Access to funding is commonly one of the main challenges for entrepreneurs. Catalyze is one of the fastest growing consultancy businesses in the Netherlands and a market leader in providing financing of businesses and researchers, active in the life sciences sector. In January 2018, Catalyze opened their first branch office in Switzerland at Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. We had a chance to speak with Dr. Virginia Ballotta, Catalyze’s Country Manager for Switzerland.
You help organizations to obtain funding for biomedical and healthcare innovations. Can you briefly describe the entire process?
V. Ballotta: Our goal is to support companies accelerate their business from very early stages, but we also work with universities, research organizations, academic hospitals or medium and large companies. They all have one thing in common: they work on novel discoveries in life sciences, on highly innovative products or services, and they need some money to move on. We develop a funding strategy that will help them go forward, navigate smoothly and reach all their milestones.
What types of funding do you include in your strategies?
V. Ballotta: We tailor funding strategies to the specific needs of each company, to its development stage and its goals, always considering the timeline a couple of years ahead. To achieve that, we look into different funding opportunities. However, our core business is to raise non-dilutive funding like subsidies or grants, for example publicly funded programs like Horizon 2020, as well as national funding programs like Innosuisse in Switzerland. There are also private or charitable foundations in different countries that are open to researchers worldwide working on specific topics. Moreover, we look for funding opportunities overseas, like NIH in the US, or help researchers secure governmental loans.
After we developed a funding strategy, we find a grant or subsidy that is a good fit for the company or researcher. We help to prepare the required proposals and take care of administrative details. As our company grew, additional services were added step-by-step. Today we also support our clients in developing their business cases, writing their business plans or performing market research. If they get a grant, we assist with the project management.
So we are talking about full-scale consulting…
V. Ballotta: We like to help our clients to think their products through and develop them into the market. We evaluate the market position they will have, the best markets to target and the ideal way to access it. In that regard, we are strategic business consultants and we help our clients to precisely define their business case. It is important to us to establish long-term partnerships with our clients and to grow together, so our focus goes beyond a single financing round.
Let’s say you cannot come up with even a funding idea for a certain startup. Does that usually mean it would be best for the company to re-think their business case?
V. Ballotta: It happens – and no, this does not necessarily mean the company needs a completely new approach. Sometimes the case is so specific that even we need to do more research on possible grants, for example regarding certain diseases. Or the timing just isn’t right and the development stage does not match, so the solution may be to get back together a few months later. There are countless combinations of companies, business cases and obstacles – and it is our job to overcome them.
You came to Basel and opened your office at Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area at the beginning of 2018. Are you all settled in?
V. Ballotta: Everything went quite smooth. I came to Basel in January, in June we moved into our offices at Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. Even before we came to Switzerland we had a client base here. We decided to open an office to be closer to these clients and get to know more about the local opportunities. Of course, we are also looking to expand our client base – so that is what I have been doing since January.
What were the reasons to come to Basel?
V. Ballotta: Basel is a hub for biotech innovation – there are large pharma companies here, as well as highly interesting startups and the University of Basel. When I got in contact with BaselArea.swiss, they supported me in various ways. I realized that Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is the sort of ecosystem that generates companies that tend to need our strategic support. So it was an obvious match.
How is Catalyze organized in Switzerland?
V. Ballotta: Most of our consultants are based in the Netherlands. We work in teams and part of a team is now based in Switzerland. But since our clients are spread all over the world, we are also accustomed to working remotely and using tools like Skype-for-Business.
Have there been any projects in Switzerland yet?
V. Ballotta: We had about 40 clients in Switzerland before we opened the new office and since January we have acquired 20 new collaborations. One third of our Swiss clients are based in the Basel region and we are still building upon this.
Dr. Ballotta, thank you for these insights!
Virginia Ballotta studied Biomedical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano and obtained her PhD at the Technical University of Eindhoven on cardiovascular tissue regeneration. She worked in academia for an additional two years before moving on to consulting. Virginia Ballotta joined Catalyze in January 2018. She is happy to answer your questions about grants and funding.