What actually brought you to the Basel region and what keeps you here?
Christof Klöpper: I came to the region 12 years ago and live in the city of Basel, the place I have so far spent longest in apart from the place of my birth. My PhD thesis at the University of Basel brought me here, and I stayed. Today I have strong roots here and am convinced by the huge potential and the quality of life in the region.
You were involved in the establishment of i-net innovation networks switzerland – what was your experience of this?
When we established i-net, we found there was a need. i-net tries to bring the right people together. Through the events that i-net organizes, this happens on a collective, but we also collaborate individually with companies, for example in consultations – and this also works very well. We found there was enormous latent potential in the region. Even in the big companies there is a huge reservoir of talent and skills that is driving the region forward.
What led to the merger of BaselArea, the China Business Platform and i-net? What’s the benefit?
The cantons Baselland, Basel-Stadt and Jura wanted to focus their shared activities in the field of promoting economic development more on high value-added, innovative sectors and subject areas. The region has competitive advantages that the merger can help us to make better use of in the future. The merger enables resources to be pooled and used more efficiently, which creates greater transparency for customers, fewer interfaces between the organizations and a higher quality of service. We offer support for innovation, promotion of the region and infrastructure from a single source.
How does BaselArea.swiss fit into the innovation landscape of Northwest Switzerland?
There are two areas: hardware and software. The first refers primarily to infrastructure such as laboratory space, equipment or desks and includes actors such as the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area as well as all other technology and business parks and incubators of the region. Our work focuses on the area of software, bringing people together and providing support. This also includes national actors such as the Commission for Technology and Innovation. Specialist organizations such as the Basel Incubator of the University of Basel and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland are also valuable partners for us.
What are the objectives of the new organization?
The new organization provides support for companies, their employees and also start-ups from home and abroad, assisting them in the successful implementation of their projects and business schemes in the region. It sets great store here by the steady establishment of a qualified network of decision makers, innovators, experts and entrepreneurs. Through this network, our customers receive direct access to knowledge and specialist know-how, which can speed up their business scheme. The focus here is on the establishment of headquarters and on high value-added sectors such as the life sciences, medtech, production technology, information and communication technology and also micro, nano and materials technology. In these areas, the region possesses competitive advantages and can develop them further. Of course these subject areas may change, and we will remain flexible so that we can also adjust to any new areas that may arise - because an agile, flexible organization is better able to spot opportunities, is close to industry and is guided entirely by the needs of customers. Our team consists of specialists from the various sectors concerned, who speak the language of our customers and understand what is happening in the sector.
BaselArea had the task of soliciting companies abroad and supporting start-ups. i-net focused on promoting innovation in the region. These are two completely different services. How do they fit together?
Expertise and existing networks are set to become even more important in the solicitation process in future. Our new organization brings these competencies together. Our merger send out a signal: the Basel region is the first throughout Switzerland to bring support for innovation and promotion of the region together– this is very important for our region. And the three cantons have found a stable and trusting form of collaboration. This is reflected not only in our organization, but also in the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area.
You speak of the three cantons. What about cross-border collaboration?
In the fields of helping companies to settle here and providing individual consultations, we clearly want to focus on the companies that are already here or would like to settle in the region. But when it comes to events and public meetings, of course, we are very open to increased cross-border collaboration.
And what distinguishes BaselArea.swiss from cantonal promotional activities?
The cantonal promotion of economic activities and inward investment for all three cantons and the new BaselArea together create added value. Here BaselArea is focused on activities at the regional level, such as start-up or technology transfer, on our networks and on a shared presentation of the region in promotional activities abroad. The cantonal promotion of economic activities and inward investment provides services in support of existing companies, establishes good framework conditions and cultivates the contact of authorities with companies and politics.
Will you collaborate with the cantonal promotion of economic and inward investment activities?
Close collaboration already existed with those responsible for economic promotion in Canton Jura and for promotion of inward investment in Cantons Basel-Stadt and Baselland, and this will also be important in the future. The past few years have seen a huge level of professionalization in the promotion of inward investment by the cantons and we are delighted to have such good contacts, for example, with the Baselland office for promoting inward investment.
What changes does the new organization bring for customers?
There will only be one contact partner from whom services can be obtained. This also happens of course through having a shared office, which we hope to be moving into in a few months. We now have greater critical mass, which will certainly help us in the field of assisting companies that want to settle here – because competition with the UK, Ireland and the USA, but also nationally, especially with the Zurich and the Lake Geneva regions is fierce. We can now be more proactive in approaching customers and with our know-how can perhaps establish contact with them at a time when they are not yet in talks with the competition.
Is there a yardstick for the success of the new organization?
Until now, all three organizations concerned have used different criteria; the quality of networking was important; the number of companies that benefited from the work was measured; and these criteria will be equally valid for the new organization. But our goal is to be better than before. Ultimately, all parameters must reflect our actual objective well. This objective is to exert an influence on employment and value added in existing and new companies.
Why does a state actually need to promote innovation?
Innovation is done by companies, not by the state. But the state has to facilitate innovation by providing framework conditions such as a suitable infrastructure, good education and an entrepreneur-friendly tax system. These issues are primarily the responsibility of cantonal and national offices for economic promotion. But the state should also facilitate an organization such as ours, which brings together different actors through a strong network without any self-interest. BaselArea.swiss never supports companies with financial contributions – for this there are private investors in particular, but also the CIT, for example, in the field of promoting research. However, we can establish connections through neutral platforms and come into contact with interested individuals and companies as early as possible. Many of the success stories of companies settling in Switzerland have come about through such contacts.
Can Basel grow at all in the area of entrepreneurship? And if so, how?
In the whole of Switzerland we are experiencing a dynamism in the direction of more entrepreneurship – and Basel can definitely benefit from this dynamism. We are a place that is heavily characterized by industry and SMUs and less by start-ups. This offers potential, especially also in the field of life sciences. A lot of innovation is already happening in young companies. There is also a good industrial base here. This is a huge opportunity for the region, and we are ready for this with our dense network. The demand is already there – internationally as well – and we are looking forward to more and trickier tasks and are open to all kinds of projects, including early-phase projects.
Interview: Nadine Nikulski, i-net
Dr. Christof Klöpper was CEO of i-net innovation networks switzerland from April 2012 onwards and has been CEO of BaselArea.swiss since 1 January 2016. Before he was Head of Inward Investment Promotion for Industry and Technology with Canton Basel-Stadt and CEO and member of the board of Technologiepark Basel AG from 2011 onwards. Before working for Canton Basel-Stadt he was a Scientific Associate at the University of Basel from 2003 to 2006.
Christof Klöpper studied Economic Geography, Economics and Business Administration at the University of Trier in Germany, Clark University and Ohio State University in the USA and gained his PhD at the University of Basel on the Structure and Geography of Innovation Processes in Biotechnology.