Regarding start-ups in Leiden, things are going quite well to begin with: on this the four high-profile members of the panel discussion during the Leiden Start! manifestation can easily agree. In restaurant Second Level, right next to the city’s principal train station, city councilor Robert Strijk sets the tone: “In the last four years, 1700 jobs have been created in the Bio Science Park - quite a lot in times of financial crisis.” Willem te Beest, deputy chairman of Leiden University, agrees: “We have to stop complaining, and enjoy the things that are going well.” The positive mood is shared by Pancras Hogendoorn, dean of the Leiden University Medical Centre - though he expresses himself a little more frivolous: “I’d say, let’s loosen our braids and hit the dancefloor.” Not that there’s no work left to be done: there is always room for improvement. For one thing, the panel members agree, there’s the continuous effort to encourage young scientists to pursue careers as entrepreneurs rather than academics.
Their message goes down well with the public: the venue is crowded with investors, mentors and many ambitious starters. They have come in great numbers to this ‘starters’ forum’, organized by Leiden Bio Science Park, TTO Luris, entrepreneurial society OV BSP, the Rabobank and the regional development agency Economie071. Guest of honour Neelie Kroes, ambassador for StartUpDelta, adds some pungency to the debate. For instance, she asks the other participants to name the one discipline they’d like to see as the focal point of the city’s academic hub. Kroes “We have to dare to limit the amount of expertises we want to excel in.”
Earlier that afternoon, some forty academic directors, CEO’s and financers have come together to discuss the ambition of the Leiden Bio Science Park to become the principal cluster of innovative drug development by stimulating relevant start-ups in the field. Moderated by the city mayor Henri Lenferink, three aspects of this ambition are discussed.
Firstly, entrepreneurship in the scientific community: the attendees note that a career move from academia to an entrepreneurship isn’t regarded as matter-of-course, though everyone agrees that this has improved in recent years. Secondly, the methods of funding are discussed: it is pointed out that funding possibilities for start-ups are limited, and often come with very specific demands. A lively discussion follows, regarding the various types of financing available, and the extent to which these fit the needs of start-ups.
Lastly, the housing facilities are discussed: there is a need for offices space with labs for companies in their first phase of growth, as well as ‘landing spaces’ for foreign companies scouting for possible future establishment. A policy of ‘planned vacancy’ in the housing facilities would solve these problems, but who should bear that policy financially remains unclear.
Article by Robbert van Strien
Photos by Annick Elzenga