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TRENDSPOTTER: Europeans Look to Merge Research and Business Like Les Americains

FOR MANY a European scientist the strong bond that exists between the American research community and industry evokes a tinge of envy. This fruitful relationship has lead to the creation of a natural flow of innovations from the ivory tower to corporate America. This infrastructure not only gives researchers an avenue to find practical applications for their scientific savvy, it can also provide a path to economic riches, even for the most scientific brain. 

Unlike in America, European technological innovations rarely translate into successful, high-value products. In large part, this is because the European research centers, which are publicly funded, have not considered establishing a long-term income stream by exploiting their findings.

Until now.

Recently, a group of European and American venture capitalists, scientists, politicians, and businesspeople have come together to promote a new type of research center that would integrate many different scientific disciplines, including nanobiotechnology, molecular biophysics, functional genomics, software technology, and artificial intelligence, in order to find real-life solutions to today’s scientific challenges.

The group’s working name is the European Institute of Technology and plans right now are to open the center sometime later this year either in Germany or Scandinavia. Currently, the EITec is in the process of raising 100 million euros.

The people behind this project, including myself, believe that tomorrow’s innovation will come out of a melting pot of totally different scientific disciplines, for example a combination of technologies from chemistry, computer science, biology and nanotechnology.

Some of our goals include providing a unique platform for interdisciplinary high-tech research, helping to transform Europe into a booming high tech zone with a high economic output and thousands of new future-oriented jobs. We hope to breed highly innovative high-tech start-up companies while operating as any other business does – with a profit motive.

In order to achieve these ambitious goals, the EITec will seek out the best researchers in the world, some of whom have already given their commitment. We will also implement fast decision-making processes and highly flexible funding that will support revolutionary new projects, which will be based on flat hierarchies and an interdisciplinary management team.

However, this being a business, each project would be controlled and monitored based on return on investment, thus helping to ensure that money and human resources are not wasted. Most importantly, we will also have a clear-cut business focus in order to market the research output systematically.

Ultimately, we will measure our success by our ability to spin-off research projects into independent companies, with the EITec holding an equity position in each new company that is established.

We would expect to launch the first spin-offs after three years of operations, and the EITec should reach its break after five years.

By creating a new institute that will nurture new ideas and offer an infrastructure for launching new businesses, the people behind the EITec believe that we can get the great minds in Europe’s ivory towers to come down and begin making significant contributions to science, business, the economy, and ultimately to the millions of people who will benefit from the innovations we expect to deliver.

Gunnar Weikert is the CEO of Inventage, a Dusseldorf-based venture capital fund. Until recently he was global head of physiomics at Bayer, where he negotiated blockbuster deals with Millennium, Lion Bioscience, and CuraGen. You can e-mail him at [email protected] .    

TrendSpotter is a weekly column that focuses on how trends in politics, patent law, and the US and European markets affect the genomics industry. The column appears every Friday. Next week Rochelle K. Seide, a lawyer and IP specialist with Baker Botts, will discuss patent law’s implications for the genomics industry.   

To access previous columns just enter the word "Trendspotter" in the archive search window on the homepage.   

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