GENOPOLE: A cluster organisation with a heart beating for start-ups and scale-ups

Submitted by Alina Danieles… on 17 May 2018

In direct dialogue with cluster organizations, ECCP interviewed Anne Jouvenceau, Deputy Director of the French Genopole cluster.

Why Genopole? We learned about their efforts and focus to supporting entrepreneurship and want to share their future-oriented  - and very successful! - approach with our cluster community

L.S./ECCP: Anne, please introduce to us in a few sentences the Genopole cluster: what are your main objectives, how did the cluster develop and how is it structured?

A.J./Genopole: Genopole is the first French biocluster fully dedicated to biotechnology, genomics and cell and gene therapies. It was created under the impetus of the French State, local collectivities and the French Muscular Dystrophy Association (AFM-Telethon).

As a campus-based biocluster, it is mirroring American and European campuses, mixing units of innovative high-tech life sciences companies, public and private research and higher education facilities in the unique single site of Evry/Corbeil-Essonne, in the Ile de France region, which is the leading European Business region. Genopole is strongly committed to the improvement of health and well-being by supporting highly innovative projects and start-ups. Since its creation in 1998, the biocluster has steadily grown and is currently homing 19 academic labs, 86 biotech companies and 24 shared-use/mutualized high-tech platforms and facilities, the University of Evry-Val d’Essonne and one of the largest hospital (1000 beds) in the Paris area, the South Ile de France Medical Center (Centre Hospitalier Sud Francilien (CHSF)). The covered scientific areas include health therapeutics (cell and gene therapies), diagnostics, medical devices, medical genomics, e-Health, scientific instrumentation, bio manufacturing and pharmaceuticals services and also, industrial biotech, food/agritech and environment. Genopole is one of the top European bioclusters and employs over 2,500 people.

Within its 109,000 m2 of floor space for research and biotechnologies and its privileged environment (availability of a network of technology platforms, access by regional train from Paris, access to a high-speed internet network, greenspaces, etc.), Genopole can respond to the real estate needs of businesses and laboratories, even when those needs change.

Genopole is mainly supported by the French government, the Ile-de-France Regional Council, the Essonne Departmental Council, the Grand Paris-Sud Metropolitan Area, the town of Évry and the AFM-Téléthon.

L.S./ECCP: What exactly are the services you offer as a cluster organization to your members?

A.J./Genopole: We have of course in our portfolio all the “classic” services you know (e.g. supporting collaboration among our members, internationalization, promotion, knowledge development/trainings), but I would like to highlight here the “special” ones:

1. We enable productive research and support breakthroughs in biotech

Genopole is supporting fast-expanding research programs, mainly on (i) Stem cells and biotherapies, (ii) Synthetic and systems biology, and (iii) genomic medicine.

Genopole is funding or co-funding the acquisition of cutting-edge technologies (molecular/cellular analytics, imaging, bioinformatics, etc.) and mutualizes them for the benefit of the site’s laboratories and businesses. Genopole brings together on its campus a wide variety of technical and scientific platforms. They make it possible to take advantage of the many skills they host and take part in the emulation created by the collaboration between engineers and researchers.The site offers for instance a platform for imaging and cytometry, one forsynthetic biology and one for histology-Anatomocytopathology in collaboration with the hospital CHSF. Every year, Genopole launches a call for projects allowing provision of shared equipment for promising scientific or industrial projects.

Genopole also fosters emergence of new scientific leaders. It created its ATIGE Grants enabling young researchers to set up and grow a group on a new scientific field within academic labs on the Biocluster.

Genopole also promotes the “reverse brain drain” by helping French-trained researches to move back after having completed their post doctoral fellowship abroad.

Created in 2013 by Genopole, the Fondagen endowment fund supports biotechnical progress in personalized and regenerative medicine, biodrugs, synthetic biology and other fields.

2. We help companies grow

Genopole is made of a team of experienced project managers, who support entrepreneurs throughout their projects from the idea to the consolidation of their company.

Genopole has reinvented its biotech business empowering model and created three new structures: the Shaker, the Booster, and the Growth Hub.

L.S./ECCP: Now this sounds very special and the names you found for your supporting structures definitely catch our attention. What is “The Shaker”? Most probably not what first comes in our minds…

.J./Genopole: Dealing with entrepreneurs requires a certain dosis of creativity, matching their own when going new paths. This unique offer in France provides concrete support to young holders (Students, PhDs, Post-docs, engineers, etc.) of innovative projects giving them access to mutualized labs within and linked to a top-flight scientific and technical ecosystem. Such access is normally a utopia for project holders looking to establish their proof of concept at the level corresponding at a TRL3-4 which will have an impact on the “go-no go” to create their start-up with the opportunity to integrate the dynamic environment of Genopole. During these six months of the program, the Shaker also provides entrepreneurial training to its young degree-holders, who are often unfamiliar with the ins and outs of business.

This initiation to the business world gives them a real understanding of funding, biotech-specific legal and regulatory rules, premarketing studies, business communication and more.

L.S./ECCP: And the Booster?

A.J./Genopole: The Booster it is the second stage of Genopole’s new empowering model. It targets already existing or launching companies (less than two years old) working in Genopole’s fields of interest and showing particularly strong national and international development potential. The Booster generates momentum and efficacy to accelerate a company’s movement through its scientific and business development steps, creating value and employment for the territory. The program welcomes companies during 1 year to provide adapted support allowing to push business development to TRL5-7, establish a solid business plan and prepare companies to succeed their first fund raising.

To join the Shaker or Booster, the project holder or start-up head must submit a file for assessment by a committee of independent industrial, financial and academic experts.

So far, 8 Shakers and 13 Boosters have been selected between September 2017 and April 2018.

L.S./ECCP: Last but not least: The Growth Hub. Is it another name for an accelerator?

A.J./Genopole: Yes, it simply fits better to our concept. The Growth Hub’s mission is to accompany and accelerate the development of high-potential mature companies by operating the company’s own levers of growth and integrating the counselling provided by a range of experts mobilized by Genopole.

In 2016, Genopole businesses raised slightly more than €71 million. The biopharmaceutical company Pharnext, which is developing treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, accounted for nearly 45% of that sum after a successful IPO (Euronext Paris) that brought in €31 million. Since 2000, the total amount of funds raised by Genopole companies amount to 623M€.

L.S./ECCP: This seems indeed to be a hard-to-top achievement! Congratulations and you definitely convinced us that you help companies grow. Are there are other special services you offer your members?

A.J./Genopole: You mentioned promotion and internationalization as part of the “classic” services. Well, we combine them and

3. We promote the actors of the biocluster internationally

Genopole helps companies to grow internationally and followsthem in their international collaborative approach by participating in major events in the sector: Bio, BioMed, BioSquare, Bio Vision, BioJapan etc.and by publicizing Genopole laboratories and companies, within the international biopharma industry, research organizations, investors and foreign bioclusters.

Beyond participating in numerous world-class biotech events to promote the biocluster, Genopole has currently signed several strategic agreements with two large bioclusters in South Korea (KBIO and DGMIF), with Neomed and Génome Québec in Canada and with Wuhan’s Biolake cluster in China.

In addition to this, Genopole is part of the French Tech Visa program for international companies and startups.

L.S./ECCP: Very impressive! How would you define the reasons for your successes and amazing achievements?

A.J./Genopole: All services offered by Genopole that I just presented explain in part these successes. Success is, I must say, alsobased on the synergies between its actors:

  • Scientific and business activities are organized very regularly to instill a biocluster spirit and sharing of experiences (workshops, welcome sessions, master classes, ...)
  • An "entrepreneur club" has been launched in a long lasting and active network in the philosophy of helping one another to accelerate business growth.
  • An internal newspaper, Forum,links the Genopole actors together.
  • An international conference center, the Genocentre, with a 700 seats theater.
  • A “Pôle de vie” project at the heart of the site will house shops, restaurants, nursery, hotels and a sports hall.
  • A continuously increasing real estate offer.

We have some great success stories that we can share with you, but in order to keep this interview focused, I suggest to read them on our profile on the ECCP.

L.S./ECCP: If you were to describeGenopole in a nutshell, how would you phrase it?

A.J./Geonopole: Well, we put the interest of our members at the core of everything we do. That's 20 years of experience in Biotechnology that Genopole brings to its actors. And we take a lot of pride in saying that the following great companies and laboratories call Genopole their home: 

According Biotech Finance in 2017, Genopole represented 43% of biotech companies in Paris Ile de France!

  1. The 1st French pharma industry for gene and cell therapy drugs for rare diseases, Yposkesi
  2. One of the first world companies developing renewable isobutene and other hydrocarbons, Global Bioenergies
  3. 1st Illumina training center located in Continental Europe
  4. 1st units in the world of large scale breeding and processing of insects, two companies Ynsect and InnovaFeed
  5. CNRGH : National Center for Research  in Human Genomics, 1st French genotyping center, 3rd European in sequencing capacity,
  6. GENETHON : world leader in developing gene therapy to cure genetic and rare diseases
  7. I-Stem : Largest French Laboratory dedicated to the exploration of potential therapeutic applications of stem cells in the treatment of rare genetic diseases (CTRC)
  8. iSSB : Institute for Syntheric Biology, 1st French academic laboratory in synthetic biology, 3rd European and 9th worldwide.

L.S./ECCP: Thank you, Anne, for talking to us and enabling our cluster community to gain some valuable insights into your cluster work, goals and how you strive to reach them! Particularly the efforts you make to support entrepreneurship in the sector  can definitely be inspiring for some cluster peers.

A.J./Genopole: Thank you, too, for the opportunity to share our knowledge, experience and achievements.

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