Case Study: HealthCapital: A German Cluster

HEALTHCAPITAL - from DE

HealthCapital Berlin-Brandenburg is the principal healthcare sector cluster of the German capital region. Its cluster management has dedicated structures for the coordination of the regional biotech and pharma industries.

Activities: Relocation services for companies, technology transfer, support for technology-based start-ups, initiation and management of networks, organisation of seminars and events, representation of the Bioregion, etc.

Size: 235 biotech & pharmaceutical industry members, including six technology parks.

Interests in Japan: Searching for partnerships with Japanese cluster management organisations and/or networks of companies active in Life Sciences (particularly in Biomedicine).

ABOUT HEALTHCAPITAL

The German capital region is one of the leading life science and healthcare industry centers in the world. At the interface of business, science and clinics, HealthCapital drives networking and technology transfer and also supports companies interested in relocating to the region. Berlin Partner for Business and Technology and ZAB Brandenburg Economic Development Board are responsible for managing the cluster.

 

WHY JAPAN?

Before 2013, HealthCapital had no cluster partners in Japan or even in Asia. Due to its aging population and investment in advanced technology, among others factors, the Japanese healthcare industry is tipped to grow substantially in the near future. It would be a mistake not to establish a presence in this important market, particularly within HealthCapital’s core activities. Furthermore, a presence in Japan could potentially become a starting point for a regional presence in Asia.

STEPS TAKEN – 2013 EU-Japan Cluster Support Mission

In October 2013, HealthCapital’s Project Manager for International Relations, Wolfgang Korek, together with representatives from two regional SMEs, participated in the EU Cluster Support Mission organised by the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation. While the objective of the SME representatives was to find opportunities on the Japanese market for their businesses, HealthCapital’s main purpose was to find other clusters in Japan and to engage in cluster-to-cluster cooperation.

The mission turned out to be a great success, since it gave them the opportunity to come into contact with multiple potential partners, such as the Kihara Memorial Foundation, various clusters from Osaka and Northern Japan, and the Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster. Of the contacts made during this mission, HealthCapital’s new relationship with the Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster seems especially promising, since they are already in discussions regarding follow-up ideas for further cooperation between the two sides. One of the ideas that are being considered, is to co-organise a company mission – either to Germany or to Japan- to introduce several companies from Germany to potential Japanese counterparts.

Furthermore, the November 2013 ‘Medica’ fair in Düsseldorf (the world’s largest medical sector fair), and the May 2014 ‘BIOtech in Japan’ exhibition, provided more opportunities for HealthCapital to again meet with its partners, and thus to continue strengthening their relationship.

CHALLENGES

The uniqueness of the Japanese market, as well as its particular business culture and language issues, obviously pose a considerable challenge to clusters and especially to SMEs. SMEs from Berlin-Brandenburg therefore mostly rely on external support (for example from the EU-Japan Centre) to further their ambitions in Japan. Many SMEs do visit fairs for example in the United States, where the Berlin-Brandenburg region has offered regional booths for many years, making it quite easy for them to book booth space. In Japan however, without any direct support, and without access to sponsored booth space, it’s quite difficult for small SMEs to venture onto the Japanese market, not only because of logistics issues, but also due to the difficulty in meeting the right people.

“What the SMEs very much appreciated last time was the opportunity to meet with senior management people at Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. for instance. They would hardly have been able to do that on their own, probably not even fix an appointment.” Wolfgang Korek. 

For HealthCapital it was not easy to understand the Japanese cluster landscape, since it is organised quite differently to Europe. However, once you get the chance to meet people from Japanese clusters and are able to invest the necessary amount of time, it is definitely possible to find the right partners and pursue a lasting presence in Japan, according to Mr Korek. The key to establishing connections in Japan is to show your commitment, and by visiting them not only once, but by going numerous times and making sure that you’re known.

CURRENT STATUS - NEXT STEPS

Because of HealthCapital’s good experiences with the 2013 EU-Japan Cluster Support Mission, they will be participating again in October 2014, together with two of the cluster’s member companies. During this trip, the cluster will be attending the BioJapan exhibition, during which Mr Korek will focus on meeting the clusters that he encountered the previous year. However, since he will be accompanied by a colleague, there will be plenty of opportunities to expand their scope and meet with other clusters.

“We had in total about 5 interested companies, and unfortunately only two of them could join. It was a lot easier for me to find even more companies to join for this year’s mission because of the good experience from last year.” Wolfgang Korek.

Interview made with Wolfgang Korek