Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus goes to the USapril 24, 2019
Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus is opening a new base of operations on the west coast of the United States. The office will be located at the University of California Irvine’s business accelerator.
“It will serve as a springboard for start-ups and entrepreneurs who are interested in entering the American market from their base in the Limburg region and on the campuses, and conversely, it will act as a gateway to Europe for American companies,” says Jan Cobbenhagen, CEO of the Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus. “We already had an office in Chengdu, China, and now we are also creating a similar facility in the health and life sciences hotspot of Southern California.”
Last October, university president Martin Paul of Maastricht University (UM) and his counterpart at the University of California signed a partnership agreement. The agreement focuses on academic research in regenerative medicine; it is no coincidence that this is the field in which both universities excel. The establishment of a physical office for Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus (MHC) in the US is a logical next step, according to Marianne van der Steen, professor of Entrepreneurship in Healthcare, affiliated with the UM institute for regenerative medicine, MERLN and director of RegMed XB.
“Brightlands operates on the basis of the triple-helix concept,” says the professor who is also affiliated on a part-time basis with the University of California Irvine and closely involved in the process of setting up this office. “This concept centers on cooperation between knowledge institutes, government and entrepreneurs. We also explicitly look across borders since internationalization is one of our mainstays.” Cobbenhagen adds, “The university partnership is the foundation, but research must also lead to valorisation with social and economic benefits. This valorisation often occurs in the form of new start-ups. These start-ups in the life sciences and health field are actually the focus of this hub.” For this reason, Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with University of California Irvine Innovation (UCI) on April 29, the goal of which is to establish a far-reaching partnership between the two organizations for activities involving valorisation, innovation and entrepreneurship. The intention is for MHC and UCI Innovation to support each others’ start-ups in their international expansion efforts. Cobbenhagen emphasizes that this will just be a small office for the time being. “We will start out low-key with a small investment and a few employees. We are building it up slowly but effectively.”
The choice for California was not a coincidence, as Marianne van der Steen explains. “The southwest of the US, particularly Orange County and La Jolla in San Diego, is home to the innovation hubs for medical devices and regenerative medicine in the US, and perhaps the entire world. Many billions of dollars have been invested in regenerative medicine in this region. The University of California alone has 30,000 students working in this field. It is the field of medicine of the future. In Maastricht, our scientific strength in this area may be seen in the MERLN institute, among others. Collaboration in this area is absolutely necessary, however. You can’t do it all alone, and this is why it’s so important for knowledge institutes, government and entrepreneurs to enter into partnerships, share knowledge and work together to develop innovations. The link with Orange County and La Jolla will strengthen Limburg’s position in the development of regenerative medicine.”
The Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus’ office is initially designed to be a base of operations for entrepreneurs active in life sciences and health. In the long run, entrepreneurs from other campuses in Limburg will also benefit from this.
“This will often be the start-ups,” Jan Cobbenhagen predicts. “These are entrepreneurs who are interested in developing an idea simultaneously in the Netherlands and the US. The American market offers huge possibilities and opportunities of course, and there is a great deal of venture capital available, particularly in Southern California. However, it’s hard to look into all this yourself, and especially to find capital. According to the CBS, not even one percent of Dutch start-ups achieve international success. We want to do something about this. This is why we are going to show entrepreneurs the ropes from our office, provide them with support and connect them to the right networks. The interest is definitely there; in the past few weeks, I have already met with two ambitious entrepreneurs who want to take the leap.”
Marianne van der Steen concurs. “Definitely. There are concrete plans, and the same applies the other way around, for American companies looking for a springboard to the European market. The link has now been made thanks to the cooperation between the universities, and now we can also facilitate American entrepreneurs’ efforts at the campuses in Limburg. The office will also be the gateway to Europe for American entrepreneurs. This will preferably lead them to one of the Brightlands campuses in Maastricht, Geleen, Heerlen or Venlo. We offer all of the facilities including the clinical aspects and corresponding data sciences. This will of course create jobs in the long run.”
If we turn this around, can’t it also result in a loss of jobs? “You mean start-ups that move from the Netherlands to the US,” surmises Jan Cobbenhagen. “We’re not too worried about this. It’s a two-way street and besides, I think it’s more likely that a Dutch company wanting to grow internationally will not trade the Netherlands or Europe for the US. The same goes for the cooperation with China. The important point is that we reinforce one another and elevate medicine to a higher plane. Globalization and facilitation of entrepreneurs is part of this. Navel-gazing isn’t really productive in this context.”
Marianne van der Steen is also the director of the Global Scale-up Program and Global Investor Forum that put medtech and biotech companies in touch with industrial partners and international investors in Europe and the US, and emphasizes that researchers and executives are also welcome. It’s good to have a physical, visible presence; that’s just how it works. The office is also intended for the promotion of the campuses and the Limburg region, it plays a role in acquisition. In the long term, this will become the launching pad for further cooperation with other universities and institutes in the US, such as organizations in Arizona, San Francisco and Texas. For the time being however, we are focusing on the first entrepreneurs from Limburg who want to go international. We think that we will be able to successfully launch at least three spin-offs within a couple years.”