The new accelerator for healthcare ventures, BaseLaunch, wants to link the best start-ups to the Basel region – and in doing so, provide impulses for major players. The project will consistently focus on quality and the concentrated know-how in the region, says Managing Director Alethia de Léon.
Financial support through BaseLaunch can be as high as CHF 10’000 per project. Startups accepted for the second phase will receive grants up to CHF 250’000. Other regions have tens of millions at their disposal. Are you even competitive?
Highly generous programs in the EU and around the world have shown that it is not enough to distribute a lot of money with open hands. Rather, we have to make sure that the investments go to the most promising projects, namely those with a suitable team likely to effect a successful development from an idea to the market. In short: quality – and not quantity – has topmost priority for BaseLaunch.
What makes BaseLaunch unique?
BaseLaunch focuses on the entrepreneurs. Startups accepted for the program will receive non-repayable funding, instead of equity financing that has to be repaid. Additionally, Basel is a life sciences ecosystem with one of the highest densities of biopharmaceutical enterprises globally and has an incredible pool of talents and specialists. Our healthcare partners, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and Novartis Venture Fund offer direct access to valuable industry knowledge and experience relevant to develop and boost transformative healthcare solutions. Together, this allows us to give market-relevant advice suited to the needs of every single start-up company.
What types of projects is BaseLaunch especially suitable for?
BaseLaunch is open to all projects in the healthcare field. Geographically, our focus is on Switzerland and Europe. Our laboratories in Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area specialise on therapeutics, but innovative concepts in the diagnostic and medtech fields are also welcome to participate in the accelerator.
Operationally, the project is managed by BaselArea.swiss but operates under a different name. Why such a setup?
BaseLaunch seeks to find the most innovative and promising healthcare start-ups, support them and embed them into the local healthcare ecosystem. This makes BaseLaunch an important part of the core activity of BaselArea.swiss.. Due to the different financing and decision-making structures and in line with a focussed market presence and a particular target groups, it made sense to launch the project under a different name.
Is it then the role of the state to invest in start-ups?
No public funds are invested in the projects. The cantons are financing the operational running of BaseLaunch. But what goes directly into the start-ups comes from the private sector. With BaseLaunch, BaselArea.swiss is thus providing the right framework conditions as a neutral partner of industry fostering the emergence of new companies with suitable programs. And don’t forget that other places are very much on the offensive with public resources. It’s important not to fall behind. We have to remain in the fiercely competitive bid to be an attractive location – without, however, distorting our liberal economic order.
Why do we need more start-ups?
Start-ups are needed first and foremost to create added value from knowledge. If we invest billions into academic research, this also needs corresponding structures to make innovations out of inventions. It’s been shown that start-ups are taking on a more and more decisive role in this respect. In addition, start-ups have the potential to grow rapidly when successful and create a great number of high-quality jobs. Actelion, which began as a start-up, is the best example of this. While BaseLaunch succeeds in working with the best start-up projects, this also generates impulses for established companies and the ecosystem as a whole.
Is the local environment even interesting for start-ups? Isn’t the cost of living likely to frighten away entrepreneurs?
Silicon Valley, London or Boston is not more affordable. The unique advantage of the local life sciences ecosystem – its concentration of talent, pharmaceutical decision-makers and capital, which are unrivalled in Europe – ultimately tip the balance in our favour in the eyes of company founders. We are scoring well in these critical areas – which are “must haves” especially for young companies – that, all things considered, the overall package is more than enough. This can be seen in the steady increase in companies being founded from outside the region in recent years.
What is the objective of BaseLaunch?
We aspire to attract the best healthcare innovators that respond to unmet medical needs and create true added value.
How did you make sure that the goals will be met?
We have a selection committee with broad expertise. Our healthcare partners, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and Novartis Venture Fund, each contribute one member to the selection committee. The three additional members are entrepreneurs and investors from the region, including Alex Mayweg, a Venture Partner from Versant Ventures. The selection is based on the assessment of which concepts are most promising and will not follow fixed criteria. In the three months of phase I, founders will get support in establishing the business case and the development plan. Companies selected for phase II will get access to the state-of-the-art infrastructure of the Switzerland Innovation Park BaselArea for 12 months. Our highly skilled and experienced network of advisors, entrepreneurs-in-residence and consultants from the healthcare industry will be there to guide the projects and put them on a fast track to success.
What is the deadline for applicants?
In the first round, companies can apply before June 30, 2017. Phase I will kick off in September. Candidates are welcome to apply through our website.
About Alethia de Léon
Born in Mexico, Alethia de Léon studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School. After working in healthcare investment and product development, she was Global Head of Search and Evaluation, Business Development and Licensing for the Neuroscience Business at Novartis until 2015. In addition to managing BaseLaunch, Alethia de Léon is CEO and founder of the start-up Senes Science GmbH.