Safeguarding smooth-running services

Steinbeis experts provide support to Biocenter Oulu in Finnland

Biocenter Oulu (BCO) is one of six biocenters run by Biocenter Finland. It offers services in the field of biomedicine, ranging from proteomics and microscopic studies to transgenic mouse models, including analysis. The BCO and the Steinbeis team Nordost from Rostock have just completed a pilot project on the development of commercial services for core facilities at Biocenter Oulu.

Until now, the portfolio of services offered by the BCO revolved mainly around the academic needs of the University of Oulu and Biocenter Finland. To generate income, establish commercial enterprises and promote competitiveness in the Oulu region, services needed to become more appealing to international and commercial organizations. The Steinbeis team of experts from Rostock evaluated service packages offered by the BCO as well as other biological services provided by the University of Oulu. It then tabled suggestions for expanding the portfolio. Supporting the team during their project was Frank Graage, who heads up Technology Management Nordost (a Steinbeis Research Center), Professor Hans-Jürgen Thiesen, director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Proteome Analysis, and Professor Michael Glocker, Head of the Rostock Proteome Center. Together, they leveraged experience in the BCO’s fields of research, the commercial use of research, and in technology transfer.

During the joint project, the experts mapped out strategies for improving the existing BCO portfolio and identifying unused potential. Their suggestion was to adapt BCO’s internal structure and admin processes to make specific service areas more appealing to customers. The team also suggested setting up four service centers, each headed up by a project manager. To plan next steps, two workshops were held with management and scientists from BCO and the University of Oulu, covering several issues:

  • Reorganization of central administration to establish clearly defined service units and improve communication and transparency
  • Offering end-to-end/integrated solutions instead of just stand-alone solutions by tapping into experience in related fields
  • Definition of people responsible for contracts and for service delivery for specific scientific fields
  • Transparent invoicing and an incentive system for services offered to external clients
  • Comprehensive monitoring of service costs to make centers profitable
  • Independent administration structures inside and outside BCO, similar to the Steinbeis Network

An important part of the planned strategy will be to integrate centralized services into the four service centers and thereby forge productive relationships with other biocenters in Finland, as well as partners in academia and industry (including SMEs), on a regional, national and international level. Life science research is divided into different levels, each more complex than the one below, starting with genomics, then proteomics, experiments on cells, and experiments on complex organisms and animals. Each of the four service centers is dedicated to one of these levels and includes three or four of the center’s existing core facilities.

In-house service structures are not the only important factor. Customer perception outside the organization and client expectations also matter. Central to marketing the BCO portfolio will be:

  • Customer priorities and market demands
  • Project timings and service delivery capacity
  • Quality control procedures and documentation
  • Communications and pricing

The project team assessed customer priorities by sending a questionnaire to SMEs, manufacturing enterprises and academic institutions working in related biomedical fields in five European countries (22 responses, valid responses 75 %). According to the survey, the interest in services is relatively evenly spread across the four research fields the service centers work in. Each service center will address different customer demands by offering both simple and complex, end-to-end solutions.

The facilities working on transgenic animals already offer end-to-end solutions and they have earned themselves a strong reputation in Europe. Other service centers previously focused more on local demand and stand-alone solutions. The service centers have every potential to evolve into commercially successful service providers, as they can draw on the experience of researchers at Biocenter Oulu. Each service center will need to find a market niche and acquire customers.

BCO could aid in this process by acting as a platform to raise awareness for services. However, this must dovetail with internal structures and be market-focused. This could be achieved by adopting the approach used at Steinbeis, with a separate manager heading up each service center. These service project managers (SPMs) must have an incentive to acquire customers and be given enough leeway to implement projects. So each SPM should be familiar with the ser- vices on offer. SPMs would also be responsible for coordinating the personnel and technology needed to carry out newly acquired projects. Finally, the biomedical service centers could also be linked to a computerized expert system that would make it possible to conduct analysis ranging from literature searches to state-of-the-art evaluations of final results.

Biocenter Oulu

is a multi-disciplinary research institute that works in the field of biotechnology and medical research. Its work revolves round the research areas of the University of Oulu. The project spearheaded by Steinbeis was supported by European regional development funding, Oulu city council and companies in the area.

The “Nordost” Steinbeis

enterprise has been providing life science services in Northern Europe – specifically, countries around the Baltic Sea and in Scandinavia – for many years. Its services also include EU research management and technology transfer in the field of medicine. As a founding member of ScanBalt, a network of bioregions in the Baltic area, Nordost is also involved in EU regional development strategies aimed at fostering international competitiveness throughout the region.

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