Mathias Drexler, CEO at the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) tells us about fruitful scientific collaborations that bridge the gap between academic research and producing industry.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mathias Drexler: Thank you, we are doing well. I hope you and your family are doing well too? I must say that if you are lucky enough to live in the countryside, It is generally a little bit easier. Within the family, we support each other, for which I am very grateful.
In the context of my work as CEO of the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB), I also experience the collaboration and trust within our excellent team. We have the advantage that we already relied on digital processes at an early stage so that the introduction of a home office and dealing with challenges during the crisis was easier for us than it might have been for others. At the same time, the crisis shows us the immense opportunities that lie in digital research in the fields of biomedicine and smart digital health.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined ACIB.
Mathias Drexler: Although ACIB is not a typical start-up, our Center was in a similar situation as many start-ups when I joined ACIB as CEO back in 2010: Equipped with excellent funding from the Republic of Austria in the COMET program, we faced the challenge of establishing a powerful competence centre with an international focus in a very short time. Thanks to my many years in the promotion of start-ups in the biotech sector, I was able to rely on plenty of experience in this area. These competencies enabled me to initiate a sustainable build-up process. Partly thanks to my training as a mediator and thanks´ to our outstanding interdisciplinary team of highly professional experts, we have succeeded and continue to succeed in bringing together a growing national and international consortium of around 180 partners from science and industry in cooperative, highly ambitious research projects.
How does ACIB innovate?
Mathias Drexler: As a competence and excellence centre, innovation is ingrained in our DNA. We not only try to pick up on important trends in bio(techno)logical research but also create trends in the growing fields of environmental biotechnology, digitalization, and biomedicine. Thanks to more than 100 experts working at the interface between academia and industry, innovations come naturally. We combine the principles of target-oriented, industrial research and curiosity-driven basic academic research in a so-called Targeted Research Approach to develop even more efficient, sustainable processes and technologies.
How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your business, and how are you coping?
Mathias Drexler: Of course, the crisis has not left us unscathed. New methods of teamwork and collaboration had to be developed, and limitations in everyday practical laboratory operations had to be overcome. However, we are integrated into the sustainable networks of our owners and scientific partners. Thanks to the excellent performance of all, we have managed quite well to get through the crisis. Furthermore, as a K2-Center, we can make valuable contributions to biopharma research on COVID-19 directly. Especially now, in these times of crisis, we have recognized emerging trends and seize the opportunities offered by digitalization in research, for example, in biomedicine and biopharma, to react quickly and offer solutions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mathias Drexler: When you are responsible for a company, difficult decisions are the order of the day. Simply because you ultimately share responsibility for the careers of many outstanding people. A particular example of such a decision has to pause or discontinue promising research projects with thoroughly interesting results due to a lack of economic prospects. These decisions are always difficult. However, it is a pleasure to be able to implement new ideas and to advance and expand them together with others.
Are you using specific tools, software, and management skills to navigate this crisis?
Mathias Drexler: When personal contacts are limited, conscious and regular communication and exchange with employees is particularly important. For a manager, it is always tempting to make “lonely” decisions. This “temptation” is certainly intensified by the crisis. And this is why it is so important to question oneself in the sense of a cooperative management style, to include other opinions, and to actively seek critique and feedback.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mathias Drexler: Our advantage as a competence centre and cooperation platform are that we take an inclusive approach and even enable companies competing in the market to cooperate with us in research and development. Of course, we globally compete for the best minds and most advanced innovations. In this competition, we benefit from a sparkling creative environment and, not least, from Austria’s attractiveness as a livable location.
Your final thoughts?
Mathias Drexler: Although calling the current crisis an opportunity seems almost rude, there is a grain of truth in it. In my view, the most important thing is to give one’s ideas space, to allow innovations, and to move courageously toward implementation. This is the only to overcome the major crises of the present – including emerging pandemics, environmental catastrophes, climate change, or distribution crises – in a European and even global alliance. Personally, I am proud that we can make a small contribution and that we are accompanied by sponsors, partners, and associates with a lot of trust, even in times of crisis, so that we can continue to achieve our ambitious goals for the common good.