How was Bio Europe in Stockholm last week?
The Conference Itself – For us, the conference was terrific. We had nearly 30 high-quality meetings over the three days of partnering, plus more informal meetings and catch-ups at the receptions and dinners. As usual, we did not attend any of the company presentations or round-table discussions, which was unfortunate because a few of the topics looked very interesting. DataTrial has a guide/overview to the conference, and you can always search for #BES16 on Twitter.
Having the exhibition and the partnering booths in one concentrated area was very helpful, as this led to informal meetings in and around the exhibition area. Importantly, with nearly 2,400 delegates attending, it was larger than we anticipated. Having that many people in a concentrated area is perfect for impromptu meetings without it being overly crowded.
Muéstrame el dinero – As part of our fundraising efforts, we have been meeting with a number of European VCs, and have had an opportunity to anecdotally compare the VC environment in the US and Europe. In our view, the investment communities in the US and Europe are frequently and incorrectly compared directly, because it is not quite correct to compare one large country with a group of smaller countries, in our opinion.
For example, venture investors in the US tend to invest in their own areas because the deal flow is excellent. In Europe, while there are a few pan-European investors, national or regional venture investors provide an extra dynamic which exists in the US, but to a far lesser degree compared to Europe.
In other words, you are far more likely to find a blend of pan-European investors and nationally-focused investors in Europe, as opposed to a pan-US investor set and a large number of regionally (or state-focused) investors. In fact, there are nationally-focused investors in a number of European countries. Spain, UK, Germany, and Belgium come to mind.
As funds in the US sharpen their regional focus by choice (i.e., Boston/Cambridge only), and while others are disappearing, is now the time for US companies to consider relocation to Europe?
Will US companies in areas under-represented by venture capital have the ability and guts to move and reincorporate in Belgium, Germany, or the UK?
For many companies dependent on infrastructure or expertise in the US, this is not possible. However, for highly virtual companies, incorporation in Europe in order to access local capital sources could be a viable financing option for a select number of companies willing to have a dual, split management team and Board…an arrangement which may be difficult to manage for those unwilling or unable to travel frequently.
Interestingly, there are a number of US investors who are beginning to invest in European biotechs. Given that there are plenty of clusters across Europe with ample facilities and personnel, we would not be surprised if some US companies struggling to raise capital make the leap across the pond to access investors, government grants, and facilities. However, this is clearly not for everyone.
Three-Legged Goats – One aspect of conferences which is perhaps underrated is the importance of the deep professional (and personal) relationships which suddenly and quickly emerge. And by “deep” we mean a relationship which is based on more than a 20 minute meeting in a booth. It’s those relationships which evolve from repeated interactions at lunches, receptions, and dinners across multiple conferences.
These formal and informal meetings and relationships are absolutely critical in a segment of our industry where sales cycles are extremely long.
Why? Because that’s the pace of our industry. Sometime we simply have to wait for the next set of clinical data before starting an out-licensing process.
But if that initial relationship does not evolve over the intervening time, then it is unlikely that the project will move forward.
So the 20-minute meetings, augmented by chats at evening receptions and dinners, coupled with follow ups at future conferences (again, both formal and informal), LinkedIn connections, newsletters, and emails are a way to build trust, confidence, and respect…all attributes which may lead to more transactions (or, in some cases, future employment).
Does this sound trivial? Let’s think about it differently…is there a relationship between personality type and sales performance? Do nicer, more out-going, more personable people perform better in a relationship-based sales environment, regardless of education or “track record”? And if so, can this be taken into account when hiring sales and business development folks?
There is a lot of information (and nonsense) available on personality traits and their correlation with sales. And a brief search does not yield a definitive answer to this question. But, what is clear is that personality traits such as confidence, integrity, pride, and passion are important in B2B relationships, communication, and ultimately transactions. These are characteristics which are difficult to convey in a 15-20-minute conversation in a booth, followed by an email.
Other authors suggest that having flexibility to listen, respect, and respond to your prospective customer/client/partner is important in order to built rapport, trust, and ultimately a long-term relationship which survives and thrives over the many months leading to a transaction.
We find it somewhat odd when companies send an entire platoon of people to a conference, only to then schedule a private dinner with the entire group at the conference. Yes, it is important to meet and interact with colleagues. But that can be done anytime and anywhere. Why waste the opportunity to meet other people / potential customers while they are in town for the conference?
If an in-licensing pharma company is going to send 10 scouts or more to a conference, they should be scouting. Company dinners can wait for another time.
And the goat reference?
That is a reference to a rather funny incident which occurred during an informal dinner in Stockholm last week.
Was it fun? Yes, or course. But the long-term benefits of friendship, LinkedIn connections, referrals, and so forth far outweigh the benefits from sitting through a private company dinner.
Keep this in mind as you make your evening plans for BIO in San Francisco in June.