Why Taiwan and Europe?
A country approximately the size of The Netherlands, Taiwan now has over 130 incubation centres, linked either to universities, the government, the private sector, or to NGOs. Between 2001 and 2011, approximately 3,000 companies have been successfully incubated from a wide variety of sectors. For European companies, Taiwan is a hotbed of innovation, in sectors as diverse as life sciences, micro-electronics, medical equipment, textiles, and machinery. European companies can take advantage of the wealth of incubation facilities and support offered in Taiwan to internationalise their business and explore markets in the Far East.
On the other hand, Europe, with nearly 500 million residents and a strong and well-organized incubation network, represents an additional market for Taiwanese companies to reach the US and China. While numerous language and cultural differences might seem challenging at first, TGN’s partnering programme helps companies to find and compare service providers and reliable partners, who can make the transition more successful.
According to a recent study funded by the European Union, there is a direct link between the international expansion of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and increased business growth. TGN facilitates the SMEs’ globalization dream by helping to make the process more feasible and cost-effective. The European market is one of the most important in the world in terms of wealth of purchasing power, and Taiwanese companies can access this market and develop their technological advantage by finding the right partners and support to launch their European business. Likewise, accessing the huge developing Asian markets can be facilitated through TGN’s support networks in Taiwan. Through the tool and resources offered in www.Venture21.net, companies can realise their internationalization action more smoothly and effectively. The results are that Taiwanese businesses in Europe will be strengthened and European businesses and specialists can also make meaningful inroads into the Far East through Taiwan.
Biotechnology is not only recognized as one of the most important and significant global industries of the future, but also as a technology that will have great influence on the quality of life for us all. Taiwan’s plan to develop this industry is multi-faceted: to position Taiwan as the centre for human clinical trials in the Asia Pacific; for the island to become a regional centre for the manufacturing of biotech products; to be the center for genomic R&D in Asia; to become a worldwide subtropical floriculture center; and to build the most vibrant biotech-focused venture capital industry in Asia.
To develop Taiwan’s advantages in this sector, the government has included biotechnology in the mix, including the “Challenge 2008” six-year national development plan. It is also one of the ‘star’ industries in the “The Two Trillion, Twin Stars” Plan, which promotes increased productivity in several industries, including biotechnology. With the enactment of the Promotion Plan, both government and the private sector in recent years have aggressively invested in the development of the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device industries. In total, the Taiwanese government annually invests over US$ 1 billion in developing the biotech industry.
NBIC and its environment
To develop the innovation and entrepreneurial capabilities of small SMEs, the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) and Small and Medium Enterprise Administration (SMEA) has built a platform for enterprise start-up and incubation. At present, the majority of incubation centres in Taiwan are affiliated with universities. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has been encouraging research institutes and the private sector to invest in the incubator sector. The overall goal is to provide a comprehensive set of incubation services to cover every stage of the SME development process, and currently there are more than 130 incubators in Taiwan.
NanKang Biotech Incubation Center (NBIC) is funded by SMEA and the MOEA, and started operations in 2004. The incubator is under the management of the Development Center for Biotechnology (DCB). NBIC is a multi-functional organization for advancing biotech business incubation in Taiwan. Located in the NanKang Software Park in Taipei, the NBIC provides a world-class environment for biotech start-ups. The NBIC provides “full services and solutions” to biotech startups to accelerate their rapid growth and success.
Dr Shang-Pwu Shia is designer and Director of the incubator since the incubator project was begun. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas and has also studied business at the Business School of the University of Washington, in Seattle, and has had intellectual property rights training in the Asia Pacific Legal Institute, Washington D.C., USA. He has worked in laboratories and in the bio business for many years before coming to the incubation business.
The NanKang Biotech Incubation Center has set the pace in biotech business development. Dr Shang-Pwu Shia tells us about the incubation industry and the successes of his own space.
Charlene Lambert: Could you give us a quick profile of NBIC?
Dr Shia: We have 7-8 full time employees in the service office of the incubator, and we serve client companies that employ more than 200 employees. The incubator is fully sponsored by the SMEA MOEA, and managed by the Development Center for Biotechnology(DCB), a non-profit organisation. Located on the 17th floor of a 20-storey building, the total area of the incubator is 4,000 m2, and the space we rent can be anywhere from about 10 m2 up to 120 m2. The office and laboratory space, including facilities and equipment, are well-maintained around-the-clock to serve tenant needs. The lease terms are negotiable and renewable annually. Besides the monthly rent, most of the services are free, or covered under a small management fee. Usually the training courses and the forums offered at the Center are also open to the public at no charge. The incubator is a state-of-the-art facility, equipped with both wet laboratory and office space that provides world class business and facility services to high-tech life science companies.
CL: Could you tell us what the KPIs were last year?
Dr Shia: We were able to deliver on many fronts:
- Helping the companies of NBIC to get 8 subsidies from the government. More than US$ 531,000 was granted in 2011 to the NBIC companies.
- Helping the companies in NBIC apply for 8 patents from various countries, including 4 Patent Cooperation Treaties. A total of 5 patents were issued in 2011.
- Six incubated companies that raised a funding of more than US$ 8,619,000 from private investors through either direct or indirect help from us, in 2011.
CL: Do you get a lot of enquiries each year?
Dr Shia: Due to the limitations in capacity of the incubator, usually less than 4 vacancies open per year, and there are more than 30 inquiries each year. The turnover rate of the incubated company is about 15-20% annually
CL: What are your principles for business success?
Dr Shia: We have five core values we aspire to at all times.
- Welcoming all possible collaboration under an open-door policy
- Proactively serving the incubatees and the whole industry
- Building the incubator as a resource and information exchange platform. Networking is the spirit of the incubator
- Care about the community and the neighboring business park; be the initiator and coordinator in every aspect to trigger a tight clustering of the company in NBIC and in the biotech industry. The clustering effect will benefit all
- Introducing new business models and concepts to accelerate skill management and performance
Our slogan is: NBIC provides solid and dependable services to biotech start-ups. We believe that networking is the spirit of incubation business.
CL: Tell us more about the services you offer?
Dr Shia: Depending on the needs, NBIC’s services are categorised in to four classes:
- Full Incubation – on-site with full incubation service
- Virtual Incubation – off-site with full incubation service
- Member of NBIC – for a company who only needs part of the incubation services, i.e. instrument, consultation or industry information
- Transitional incubation – for short term or transitional incubation needs, usually with an incubation time of no more than nine months. The criteria for the various categories of incubation applicants differ accordingly. NBIC welcomes startups and also individuals who have an ambition of entrepreneurship. After entering the incubator, and with the help of NBIC, individuals are required to register a company within six months.
CL: What about start-ups and graduated companies?
Dr Shia: 24 companies have been graduated from NBIC in the past eight years, and have a higher than 90% survival rate after three years of graduation.
CL: Are there some unique programs you have developed for incubatees?
Dr Shia: NBIC managers endeavor to understand and respond to the specific needs of individual companies and the services can range from individual consultation, referrals to experts, fund raising, arranging training activities or courses, etc. For example, we were able to help a US drug discovery company in the ‘pre-pre-incubation’ phase. This company had an interesting technology, and we were able to introduce them to investors in order to help them raise funding. We also used our network to find some specialised laboratories that matched their requirements. And we did all of this for them before they actually applied for a place in the incubator!
CL: How much and which of these services are actually externalised to external consulting firms and/or other stakeholders?
Dr Shia: The incubator offers cl?ents many activities, such as the CEO club, the bio-forum, training courses, product-launching, press release and consultation services, and channels to the government for regulation or funding. We have built a bio-service alliance as a platform for resources and information exchange for the whole bio-community in order to serve the incubatees. There are more than 22 professional members from outside who have joined the alliance, including law firms, patent service offices, accounting firms, business consultation service companies, technical service companies, venture capitalists, etc. NBIC has direct contacts with the biotech and incubation communities from more than 25 different countries around the world, and is energetically expanding its network globally, especially in China.
CL: How does NBIC support its entrepreneurs to internationalize, and what countries do the incubatees consider more strategic?
Dr Shia: Traditionally Taiwan has more contacts with North America, and NBIC has incubated at least three companies from the US, one from Canada, one from Singapore and one from Australia. Currently, the Government of Taiwan emphasises “Invest in the EU” to promote mutual business. NBIC is trying to ga?n more connections within the EU to explore opportunities for collaboration. For this reason, our contacts with the TGN are particularly valuable.
CL: What are the connections with other incubators in the biotech sector both in Taiwan and on the international level?
Dr Shia: NBIC is member of CBIA, which is the Chinese Business Incubation Association(Taiwan). We are also a member of NBIA(National Business Incubation Association) and AABI(Asian Association of Business Incubation). Through these associations, we have met incubators from around the world. There are more than 30 groups of visitors each year, both local and foreign, who visit NBIC.
CL: Is there an acceleration programme, and if so how does it function?
Dr Shia: NBIC works with each client company to assess their needs and accelerate their growth. Companies can stay longer than five years in the incubator by paying 20% extra in monthly fees. We also give the companies more intensive support and consultation to help them to become independent.
CL: Which one would you deem to be the most successful company incubated by NBIC?
Dr Shia: Taiwan Liposome Company (TLC) is a biopharmaceutical company focusing on the research, development and commercialisation of innovative pharmaceutical products based on its proprietary drug delivery technologies. NBIC provided TLC a 120 m2 incubation space, laboratory bench space, a tissue culture lab, instruments and devices for TLC. DCB helped TLC accomplish several contracted preclinical studies.
Dr Keelung Hong, the founder and chairman of TLC, was a research scientist at the Cancer Research Institute of University of California, San Francisco for twenty years. With a persistent devotion to the advancement of cancer therapy, TLC achieved a series of breakthroughs in drug carrier technology for improving drug and gene delivery. In 2007, with NBIC’s help on the business plan, and an organised road show for fundraising, TLC successfully raised NT$ 194 million (~US$ 6.5 million) in that round, with the stock share price being 300% higher than the starting price. In 2010, TLC opened its European operation office in the Leiden Bio Science Park in The Netherlands to launch its business in that region. TLC stayed in the incubator from January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2009.
CL: What do you see in the future?
Dr Shia: Globalization is playing a more and more important role in diverse ways. For example, following the tsunami in Japan, we saw a lot of interest from Japanese groups and companies in our incubator. The Taiwanese government is also promoting investment in to the EU, and we are looking to form more connections in Europe. We are encouraging our companies to ‘Think Global’, for example, by holding seminars on the subject. In addition, partnering with foreign contacts can help companies globalize and grow their business.
Charlene Lambert is Chairman of the Taiwan Globalization Network. She has over 20 years’ experience in economic development and inward investment promotion in Canada and The Netherlands. She is Adjunct Professor in International Business and Marketing at Webster University, and a Founding Advisory Board Member of the Women’s Business Initiative, an incubator and business centre for entrepreneurial women in The Netherlands. She holds a Master’s Degree in Planning from the University of Ottawa, Canada.