Superlab Suisse model passes first crucial test

Superlab Suisse launched its first Lab-as-a-Service offering at Biopôle in Lausanne in June 2021. Demand is high and the expansion to Basel and Zurich is already signed and sealed, not least thanks to a partnership with of Swiss Prime Site.

Biotech companies do not generate revenues for a long time and have to use the money from investors and funding organisations carefully. Laboratory infrastructure is expensive, however. At the very beginning of the company's life cycle, offers such as the EPFL Innovation Park or Startlab at Biopôle help. And once a startup has attracted venture capital funding in the tens of millions, it can afford its own labs. But there is a gap between what the support organisations offer and setting up one' own labs. Superlab Suisse addresses this gap.

"We offer start-ups private labs plus the necessary physical and digital infrastructure, as well as services from mail reception, autoclaving to waste disposal," explains Superlab Suisse founder Zhang Xi. The offer is modular. Start-ups can begin with a single lab and later rent office space or another lab. Added to this is the flexibility in terms of time. The minimum rental period is only six months.

In March 2021, Superlab Suisse launched its first offering on one floor of a building in the Biopôle complex in Epalinges on the northern edge of Lausanne and in the immediate vicinity of the CHUV university hospital. The location, where 1500 square metres are available, is a pilot project to show whether the approach works. After one and a half years, the answer is clearly in the affirmative. 13 of the 15 labs are rented out. The residence companies are mostly start-ups in an advanced stage, as the concept had envisaged.

Support from Cautionnement Romand and Biopôle Lausanne

A pilot project in the real estate sector needs more capital than, for example, tests for software start-ups. In the case of Superlab Suisse, the support of Biopôle Lausanne and Cautionnement Romand, one of the four guarantee cooperatives in Switzerland, was crucial. It supported the project with a guarantee that enabled Zhang Xi to secure a bank loan. "It was very encouraging to discover that the origin of the founder does not matter when it comes to support, only the innovation of the project counts," explains Zhang Xi.

Meanwhile, the startup has also taken a big step in terms of funding. In November 2021, Swiss Prime Site, the largest listed real estate company in Switzerland, joined Superlab Suisse. SPS has taken a stake in the company and is supporting the next two projects in Schlieren and Basel. Both will be realised in SPS properties.

New sites in Schlieren and Basel

Swiss Prime Site Immobilien and Superlab Suisse plan to develop sites in Basel and Schlieren with a total area of over 11,000 m2 from 2024. Stücki Park in Basel already houses the Technologiepark Basel with numerous life sciences start-ups, Lonza and other pharma companies. Another state-of-the-art building with laboratory and research space is to be built right next door in the next 18 months, which will also house a Superlab Suisse site.

In Schlieren, Swiss Prime Site Immobilien is planning a modern new building on the JED site. In it, research and laboratory space for start-ups, spin-offs or established companies is to be created on two floors in collaboration with Superlab Suisse. "In each region, we analyse the situation of the laboratory infrastructure market and tailor our offer precisely to the gap that exists locally," explains Zhang Xi. In Basel, for example, the laboratory space for tenants will therefore be somewhat larger than in Lausanne.

In parallel with the expansion, the founder has also secured support from experienced managers. This week, the company announced that a new CSO – Christoph Rockel, and a new CFO – Rolf Melliger - are joining the team. Rockel has a proven track record in Business Development of Services in Pharma, Life Science and Food. Melliger has more than 20 years of experience in finance as CFO and Managing Director in international companies.

However, national expansion is not the end of the story. Zhang Xi has a global network in mind. She explains: "I could well imagine a location in Boston, for example."

(Stefan Kyora)
Photo: Superlab Suisse founder Zhang Xi