EMD supports former employees by providing them with seed funding so that they can establish their own companies. This support can subsequently lead to partnerships, ownership holdings or in-licensing deals
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EMD plans to close its Geneva location by mid-2013 as part of its efficiency program. This measure has been accompanied by an Entrepreneur Partnership Program (EPP) for supporting the establishment of spin-offs. EMD is promoting these start-ups by providing them with seed financing and working with them. The concept is a recipe for success.
It sounds somewhat paradoxical at first: A company has to shut down a site and lay off employees — but nevertheless there are winners. This is what happened to François Conquet after he found out in 2012 that EMD Serono was planning to close its sites in Geneva and Coinsins, Switzerland. Conquet regarded the situation as an exciting opportunity and decided to start his own company. He has been pretty successful ever since.
Conquet’s firm, Prexton, in Geneva is developing a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease, one that allows patients to live longer and has fewer side effects. This new development, which can also be combined with other treatments, is based on research that started at EMD but was then discontinued because the company had set other priorities.
The special aspect of the establishment of Prexton was the fact that Conquet’s former employer, EMD Serono, provided his start-up with both financial and material support. As part of its plan for the closure of the two Swiss sites, EMD Serono set up a partnership program for entrepreneurs in order to help the affected employees embark on a new professional future.
The program is part of a larger € 30 million fund for supporting spin-offs and start-ups whose work focuses on business activities launched at EMD Serono. Prexton became the first spin-off to receive assistance in July 2012. A further five companies had been launched in this manner by March 2013, and three to five more will be established by this summer.
EMD supports the entrepreneurs by giving them funding and advice
The current six new startups have safeguarded around 40 jobs to date, and the spin-offs to come could do the same for up to 20 additional jobs. Virtually all of the employees at the new companies used to work at EMD Serono in Geneva. Some 300 EMD Serono employees initially expressed interest in founding a start-up. Some of these staff members have up to 30 years of professional experience. Ultimately, 80 teams of three to four experts each were formed to submit concrete business proposals.
“We explained to them how to prepare a business plan and told them about the challenges they would have to face,” says Lopes-Fernandes, who also brought the interested potential entrepreneurs together with former employees who had already launched their own start-ups and were therefore able to offer advice. Experts from business schools in Switzerland and abroad provided additional assistance.
A total of 30 of the 80 ideas involved consulting, while 50 were related to the establishment of service providers or companies that would research and develop a specific product. “Most of the proposals were very good, but some people underestimated how much work the establishment of one’s own company involves,” Lopes-Fernandes explains.
“They didn’t understand how much money and time is required, and many of them didn’t want to be exposed to the risks and uncertainties that a start-up involve.” Conquet wasn’t deterred by such issues and risks. He simply continued dreaming his dream of becoming an entrepreneur — and made it come true.
Example: Biomarkers and Alzheimer’s
|Consistently pursuing promising ideas from within one’s own company — that’s the successful concept illustrated by the following two examples:
Quartz Bio, the second company spun off from EMD Serono in Geneva, was established in September 2012. The firm, which is headed by Jérôme Wojcik, offers companies in the pharmaceutical industry biomarker data management and exploratory biomarker analysis services. Biomarker analysis is a critical step in the development of active ingredients because it enables the identification of patient profiles that are most responsive to a given treatment.
EMD Serono is supporting the new company in various ways, including the placement of orders worth around € 2 million between now and the end of 2014.
Asceneuron, the third company established within the framework of EMD Serono’s Entrepreneur Partnership Program, was created in October 2012. Asceneuron focuses on the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s. The company aims to advance EMD Serono’s preclinical programs targeting these conditions towards clinical testing as rapidly as possible.
EMD Serono is investing € 5 million as seed funding. EMD Serono Ventures is managing the investment and isrepresented on the company’s board of directors.
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