Dr. Wilhelm Zörgiebel: The right basis for successful innovations

When Dr. Wilhelm Zörgiebel acquired the buildings of Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau in 1992, the aim was to preserve the historical buildings and develop an innovation centre. Together with Prof. Jörg Gabert, he founded the Biotype Diagnostic GmbH there in 1999. Meanwhile, many other companies have moved into the complex and founded a successful network in.

Unlike, for example, the USA, risk sharing in biotechnological start-ups is not common in Germany. What does that mean for the founders and what are alternatives?

Dr. Zörgiebel: That is correct. Unfortunately, it is the way things are: biotechnology is not a fast-evolving field of development, and certainly not inexpensive, and it bears many risks. Other major challenges are the existing approval requirements as well as a relatively small domestic market in Germany. I personally think that the opportunities and alternatives in this sector lie in the increasingly important family equity. Family offices are not focused on generating quick profits; they are often interested in long-term participation and are used to bearing long-term risks. Furthermore, the assets to be managed are often generated by own acti­vities, which often results in a better understanding of bus­iness developments. I prefer this kind of participation.

biosaxony, the Saxon coordination agency for biotech­nology, was founded in 2001. What exactly has changed in Dresden since then?

Dr. Zörgiebel: The regional business networking is very important to me and I am happy that now more than 114 companies and renowned institutes are part of the association. The association’s work is paying off and many of the members benefit from this. biosaxony-Management GmbH has also supported small and medium-sized companies since 2011. I hope for a substantial boost through bio­sax­2030, the Saxon Future Commission on Biotechnology and Life Sciences launched in 2012. In my opinion, we now need a stronger participation by politics to further promote the technology transfer in Saxony and to create favourable conditions for the further development of the location. This strengthening of the technology transfer for businesses and research institutions is essential. Other­wise, too much of the valuable innovation potential generated in institutes will be lost and too many opportunities will pass unused. I hope that more global players at a global level from diverse branches choose Saxony as their location. We, the members of biosaxony e. V., are prepared.

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At the grounds of the GebäudeEnsemble Deutsche Werk­stätten Hellerau, an important biotechnology location in Dresden has established itself – largely independent of state funding. What brought about this development?

Dr. Zörgiebel: The development of this biotechnology location corresponds to my personal business development, and the underlying vision emerged with the founding of Bio­type Diagnostic in 1999. The location with the GebäudeEnsemble Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau combines three souls that dwell in my breast: first, biotechnology at the technology location Dresden. Second, the European Centre for the Arts in the Festival Theatre Hellerau, which is virtually within viewing distance. Third, my office in a historical site of inno­vation, design and inspirational quality. From the beginning, I was fortunate to have the entrepreneurial skills and the necessary bit of luck and so the offices and laboratories welcomed new occupants. The most recent companies to move in were the offices and labs of Biotype Inno­vation GmbH, the joint venture uniting the vitality of Saxony biotechnology, global technology and sales strength of QIAGEN N.V.

Biotype Innovation GmbH is a joint venture of QIAGEN N.V. and Biotype Diagnostic GmbH, a biotechnology company based in Dresden. Which network concept is behind this cooperation and how did it come about?

Dr. Zörgiebel: The intentions behind this cooperation arise partly from the successful collaboration and partly from joint plans for the future. They are oriented towards one of my favourite topics: personalised medicine. It opens up possibilities to interlink diagnostics and therapies in a patient-oriented way, and, in my opinion, this is the path for medicine in the future. We have followed the path from the beginning using the methods developed by Biotype Diagnostic GmbH. QIAGEN is already familiar with Biotype thanks to a long-term supplier relationship for the production of forensic tests and relies on our quality and know-how. So it is this joint venture that reflects the networking idea in its purest form: QIAGEN values the agility and reliability of the medium-sized company and Biotype Diagnostic benefits from the technological strength and the market presence of a global player.

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Is Biotype Diagnostic GmbH also engaged in other networks?

Dr. Zörgiebel: Companies cannot “network”, that is the job of the people. The employees of Biotype Diagnostic have been working with different partners in Dresden for many years. These include biosaxony e. V., numerous institutes of the TU Dresden, the Max Planck Institute of Mole­cular Cell Biology and Genetics, various Fraunhofer institu­tes, the DFG Research Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden and the Deutsche Zentrum für Neuro­degener­ative Erkrankungen der Helmholtz Gesellschaft. Network­ing also takes place in infrastructures established for this purpose, such as the BioInnovationsZentrumDresden or B CUBE (Center for Molecular Bioengineering), whose contact data can also be found in our address lists. Pri­vately, I am also actively involved in Healthy Saxony, Inter­national Friends Dresden e. V., “Jazztage Dresden” and in the board of directors of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Natur­forscher und Ärzte (association of German natural scientists and physicians).

You are committed to promoting young biotechnology companies. What does this promotion consist of?

Dr. Zörgiebel: With a doctorate in innovation management, I have always let myself be inspired by innovative products, ideas or approaches. I had the oppor­tunity to support and promote young biotech companies during my evaluator job at “Future-Sax”. My task was to support a Saxony start-up contest as a juror, to show them the best way through their founding years and provide the right im­petus. This exciting task inspired me to operate within a competent team during the foundation of Sherpa.Dresden GmbH, a company that focuses exactly on these aspects. This is our personal contribution to the regional development of the high-tech industry.

Pure research work is being strongly fostered in Leipzig and Dresden, however, this results only in relatively few job opportunities on the free market. What exactly can and must be improved?

Dr. Zörgiebel: In my opinion, there are tremendous and unused opportunities when it comes to the consistent realisation of technology transfer here in Saxony. There should be a better use of the enormously strong potential of the scientific institutions, but the courage to go ahead is lacking. However, the presence of nationally and internationally renowned institutes, scientists and tech­nology companies already makes it clear that the region has long been recognised as a scientific and technology location. I think that now not only non-university research, but also the technology transfer to develop marketable products or services must be organised and fostered more intensely. Thus, this would make it possible to retain many of the well-qualified scientists after their studies. It is not only about a financial support, but also about the dismantling of administrative hurdles.

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In 1992, Dr. Wilhelm Zörgiebel acquired and refurbished Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau GmbH in Dresden. He has initiated, financed and supported different start-ups operatively as managing partner since 1996. His activities are concentrated at the ZIB Zörgiebel Industriebeteiligungen GmbH. This is where also participations in Biotype Diagnostic GmbH, Qualitype GmbH, ROTOP Pharmaka GmbH, InnoTERE GmbH and Alacris GmbH come together.