In her new role as Chief Executive Officer at Medicon Valley Alliance, Anette Steenberg aims to zoom in on the strongholds of the region as well as strengthening the framework conditions for life sciences across Øresund.
Medicon Valley Alliance (MVA), founded in 1997, is a non-profit membership organization in the Danish-Swedish life science cluster Medicon Valley. The alliance today has more than 300 members, including Region Capital Copenhagen and Region Skåne, Lund, Malmö and Copenhagen Universities, life science parks and private companies on both side of Øresund.
On November 1st, 2021, Anette Steenberg replaced Petter Magnusson Hartman as the organization’s new CEO. Søren Bregenholt, Chairman of MVA’s Board of Directors, said after the appointment was announced that Steenberg would play a key role in the Alliance’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the framework conditions for life science in Medicon Valley. Steenberg herself believes that Medicon Valley has the opportunity to become a world class life science region producing and attracting some of the best talent, research and companies in the world. This will accelerate the virtuous circle of being a top life science cluster region, she says.
“Medicon Valley has the opportunity to become a world class life science region producing and attracting some of the best talent, research and companies in the world.”
“I’m looking forward to strengthening the Medicon Valley cross-border cooperation and helping to increase the visibility and strongholds of Medicon Valley internationally for the benefit of our members,” Steenberg says.
Securing strong frameworks
To her new role Anette Steenberg brings both local and global life science experience and as a red thread throughout her career she has been working with promotion of strongholds, growth and internationalization of companies. Her degree in international trade and negotiation from Denmark has been supplemented with business studies from Ecole Commerciale de la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie in Paris, market access studies from Singapore Institute of Management and a leadership education from Harvard Executive Business School.
These studies have been combined with approximately 14 years of working abroad as a diplomat, primarily focusing on government-to-government relations and internationalization of companies both outward- and inward-bound (exports and attracting foreign director investment).
“The past ten years I have especially been working with the life science sector both in public and private companies. Most recently, prior to stepping into the CEO role at MVA, I was Director for Investment Promotion at Copenhagen Capacity, attracting Foreign Direct Investment including life science investment to the Greater Copenhagen region,” Steenberg says.
“I would like to be their sounding board when setting the strategic directions and when they meet opportunities or obstacles in their individual work.”
Her most important task at MVA, she states, is to ensure an ambitious MVA strategy, execution of this while securing strong frameworks for her team.
“They are experts in what they do and more knowledgeable in their field of expertise than I am. However, I would like to be their sounding board when setting the strategic directions and when they meet opportunities or obstacles in their individual work,” Steenberg says.
Having had insight into both the Danish and Swedish life science industries, I ask her about the most significant differences between the two.
“The Danish life science industry is highly dominated by pharma companies, especially of course Novo Nordisk, whereas you find a lot of SME biotech and health tech companies on the Swedish side,” she says. “Moreover, you will also find different taxation regulations and employment laws – which all presents different incentives for investors. Finally, the difference in who owns the IPR at Danish and Swedish academic institutions also represents significant differences, which again affects the spin-outs.”
In the analysis Life Sciences across the Øresund prepared by Øresundsinstituttet as part of the Interregproject Greater Copenhagen Life Science Analysis Initiative (released June 2021), a crucial discussion about the unexploited collaboration potential in the region was highlighted. It was for example suggested that the obstacles to collaboration are much more structural and that more transborder research funds and a shared platform that highlights the differences in Swedish and Danish company rules are needed. I ask therefore Steenberg how she will try to better utilize the region’s collaboration potential.
“It would benefit both countries and life sciences research and industries if the focus was on making 1 + 1 into 3 instead of only just looking at the national strengths and opportunities.”
“We would benefit from our respective governments strong support in making our bi-national Medicon Valley one of Europe’s most competitive and attractive regions. It would benefit both countries and life sciences research and industries if the focus was on making 1 + 1 into 3 instead of only just looking at the national strengths and opportunities,” she says.
Steenberg mentions the two research projects ReproUnion (within fertility) and DiaUnion (within diabetes) as two good examples of utilization of strongholds on both the Swedish and Danish side. This makes the research and output stronger and better than if it was only conducted on one side of Medicon Valley, she believes.
“Moreover, we facilitate several exclusive networking groups and targeted topic seminars where knowledge-sharing and networking are key – again with the advantages of making the critical mass larger by including life science researchers, companies and talents from both countries. At our events, people meet and connections and businesses are being made within targeted life science groups across Medicon Valley and beyond,” she adds.
“The Nordic countries are known for being good at collaborating between the public and private stakeholders. Moreover, we have unique healthcare data, which could be used for innovative research if it became more easily accessible, preferably across the Nordic borders.”
A strong collaboration throughout the entire Nordic region would also benefit the industry, believes Steenberg.
“The Nordic countries are known for being good at collaborating between the public and private stakeholders. Moreover, we have unique healthcare data, which could be used for innovative research if it became more easily accessible, preferably across the Nordic borders. MVA at present only has active engagement in Danish-Swedish collaboration, but will not exclude joint Nordic initiatives or projects.”
This year, 2022, Anette and her colleagues will be celebrating MVA’s 25th Anniversary and they have a lot of exciting activities planned she says.
“We are hoping for a year where we again can meet and network in the real world.”
Q&A Anette Steenberg
1. How will you work towards positioning Medicon Valley as the most competitive and attractive life science region in Northern Europe?
“By zooming in on the strongholds of our region – especially the areas where we already have established or budding complementary strongholds – like diabetes, fertility, cancer, microbiome and stem cell research, etc. The strongholds are identified through our triple helix; public (hospitals), private life science companies and academia members.”
2. What are Medicon Valley’s greatest strengths?
“We are good at public-private cooperation compared to our competitors and are attractive countries and locations to live in for talent – a fact that’s extremely important in this “war on talent” and the lack of talent.”
“We have world-class research going on at our universities and companies. Moreover, we already have a strong and growing cluster of both public, private and academic life science talent and companies. We are good at public-private cooperation compared to our competitors and are attractive countries and locations to live in for talent – a fact that’s extremely important in this “war on talent” and the lack of talent.”
3. What are Medicon Valley’s greatest challenges?
“We need to align our cross-border challenges so people have incentives to work and live on different sides of Øresund.”
“We need to align our cross-border challenges so people have incentives to work and live on different sides of Øresund. Furthermore, we need to find a way to access and use the valuable healthcare data that exists in both our countries in cross-border collaboration projects.”
Photographer: Andreas Vinther