"LIFE Cooperative is a cooperative of companies that all play a role in everything that has to do with the pharmaceutical and medical industry. Life Science is a large branch in the north, where approximately 2,000 people work, based on our members alone. With the LIFE Cooperative, we are building an ecosystem in which existing and new Life Science companies can flourish." This is what Ton Vries, director of Syncom - now called Merchachem Syncom Group - who stood at the cradle of this cooperative on the Campus Groningen, and one of the three directors in this cooperative.
The roots of LIFE Cooperative are located on Campus Groningen, just as Syncom does. Ton Vries: "Syncom was founded 30 years ago from the University of Groningen (UG), at the department of Wijnberg, and is a service provider in the chemical field. Simply put, we make 'fabrics' for the chemical industry, especially for the pharmaceutical industry. Consider, for example, the development of a new cancer drug by the medical scientists: then we are at the forefront of the chain with our substances, after which the medicine is tested, then tested in patients and eventually, after 15 years of development, on the market."
Strong presence in the North
That whole pharmaceutical chain, from the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) knowledge institutions and the UG, parties such as Syncom for chemistry, parties for testing and for testing in patients, up to marketing, the chain is very well represented in the North, says Ton Vries. "The companies are from different disciplines and in various settings, but we all work for the same industry. Already 10 years ago, a number of parties sought cooperation around the UMCG. Then we were approached by the Healthy Ageing Campus with the question of whether closer cooperation was possible, not only between companies and the UMCG but also in the field of education and innovation. This all on condition that the initiative lies within the companies. That is an important characteristic of the LIFE Cooperative, that it is a partnership focused on business and on added value for all relevant parties. "
Five years LIFE Cooperative
The LIFE Cooperative was founded five years ago. "Financially, the cooperative was made possible with support from the municipality, 'het Fonds', the Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands (HANNN) and the membership of the participating companies. At the time, the government still accounted for the lion's share of the costs of the cooperative, now that division is 70% for business and 30% for the authorities. That partly indicates how successful the LIFE Cooperative is, in barely 5 years time. "
"The model for which we have chosen is a cooperative. A cooperation is characteristic for quality, that we as members are striving together and for added value, that we as a cooperation bring to Life Science. We started with very practical matters for the participants, for example, the quick 'buy in' for joint purchase of cleaning and waste processing. Then we started to gauge the interest among companies for training, for example, we have been organizing a Compact MBA for some years now in collaboration with De Baak. Given the interest, we can now offer these trainings here instead of having to travel elsewhere in the country. This results in cost savings, but also contacts between the companies here. "
The Campus Groningen is an important partner for the LIFE Cooperative. "As LIFE Cooperative we have started a while ago to present ourselves as a northern chain and to profile ourselves at (international) fairs and conferences. The companies show themselves individually, but also act jointly as part of that chain. This provides extra contacts for each individual participant and therefore business. The people of the Campus facilitate us in this. With a visit to an international fair, for example, the Campus organizes everything for us. The Campus arranges the tickets, the stand, the banners of our members, the transport, everything. Our members do not have to put in people themselves, they only have to go there. "
Pharma Portal and Pharma Connect Capital bring initiatives to the market
"The most recent example is that we also want to jointly carry out projects: generate new ideas and work them out in order to ultimately achieve more business." For this, a unique initiative for the Netherlands has been launched in 2018 to stimulate drug development. "The Pharma Portal and the Pharma Connect Capital fund combine excellent knowledge and risk investments. Within the portal, young pharmaceutical initiatives are supervised, 'inspected' and, upon approval, accelerated. The Portal, as it were, is putting promising initiatives - with a thumbs up of the industry - in the shop window, in order to interest investors. Pharma Connect Capital has about 8 million euros available to use in the early, riskiest stages of drug development and can invest in the start-up of companies."T he Pharma Portal has already approved four projects, two of which have been funded.
Trial membership for startups
From the Portal new companies (<3fte, <3years old) also get the opportunity to get acquainted with the LIFE Cooperative through a kind of 'startup membership'. "After a year they can see whether the membership is a fit for them and then make a decision to become a full member. In this way we support new initiatives and bring them in contact with the cluster of SME companies and with the knowledge institutes UG, Hanze and UMCG, which we work closely with."
Ton Vries: "In the meantime, we are already a well-known 'brand'. This sometimes renders reactions to international exhibitions, because the Netherlands presents itself as a country at these exhibitions, called Holland Bio. And we are standing next to that, as our own northern regional cluster. This is sometimes viewed critically, but it does result in very positive reactions; in the end it is a win-win situation. With LIFE Cooperative we present ourselves from the business community as an attractive region and we can give further depth at the moment that one is forwarded via the Netherlands stand; and vice versa, the Holland stand can add the national context. In this sense we also have to compete somewhat against regions elsewhere; but with that there is also a certain advantage factor in the north between companies, precisely because of this interdependence. We show all possibilities for recruiting personnel throughout the region, including for example, career opportunities between companies within this region. Because we have a beautiful ecosystem in the field of Life Science, with companies from the entire chain, knowledge institutions and special facilities such as the Innolab Chemistry. We also have good financing opportunities here: from the Pharma Connect Capital, but also from the Northern governments, which in all respects contribute very positively to the Life Science. Here in the north, we have the preconditions for successful business."
Author: Annette Jonkhoff
Copyright photo: LIFE Cooperative