Sonja Hammerschmid - In Profile

by Eleonora Windisch

 Title: Executive Director, ARGE Life Science AustriaVienna Region
Education: Master's degree in science and Ph.D. in molecular biology, University of Vienna
Age: 36
Career highlights:DeputyDirector, Austria Wirtschaftsservice (AWS), since May 2003; Executive Director, ARGE LISA, since Jan. 2002; Director, Impulsprogram Biotechnolgy at AWS, 1999-2002; Margeritella-Biotrade, 1998-1999; Institute for Molecular Biology, 1995-1997; Boehringer Ingelheim, 1990-1995

Pastimes: Politics, mountain biking, diving, traveling, fashion design
Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Biotechnology and molecular biology seem to be becoming the dominant economic forces in the first half of the 21st century. Research institutions have embarked on a race to discover biotechnology-derived therapeutics. At the same time, a race of a different kind has developed, one to determine where these industries should be located. Many countries have several regional contenders for biotech clusters. In Austria, this development traces back to the 1980s, when Boehringer-Ingelheim (BI) relocated its research facility, the Institute for Molecular Pathology, to Vienna. Others followed suit. In 2003, BI started expanding its operations by investing €60 million in a new pharmaceutical production facility. That same year, the new BiotechnologyCenter in Krems was opened, along with Baxter's €200 million vaccination facility.
Political support from city officials was particularly crucial in the initial phase and later equally instrumental in setting up institutions such as the Vienna Biocenter. The Vienna Biocenter now houses a number of internationally renowned research institutes and start up companies in biotechnology. The benefits to Vienna and the entire region have been invaluable. Among others, the biotechnology industry has become an important economic catalyst, putting the city on the map for potential investors and creating new economic incentives. "Having recognized the potential for the biotechnology sector, however, does not entail that Vienna can rest on it laurels," says Sonja Hammerschmid, executive director of Life Science Austria Vienna Region (LISA). "Many pharmaceutical companies have representative offices in Vienna, from where they cover Central and Eastern Europe. In view of the EU enlargement, Vienna must continuously strive to further develop its regional capacities in order to maintain its competitive edge."
Sonja Hammerschmid, who is also deputy director for technology and innovation at the Austria Wirtschaftsservice, a customer-oriented bank specialized in Austrian business promotion, speaks from experience. A trained scientist in molecular biology and genetics, Dr. Hammerschmid knows both sides of the coin. Having worked as a researcher for the pharmaceutical industry, she has experienced the difficulties of garnering scientific attention, which is crucial for any career advance. "Doing basic research in biotechnology very often requires that researchers have a high level of tolerance for frustration," she says, describing the highly competitive race for research results to be published. "Long-term projects can become meaningless if a competitor manages to publish his results first." After eight years in research, Sonja Hammerschmid called it quits and decided to change sides. With some additional training in business administration, she began applying her expertise in science to the areas of technology transfer and business development. Dr. Hammerschmid feels that her background as scientist is an important asset to her current position. She can "talk the talk of scientists, enter into scientific discussions, and thereby build trust." When evaluating start-up projects, her experience in the pharmaceutical industry comes in handy. Knowledge and familiarity with the process of product development and timelines are key skills.
Creativity and science do not always seem to be obvious partners. But with her knack for fashion design—she won several prizes for her design work—Sonja Hammerschmid often proves that assumption wrong. As head of strategic planning and program development at LISA, she draws deeply on her creative mindset. Earlier in 1999, she helped launch the program that soon developed into LISA. That program, called 'Impulse Program Biotechnology,' was an incubator for start-up biotechnology companies. The goal of that initiative was to "stimulate life scientists to think in terms of commercializing their [research] results... and to help researchers with patenting and financing," says Hammerschmid. Hammerschmid admits, however, that the success of Germany's Bioregios played an important role in stimulating the biotechnology program in Vienna. Now, she feels that Austria has caught up with Germany. Although its geographic focus still lies in Vienna and its neighboring provinces, LISA has set up similar programs in Tyrol, Styria and Upper Austria. When it comes to international role models, she thinks that the United States still takes the lead.
Hammerschmid, who describes herself as a hard working and team oriented manager,sees the sustainability of Austria's biotechnology sector as the biggest challenge for LISA. "Considerable political commitment from the federal government" is key for any long term success, she says. In the medium term, Hammerschmid measures success by the increasing number of projects and entrepreneurial activities resulting from LISA's initiatives. The 'Best of Biotech' call in 2001 generated over 90 business ideas, which resulted in the foundation of ten start-up companies. In 2004, 'Best of Biotech' (BOB) goes into its second round. New to the initiative, however, will be the inclusion of several neighboring countries, namely Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and the CzechRepublic.

Related links:

Austria Wirtschaftsservice Gesellschaft mbH (aws) -

Best of Biotech: http://

Life Science Austria (LISA) -
Vienna Business Agency (Wiener Wirtschaftsförderungsfonds) -

Vienna Life Science -