Fully digital partnering at BIO-Europe Spring 2020
Things were changing fast, very fast in the first two weeks of March 2020. Before the last sentence of an online article about the rapidly spreading coronavirus was written, new data popped up with even more frightening statistics.
The number of people infected with the coronavirus was climbing, and governments around the world were anxious for solutions to stop its spread. Limiting the number of people gathered in one location was one of the first steps France adopted. France was also where EBD Group’s highly anticipated fourteenth annual BIO-Europe Spring® international partnering conference was scheduled to take place 23 – 25 March in Paris. The City of Light was to host delegates from around the world, as they met and connected with potential biopharma partners, attended insightful panel discussions, and listened to company presentations.
“Our reason for being is to serve the global biotech community and help biotech and pharma companies connect, do business, and find investment opportunities,” explains Anna Chrisman, Group Managing Director, EBD Group. “The meetings that take place at BIO-Europe Spring drive valuable dealmaking for the rest of the year.”
The state-of-the-art partnering software, partneringONE®, which enables delegates at BIO-Europe Spring to efficiently identify and engage with new opportunities via one-to-one meetings, had already received 30,000 requests for meetings before it became apparent that a large in-person conference wouldn’t be possible. With the event just 16 days away, Chrisman and her team began reaching out to event partners and delegates. “The consensus from big and small companies was that they wanted to find a way to make partnering happen despite restrictions on travel,” explains Chrisman.
Creating a digital event in record time
How to make this happen was something no one at EBD Group had a manual for. They would have to figure this out on their own and in just two weeks. The solution they came up with was to take this popular face-to-face event and turn it into a fully digital experience for nearly two thousand attendees. With that, BIO-Europe Spring “digitally delivered” was born.
Most delegates and companies appreciated the quick pivot EBD Group made and quickly showed their support and enthusiasm for the digital event when the announcement was made on 5 March.
“With the uncertainties of the coronavirus outbreak, we fully support EBD’s decision to transform the BIO-Europe Spring conference into an entirely digital edition. Merck looks forward to contributing to the digital panels and the presentations in March, and meeting face-to-face at BIO-Europe in October in Munich,” said Philippe Lopes-Fernandes, Senior VP, Global Head, Business Development and Alliance Management, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.
“We welcome the effort to do a digital partnering conference! You bridge the gap between ‘We’ll meet in Paris’ and ‘We do no business at all.’ BIO-Europe Spring is an important conference in the spring season, and Bayer doesn’t want to miss it. We will participate with all registered colleagues and look forward to our virtual meetings,” said Dr. Martin Beuck, VP, Head of BD&L Radiology & Operations, Bayer AG.
Business almost as usual
Working literally around the clock, EBD Group was able to build a digital exhibit portal filled with company presentations and downloadable content. BIO-Europe Spring delegates could watch live or prerecorded panel discussions. Investors got the opportunity to listen to company presentations at their convenience. The event was extended to March 27, enabling partnering meetings to occur more easily across time zones. Potential partners couldn’t shake hands, but they could still meet via secure video. Business could still take place as usual during these very unusual times.
When the idea to transform BIO-Europe Spring came about during the first week in March, many people were still working from their offices, visiting friends, and going about their normal, daily lives. By 23 March, the first day of BIO-Europe Spring digitally delivered, people all over the world had been ordered to stay home.
The reality that connecting with someone via their computer’s camera was the only way to meet someone new, pitch their company or participate in a panel convinced skeptics to embrace the opportunity to participate in the first large scale partnering event done digitally.
“We are very pleased that we were able to offer BIO-Europe Spring delivered digitally over a five-day span to help the global biotech community keep in touch during this critical time, connecting, dealmaking, and finding investment opportunities,” says Chrisman. “Usually, our attendees often have to choose between attending presentations or panel discussions and conducting partnering meetings. In this format, they could do it all on their own schedule.”
Statistics: Good acceptance
By the close of the digital event, BIO-Europe Spring had welcomed over 1,700 delegates from 986 companies for nearly 6,000 virtual partnering meetings, hosted 12 recorded panels featuring industry experts, 45 recorded company presentations, and a virtual exhibit (open to all until 30 April) with recorded and downloadable information about companies.
“Some people were skeptical of the virtual format at first. But in the end, the main value is in partnering, and the sentiment has shifted very quickly, as we are all coming to terms with the fact that most of our interactions are going to be virtual for a while. This week, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback for keeping communication in this community afloat,“ says Chrisman.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“#BIOEuropeSpring looks a little different this year, but it’s great to connect with companies (and see a few familiar @IAmBiotech faces virtually as well!). The Combating #Coronavirus plenary was a fantastic start, looking forward to a productive week,” posted Elizabeth Gaskins @LizatBIO on Twitter.
“The current situation of remote working is something we already do on a daily basis at AIPEX B.V. – Europe connected. Today, I'm enjoying the fully digital conference BIO-Europe Spring with Luc Smeets!” posted Marc den Hoed on LinkedIn.
Two of the panels, available online here, were pulled together in the days leading up to the event to update delegates regarding the biopharma community’s response to the global pandemic. They focused on the COVID-19 solutions currently being researched and tested, with panellists from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, CEPI, Regeneron, Omega Funds, and Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), as well as the road to recovery in China, with Novartis China, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the Shanghai Delta Hospital Co., Ark Biosciences, Pharma Intelligence, ChinaBio® Group, and the American Chamber Shanghai participating.
The learnings and insights that arose from these panels contributed to Xconomy’s new e-book, Containing Coronavirus Through Innovation and Investment: An Xconomy Special Report, now available for free download. Several more panels from the BIO-Europe Spring program will be made available in the coming weeks.
The next BIO-Europe Spring event will be held for the fourth time in Barcelona, Spain, 22 – 24 March 2021.
“We look forward to returning to Barcelona in 2021 for what we hope will be a long-awaited, face-to-face BIO-Europe Spring event,” says Chrisman.