.

What do you expect from BaseLaunch?

We hope that this will turn into an exciting and successful project, and that we’ll soon be able to see a success story from the 13 projects underway – and thus further strengthen Basel as an innovative centre for life sciences.

 

Interview: Annett Altvater, BaselArea.swiss