In Boston, Denmark’s New Innovation Centre Builds Bridges for Danish Life Science Sector

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Denmark’s Innovation Centre in Boston has opened in Kendall Square, considered to be “the world’s most innovative square kilometer”.

While just a four-hour drive and 350 kilometers apart, Boston and New York’s geographical proximity does little to disguise the unique idiosyncrasies that profoundly differentiate the two cities from each other. The former is a bastion of American historicity and an academic powerhouse, home to more than 50 research institutions and a vast number of R&D centers from leading international tech companies. For its part, New York has long reigned supreme as a global symbol of progress and ingenuity. It is the seat of American finance, business and media, and its calling card has always been a certain relentless dynamism.

Today, the divide between the two East Coast rivals might be getting a little bit smaller — at least, for Danish companies — as Denmark officially launches its Innovation Centre Denmark in Boston, expanding its life science network from the Big Apple to Bean Town and, in the process, building a connecting bridge between the two intellectual hubs of the US’ Northeast.

“From Harvard to MIT, the thread of innovation connecting Boston’s academia to the world’s leading companies is tangible, visible and alive,” explains Joan Hentze, the Innovation Centre’s new Executive Director, who is headed to Boston from her post running the Global SDG Business Hub in New York. “As a result, Boston is increasingly becoming a key platform for Danish companies working in the life sciences, AI and robotics, and renewable energy and related sustainable technologies.”

In fact, located in Kendall Square, the Innovation Centre Denmark — Boston is situated in an area renowned for being the world’s most innovative square kilometre and is home to more than 500 startups and more than 1000 biotech companies.

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Joan Hentze, Executive Director, Innovation Centre Denmark — Boston.

Denmark In New York caught up with Joan Hentze to dive deeper into Innovation Centre Denmark – Boston’s nascent role as a facilitator of Danish life science interests and explore the growing connective tissue linking Boston and New York through Danish engagement.

Denmark In New York: The first question is, perhaps, the most obvious: why Boston? Why is Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs breaking ground on a new Innovation Centre in Massachusetts?

Joan Hentze: Denmark is a forward thinking country and we recognize the importance of our life science sector for the greater success of Denmark, Danish industries and the Danish private sector as a whole. After numerous consultations and based on the recommendations of an industry collaboration on how to grow our life science ecosystem even further, we identified key
ecosystems where Danish companies can benefit from a strong presence and network to accelerate growth. And Boston was the number one location desired by our industry. In fact, Massachusetts has long been a leader in the United States on everything spanning from energy and sustainability to innovation and technology. And, from what I have seen over the past few years, Boston is of growing importance for life sciences specifically. We are excited to join the welcoming community in Massachusetts.

What are some of the unique challenges that you face in your new endeavour in opening the Innovation Centre Denmark — Boston?

Joan Hentze: Boston is home to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. One can easily go to a coffee shop and listen to the buzz of new ideas, new paradigms, and hot topics within life science and technology. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to pace ourselves! We get so inspired being there as we see countless opportunities for how Denmark can help support these common goals in life sciences and technology and also countless things we can learn and integrate into our Danish ecosystem. The Boston area, of course, is a global research hub with over 40 different universities and, some leading global institutions such as Harvard and MIT.

How else does Boston differentiate itself from New York when it comes to the life sciences and specific market opportunities?

Joan Hentze: These are two different ecosystems that we believe speak to their core strengths. As you note, the Boston ecosystem is grounded in its academic structure. And, while New York also has a strong academic base, it is more grounded as the financial epicentre of the US and even the world. However, one can see more and more companies starting in Boston and the opportunity for collaboration is what makes Boston such a key market for Denmark. Within a small geographical space, our Danish companies and partners can find leading clinical experts, technical experts, and seasoned management professionals within life sciences. Through key collaborations, our Danish companies can gain exposure to best-in-class thought leaders. And, by engaging with Boston through the Innovation Centre, we can learn best practices for entrepreneurial enterprises from an ecosystem that serially builds and launches companies with high success.

Ultimately, this feeds back to New York and the New York Tri-State Area as well as growing companies need capital and large pharma investors. Thus,
the more success we see for Denmark in Boston, the more we hope to see Danish companies succeeding financially on a global scale.

During your time in New York, you helped develop the DKBIO series –the leading biotech conference for Danish companies here in the United States. Will you be developing a life science synergy between Boston and New York in the coming years?

Joan Hentze: Absolutely! The DKBIO platform is largely inspired by the companies it serves. We have seen interest and participation in DKBIO from both publicly traded companies and newly-established start-ups. So we see it as natural that the platform will be built with input from both our bases:
NYC and Boston. The DKBIO conference aims to address issues affecting all Danish companies, specifically on partnering, business development, innovation, and capital raising. Our strong networks in both cities will only be enhanced.

As for other synergies, we see a graduation of sorts for companies looking to Boston for everything spanning from new ideas and new projects to partnering and licensing. Denmark’s life science team in North America is only growing, reflecting the investment Denmark has taken in global health. And, as we grow, innovation will be built into our DNA.

What kind of opportunities do you think Boston offers that will specifically appeal to Danish companies?

Joan Hentze: Whether it is new technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, or novel ways of thinking through unmet medical needs, Boston is on everyone’s lips and on everyone’s minds. This has a lot to do with what we have discussed already: the density of universities, the number of
start-ups spun out of those universities, and then, by natural evolution, the executive management teams in the area who have worked with each other on numerous companies.

Our Danish companies are innovative as well and have focused pipelines. In that regard, we believe we can help them build tangible networks that can translate to true collaborative values with those key, Boston-based academic thought leaders and industry giants who are creating new ideas. In addition, we are in a unique position to plug our ecosystem into Boston and build an
entrepreneurial link between New York and Boston proper. In this way, we can learn, we can exchange, and we can grow Danish companies into successful international brands by collaborating in this cutting-edge environment from the very beginning.

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