Bionow is a not for profit membership organisation whose mission is to support the biomedical, life science and pharma sector across the North of England, led by people with expert knowledge of the sector. Through their activity they bring the sector together, create opportunities to connect, collaborate and grow.

We talk to Geoff Davison Bionow’s CEO about how they are adding value for Biosphere tenants, how the sector has changed, why The Biosphere has been a game changer for SMEs, why life sciences businesses should move to the north and the benefits of being located within the Newcastle Helix community.

Since The Biosphere opened in 2019, how have the support needs of tenants changed?

Companies are already expanding, and it is great to see some of the tenants increase their commitment. One of the biggest changes that is emerging, is that companies are looking for wider collaborations. The Covid-19 outbreak brought this to the forefront, but it was a trend that was already well established in areas such as oncology and antimicrobial resistance for example, connecting companies with each other is a major focus, and is one that Bionow is at the heart of, both with events and direct introductions.

Bionow have partnered with The Biosphere since it opened, how does this add value for tenants and the sector?

The partnership adds value in a number of ways, firstly, Bionow already provide a wide range of networking events in Newcastle and elsewhere that bring people together. As part of the partnership with the Biosphere, we are committed to holding several additional events at the Biosphere over the course of 2020. This helps cement The Biosphere’s place as a focal point within the ecosystem of not only Newcastle, but also the North of England, as the events are promoted across the Bionow network to members and non-members, which is good for both the Biosphere and it’s tenants. Furthermore, the events held so far (which due to Covid-19 have been virtual) have been very well attended and each one in turn adds value to the tenants and non-tenants who attend.

By being involved with Bionow, The Biosphere has been able to utilise the network to promote good news stories and attract further attention to the excellent facilities on offer. By working together, we can complement those excellent facilities with a vibrant ecosystem that in the long term not only supports the tenants that are already here, but also helps attract new ones.

How you think the life science sector in the north east has changed over the past five years?

The sector up here is unrecognisable, the Biosphere is very much a game changer for SME’s as it provides a home and a hub for the sector in this region, so we have a tangible improvement in the ecosystem and facilities. On top of that we have the Northern Accelerator which has launched a series of Life Science spin out companies from the region’s universities; many of which have found a home at the Biosphere and NetPark. So whereas in the past spin outs may have left the region or been spread out, we are now retaining them and they are growing and employing people here, in short the region is benefiting from them like never before. We also have the development of the National Horizons Centre at Darlington which is a national training and workforce development facility for Life Sciences, so having that in the region is a real boon too, as well as CPI’s Life Science facilities of course. All of this coupled with a vibrant life science sector for networking and showcasing means we are in a great place, and the exciting thing is this is just the start, there really is a bright future ahead for the sector in this region.

What role to you think The Biosphere will play in the future of the life science sector?

The Biosphere has a major role, locally it means that our companies have a hub that they can migrate to as they grow and develop their respective technologies, and nationally it provides a focal point for the UK’s Life Science sector which helps attract inward investment to Newcastle and the surrounding area.

Why do you think The Biosphere is so popular?

Great facilities in a great location. The labs are very impressive, and the Newcastle Helix is an amazing site with complimentary buildings nearby such as The Catalyst and the University. This is all within walking distance of the train station or the metro station, so you can get there from anywhere.

The relocation of companies from the south to the north a predicted trend for a post-covid world. Why do you think the north east is a good option?

There are a number of reasons, but in essence it’s very well connected to the outside world, it’s cost effective and a company’s money will go a lot further here then down south. There are great universities in the area providing research breakthroughs and future employees, and the quality of life is better. In terms of space it’s a lot more spacious in the North East, both from a business point of view and also a personal point of view with a much healthier balance of town and country. 

Can we compete with the Golden Triangle?

I don’t see it as a competition with the Golden Triangle, it is a case of offering something different, and in many ways something better. Money goes a lot further here in the North East, we can offer a highly skilled, talented, and committed workforce in world class facilities just a few hours from London on a direct train. If you are an international company, and Life Sciences is a global business, then you would look at the time to get from London to Newcastle and then also how much farther your money would go then in the Golden Triangle. We have great Universities supplying skilled future talent year on year, as well as ground-breaking research, the National Horizons Centre just down the road in Darlington, the deep expertise of CPI based in the region as well as a number of Pharma companies with plants in the region. On top of this with Bionow we have a membership organisation whose sole focus is growing and supporting Northern Life Science companies, put together this is a compelling backdrop that the Biosphere plays a significant part in as a hub for this emerging cluster. It is a case recognising our strengths and playing to them.

Give us three reasons why a business should locate themselves on Newcastle Helix?

Just 3? We can do more than that!

  • Vibrant Ecosystem: which lends itself to collaboration and business growth
  • Excellent lab facilities: that provide a great operational base for any Life Science company
  • Location: In the heart of one of the most vibrant cities in the UK which helps a business attract clients, retain, and attract staff.

If you could offer one piece of advice to an entrepreneur or spinout looking to commercialise their ideas what would it be?

Keep your focus tightly on the technology you are commercialising and have a clear and concise story to tell. This will help inform all the other aspects of your business, whether that be your approach to investors, going to market, building your management team or recruiting the right people.

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