Geoff Davison is the CEO of Bionow, a leading biomedical and life science membership organization based in Northern England. Bionow specializes in helping companies in the life science sector grow their business through investments and collaborations.
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This episode of the Marketing Science Podcast discusses life science industry trends and the outlook for 2021 and beyond. We highlight the contributions made by life science organizations during COVID-19, give insights into life science collaboration and investment trends, and discuss the sector's growth in the North of England. Focusing on life sciences sales and marketing, Geoff looks at long-term marketing efforts and business models.
What opportunities does Bionow provide to member organizations to help further their success in the life science sector?
Our objective is to connect people and drive innovation within the biomedical and life science sector, specifically for organizations across the North of England. We focus on sub-sectors like antimicrobial resistance, oncology, precision medicine, and pharmaceutical manufacturing, for example, medical device.
We have a wide range of events that aim to make introductions so individuals can collaborate and do business together. We also have more general events to support life science companies in raising investments and financial and venture capital.
The Bionow team provides advice and makes targeted introductions between members and others in our network. We also offer a platform for members to promote new products and services or raise their company’s profile through webinars or podcasts. There are many ways for members to take advantage of being part of the Bionow network for their marketing strategies and beyond.
Usually, we have about 400 guests at a resort in Cheshire, but that won’t be able to happen this year. The upcoming event will be on the 4th of February, 2021, in the form of a fully interactive digital awards ceremony.
We felt it was imperative to continue to run the event this year, mainly to recognize the massive contributions and innovations in the life science sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have 11 different award categories, including a unique ‘Response to COVID-19’ award, so there is something for everyone, both COVID and non-COVID related.
What does a virtual awards ceremony look like in comparison to a live, in-person event?
Virtual events differ from in-person events, where we have many guests in black tie at a fancy venue. But we were keen to bring the benefits of digital platforms like Zoom to include a networking aspect for the awards.
We are using a platform called Remo, an online platform that allows up to 500 guests to attend the event and gives guests the ability to virtually move around to different tables across ten other ‘floors’. Everyone will then be moved to a virtual room with a stage where the main awards ceremony will take place. It’s fantastic how web development has responded to the pandemic.
Networking isn’t always possible at an awards event - you can’t move from table to table as easily as you can through the online networking platform. We hope that this event serves as an opportunity to drive networking and collaboration. It should be a fun evening, celebrating many worthy organizations in the life science sector.
Who are some of the notable winners of past Bionow awards?
F2G, an antifungal firm in Eccles, won an award last year for developing a novel antifungal agent. They also previously won awards for their fundraising activities - they have raised millions to fund their development over the years from an impressive global investor base.
Another winner was Sky Medical Technologies, who developed a Geko device that can stop the formation of DVT. They said that winning the award significantly helped them to identify new distributors for their technology and helped them get it to new markets.
Award winners are promoted through the press and various types of content. Because our awards are virtual this year, everything will also be recorded, so we can use video to raise the profiles of our winners even further through social media and online presence as well as in real-time.
What tips would you give to people to encourage them to get the most out of attending virtual events?
It’s important to go into a virtual event with the right attitude. Don’t be afraid to engage and ask questions during the event. Keep in mind that virtual events can offer a lot of benefits - there might be someone you can connect with who can use your service or product, or an individual might have the expertise, product, or service that you need.
Bionow also ran Virtual Coffee Breaks this year, a chance to catch up with fellow Bionow members. They have served as a great support structure for members and allowed them to share tips on how to open a lab during the lockdown, where to buy certain supplies, etc.
It’s shown how helpful these online networking and virtual chats can be.
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How important is collaboration across life science organizations, particularly throughout 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic?
"COVID-19 has made it more difficult to collaborate and connect, but it’s also more important than ever."
Collaborations between Oxford University, AstraZeneca, BioNTech, and Pfizer developed the leading COVID vaccines. There are also many other organizations supporting and contributing to the vaccine rollout.
The development of everything from fill/finish, minus 80 freezers, and even the packaging needed to get the vaccines to the patients have all been driven by collaboration in the life science sector.
At Bionow, we believe it is crucial to bring people together to share ideas, to get more intellectual diversity, and to get a broader range of skills working together on a challenge.
Can you share any stories from Bionow’s member organizations about their work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our members, like Cobra Biologics and Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, have worked with the UK Vaccines Task Force, a group established to work on the logistics of getting the vaccine manufactured and delivered to patients.
We also worked with the Medicines Discovery Catapult, which set up the Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park to conduct COVID tests. Again, a massive logistical challenge to develop a lab to do mass testing in a short time.
The response from our members was terrific during this time. Organizations loaned the Lighthouse Lab costly equipment, and many volunteered at the lab to help out. It’s been amazing what the sector has done and how organizations have stepped up during this pandemic.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected financing and investment in the life science sector this year?
We just virtually hosted our annual BioCap conference. This event focuses explicitly on attracting life science investment into the North of England.
This year, we attracted a lot of investors from a much wider geography than we usually do. The event had a very positive vibe, investors were still looking to make deals, and many of our member companies have been closing funding rounds, including private equity, despite the pandemic.
Moving the BioCap event online helped us attract more investors and groups that wouldn’t have been able to attend a physical event. Many are also keen to invest due to the contributions from the life science sector throughout the pandemic.
We have seen challenges around virtually forming new relationships where investors were not already familiar with a company. Due diligence is more challenging when you can’t physically visit a lab or building. But we have still heard of new deals being closed where investors use platforms like Zoom to do their due diligence.
The life science sector has been highlighted through the COVID-19 pandemic, and more people are becoming aware of the value of these organizations. I think that will bring even more significant investments to the sector in 2021.
Why has the North of England grown into a leading life science location?
The North of England is a very well-connected ecosystem with many innovative life science companies and highly skilled employees. Relatively low facilities and staffing costs also mean that investments made here will go further than in other places.
Investors previously focused on Oxford, Cambridge, and London, but those areas have become overheated, deals are harder to find, and valuations are higher. With so much competition, investors will naturally look elsewhere.
Organizations like Epidarex, focus on bringing big funds out of the golden triangle to fund sub-clusters of science, with a number of those based in the North of England.
We also have a great university base in the North, with significant R&D and talent generated from these universities.
Can you talk about the work that Bionow does with universities based in the North of England?
The pandemic meant we could not do many of the talks and events we usually do with universities, so we wanted to host a digital event. The Bionow Virtual Career Fair allowed us to reach a wider audience of around 20 universities.
Over the 3-day event, we had a series of company presentations themed into different sub-sectors. Students learned about the opportunities available in life science companies, the type of responsibilities they might have in various roles, and the career development opportunities they could expect.
We had around 900 students who heard from over 40 different companies, numbers which wouldn’t have been possible at a physical event. It was very successful, and the virtual format worked very well.
Read: Virtual Events for Life Sciences
I was also blown away by the students' engagement during the event. They were active on the digital event platform, asked many questions, and engaged with the speakers and each other.
Are there any other success stories from your member organizations that you would like to highlight?
QIAGEN in Manchester is a company we have worked with since our founding. They were initially a spin-out of AstraZeneca. They have continued to grow and expand their business in Manchester. They recently announced a significant investment to develop Citylabs 2.0, a new hub for companies working in MedTech, digital health, genomics, precision medicine, and diagnostics.
QuantuMDx is a successful diagnostics business developing a point-of-care diagnostic platform. They moved to Newcastle from London, showing how the North can attract new life science companies. They have successfully raised funds and are about to launch a COVID diagnostic on the market.
The other one that comes to mind is Advanced Medical Solutions. They are a wound care company that was organically grown, employs hundreds of people, and is a multinational trading company.
How important are the companies that own and set up developments like City Labs in Manchester and Alderley Park in Newcastle?
It’s so important to have the right facilities in the right locations. Bruntwood SciTech owns Alderley Park in Newcastle, City Labs in Manchester, and recently acquired Sciontec in Liverpool. The Nexus is also in Leeds, a part of the University of Leeds. These locations are the nucleus of the life science sector across the North of England.
They catalyze growth and encourage collaboration between different companies in the sector. They bring people together and enhance business results even further.
Bionow also has a presence at many of these hubs. We have hot desks or even small offices at most of them because we understand the importance of these hubs and recognize that these are the locations we need to be at to help our member organizations grow and better understand what our members are working towards.
MIDAS played an instrumental role in helping AZoNetwork move to Manchester. What role does MIDAS play in terms of inward direct investment into the Life Sciences?
MIDAS is a leading inward investment promotion agency for Manchester and has helped many businesses relocate or expand in Greater Manchester. MIDAS has been one of Bionow’s members since we began. We have a range of schemes with them, offering free membership for those companies considering moving to Manchester.
It’s crucial that cities like Manchester attract new expertise, new business and new investments. MIDAS does a great job at that, even through challenging times like throughout the pandemic and with the challenges of Brexit.
What does the future of the life sciences sector in the UK look like over the next 3 - 5 years?
I am optimistic about what the future will look like. With the changes that Brexit will bring, there are challenges to overcome, but the fundamentals are strong. We have a highly-skilled workforce, outstanding research and facilities, and increasing access to financial capital.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the biomedical and life science sector. Our position has been further enhanced in the eyes of the public, policymakers and the government. The future is rosy, and I look forward to the future and the sector's continued growth.
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