Photo: IZB

“I’ve always been enthusiastic about the biotech scene” Christian Gnam on his new role as IZB Managing Director

Since April, the Innovation and Start-up Center for Biotechnology (IZB) has had a new director in Christian Gnam. With extensive experience from the startup scene and a clear vision for the further development of the IZB, he is focusing on networking and innovation in order to further strengthen Munich as a biotech location. He spoke to us about his career, the challenges of his new position and his plans for the future. As a speaker at the Munich Startup Festival, he will also shed light on the importance of the Munich biotech cluster in a European comparison.

Munich Startup: On April 1, you took over the management of the Biotechnology Innovation and Start-up Center. How did this come about?

Christian Gnam: Before I took over the management of the IZB, I already had several roles with different focuses in the startup scene. In the last five years at Insurtech Hub Munich (ITHM), my focus was on insurtech startups – including health insurance companies. This has resulted in strong connections to the healthcare sector and the digital health scene. As part of my previous role at Invest in Bavaria, I was already able to support a number of biotech companies in setting up and expanding in Bavaria. This experience gave me insights into the industry and helped me to establish relevant contacts and networks. I was already enthusiastic about the biotech scene back then and I am delighted to now be able to support the companies and the industry even more actively through my work at the IZB.

Munich Startup: Hand on heart: How much respect do you have for the new task?

Christian Gnam: The management of the entire IZB campus definitely involves a very broad spectrum of tasks. From renting and managing the office and laboratory space to supporting the biotech founders in their growth and managing the associated hotel and catering facilities. But it is precisely this diversity that makes the job so exciting and I look forward to being here on campus every day and tackling new challenges.

Promoting exchange and arranging contacts

Munich Startup: You were most recently Managing Director at Insurtech Hub Munich and already headed the investment team for startups, life science, energy and environmental technology as well as chemicals at Invest in Bavaria. How can you use this experience for your new position?

Christian Gnam: While every industry certainly has its own challenges for startups, there are also issues that cut across industries. Founders are often extremely focused on developing their product, especially at the beginning. As a result, they quickly miss out on something that is very important: networking and exchanging ideas with others, gaining new insights and making new contacts. And this is exactly where I started in my previous positions. With my teams, I made important contacts, opened doors for startups and thus accelerated their growth. This support can be applied to all sectors.

Munich Startup: You are taking over from Dr. Peter Hanns Zobel, who was Managing Director for 28 years and thus has big shoes to fill: What do you want to keep – and what do you want to deliberately do differently?

Christian Gnam: First of all, I would like to say that my predecessor has built up and set in motion an incredible amount over the last three decades. This great campus, which I have taken over, is largely thanks to him. At the same time, however, the demands and challenges facing companies are changing rapidly. Among other things, AI will also have a major impact on biotech. I will respond to these and other developments and make adjustments accordingly.

Biotech location Munich

Munich Startup: Bavaria, and Munich in particular, is an important location for life science/biotechnology companies. How has the IZB contributed to this?

Christian Gnam: Before the IZB was founded in 1995, there was no place in Munich outside the institutes and universities where young biotech companies could start and grow. The establishment of the IZB made this possible and successful companies such as Morphosys and Micromet have emerged here. Since its foundation, over 200 companies have found their home at the IZB. In addition to the purely technical infrastructure, a lively campus has gradually developed with the neighboring institutes (Max Planck and LMU), where founders and researchers can network and inspire and support each other. In this respect, the IZB has made a decisive contribution to making Munich an interesting and important location for the biotech sector.

Munich Startup: You will also be a speaker at the Munich Startup Festival this year. In your opinion, what role does the Munich biotech cluster play in a European comparison?

Christian Gnam: In Europe, the Munich biotech cluster is one of the pioneers of the scene. The mix of universities, research institutes, global life science companies, international connections, the presence of local venture capital firms and the strong industrial mix provides an excellent breeding ground for biotech start-ups. However, other locations in Europe are also developing well, so we must not rest on our laurels and must continuously develop the location and the framework conditions. I am looking forward to this.

More public attention desirable

Munich Startup: What successes have startups based at the IZB achieved in recent years? Are there any particular challenges that they will have to face in the future?

Christian Gnam: Despite the still tense situation on the venture capital market, many of our startups were able to raise considerable financing rounds in the two to three-digit million range, including Tubulis, Insempra, Eisbach and Bind-X. This means that the biotech scene remains one of the strongest and most interesting target sectors for debt capital investments.

What always amazes me, however, is how little attention startups and the industry in general – measured both in terms of their financing rounds and their significant technological developments – receive in Germany. I would like to see more interest and greater public support here.

Advancing international networking

Munich Startup: What plans and visions do you have for the IZB in the coming years?

Christian Gnam: The range of tasks at the IZB is as broad as the topics I want to tackle in the coming years. One of them is AI, which will also play an increasingly important role for the biotech sector. Most of our companies are already using AI for their research, but we are only at the beginning in terms of potential. It is therefore my goal to significantly expand the expertise at the IZB campus in terms of user knowledge (also across industries) and infrastructure.

Major technological innovations – whether they come from IT or biotech research – always happen on a global level. It is therefore important to me to intensify international networking with other leading biotech research and startup locations in order to promote the exchange of knowledge. This can lead to more investment activities and opportunities for cooperation on both sides, which benefits the industry as a whole. At the same time, the exchange of knowledge can also be further expanded locally. In Munich and Bavaria, we have many great technology initiatives and research skills that parts of our community are not yet aware of and could benefit from. For these and other measures, I will also work closely with our partners such as the BioM cluster organization or the neighboring top research institutes.

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