ABSTRACT

Introduction In 1996, the city of Basel, Switzerland, confronted an economic crisis. With a population of only 200,000, the third-largest city in Switzerland faced massive job losses in the wake of a major merger between its endemic pharmaceutical giants Ciba Geigy and Sandoz. The two former competitors became Novartis and the new CEO, Daniel Vasella, announced that 10,000 jobs would be cut globally, with 3,000 in Switzerland alone (Steck 2006). The merger threatened the region’s economy, as about 13 percent of its workforce was employed in the pharmaceutical sector (Füeg 1996). There was no public plan to accommodate the many specialists potentially flowing into the labor market and hopes were low that Roche, now the only remaining local competitor to Novartis, would be able to absorb the surplus. As a response, Georg Endress, a charismatic entrepreneur from the region, had a vision of a regional network in the life sciences. He derived his inspiration from Silicon Valley and a fascination with the power of small-firm networks. To achieve something similar in the Basel area, he brought together a small but select group of people involved in the life sciences on October 8, 1996 (Löffler 2002). Together with his team, he prepared a map of existing life-science-related actors stretching from Basel to Strasbourg (France) and Freiburg (Germany). Its emblematic title was: The BioValley! The map with many dots had the desired effect. The attendants were electrified. Many realized for the first time the scope of life-science-related activity beyond their national borders. Then Fritz Bühler, former head of research at Roche, stepped forward and simply declared to the 30 attendants of the conference that they would be the ‘tri-national BioValley community.’ Calling for solidarity within the freshly proclaimed group, he asked that they all donate money to get the initiative started. Only 20 minutes later, $15,000 was on the table. The BioValley initiative was born and, if the enthusiastic ‘founders’ were to be believed, this new ‘Valley’ was soon going to be for the life sciences what Silicon Valley already was for the IT industry. The following graphic depicts the situation in the BioValley 14 years later. The map strongly suggests that the BioValley founders’ main target has been reached and that many life-science-related companies have established

Figure 9.1 BioValley companies 2007/2008.