The Biopôle campus in Lausanne is full of companies with new ideas for tackling the life sciences challenges of today. It’s exciting, demanding work, which means it can often be tricky to pause and look up to take stock of what’s going on around you. Enter Pierre- Jean Wipff. His role as Biopôle SA’s Innovation and Partnerships Director is to consider the bigger picture. In other words, Pierre-Jean focuses on understanding the different journeys being made by Biopôle’s members and partners and seeing where the opportunities lie for them to innovate together.
Pierre-Jean joined Biopôle SA at the start of 2022, but has been based on the campus for a decade, joining only a few years after the first buildings were inaugurated. ‘I’m kind of the dinosaur of Biopôle,’ he jokes. With a background in cell and molecular biology, he started a company right after finishing his PhD. The move coincided with the financial crisis of the late 2000s, which offered him valuable experience: ‘I know what it takes to start a company when it’s really not the right time.’ Since then, he has specialised in building comprehensive ecosystems on which companies can rely, enabling entrepreneurs to move forward faster. Indeed, those skills are now vital in his role at Biopôle SA. Pierre-Jean describes his job as ‘matchmaking’, putting the right people together: ‘I help companies find opportunities for their development and then nail down those opportunities.’
At the Biopôle campus, such opportunities could ultimately mean a licence, agreement or investment. But they also include the steps building up to those milestones, such as support with pilots and other collaborative or development projects, as well as facilitating information exchanges about projects, methods, strategies, goals and milestones. As Pierre-Jean puts it, Biopôle SA offers ‘a continuum of opportunities’.
Fostering the spirit of connection
Driving innovation is a key part of Biopôle SA’s vision, but Pierre-Jean believes innovation is itself a misunderstood concept. ‘It’s perceived as being super cool, but when you’re trying to build your company, it’s anything but – you really need to be prepared for relentless efforts in your quest for maturation, in your quest for impact’. He believes that is truer now than ever: ‘The competition is even more fierce than it was 10 or 15 years ago. The world is large and everybody – every country – is innovating. You have to see the people who are moving in the same direction as you – you have to differentiate yourself or be at the front of the pack to be successful’. When the challenge is so great, what can Biopôle SA do to support its members? Pierre-Jean feels that it’s significant that, even though the team is small (seven employees and one intern at the end of 2022), they choose to have someone on site who is dedicated to driving innovation and who is there to make connections. To him, that’s a sign that ‘Innovation is at the heart of the community that Biopôle is striving to build’.