When Pivot Park started in 2012, not everyone was convinced it would work. But by now, the park is clearly a magnet for start-ups in the pharma field. ‘We really try to take our tenants’ perspective to see what they need.’

It’s only a short walk from Oss railway station to Pivot Park, the city’s ten-year old pharma campus. Here, historical buildings, archetypical 80s-style industrial architecture and brand-new laboratories are all in the mix. And so are construction sites, as Pivot Park is still a work in progress.

‘Pressure is high, and this excitement is what I like about working here’

The office of Brigitte Drees, managing director of Pivot Park since 2018, is located in a non-descript building that she shares with a variety of company tenants. Trained as pharmacist, Drees decided on an industrial career and landed her first job at pharmaceutical company Organon in 1992. Ten years later, it was time for a new challenge. She switched to a pharmacy chain and later established herself as an independent consultant. In that role, she fulfilled assignments for a broad array of parties in the pharma and health sector. ‘Ranging from early-stage R&D to the end-users. My projects covered innovation, health care and in particular, the business side.’ Now, she deploys her expertise to foster early-stage pharma companies and get them to the next growth stages. ‘We know how pharma works, so we understand what starting companies need.’

You started at Pivot Park five years ago. What interested you in this job?

‘From all the stages in the lifecycle of a drug, I like the early phase the most. Pressure is high, it is very exciting and that is also why I enjoy my work here. We do everything we can to support entrepreneurs during that stage. That means we have to be customer-oriented and entrepreneurial, because as a campus, we need to keep on developing and innovating as well. 

Pivot Park started out as a public, subsidized initiative to retain expertise and employment for the city of Oss and the broader region. Are those still important parameters or do you have financial targets as well?

‘We have three objectives: stimulate innovation, ensure employment and generate profits. Our shareholders, being the province of North-Brabant and the city of Oss, hold us accountable for all these targets.’

‘Education is a real driver for growth’

What is the nature of the profits?

‘The rent and service fees paid by the companies located on Pivot Park constitute our income.’

Brigitte Drees

Beeld: Duncan de Fey

Real estate is the core of the business model?

‘We are not your everyday profit-hungry landlord, if that is what you’re implying. To us, real estate is a means to an end, not an objective as such. Our exclusive focus on pharma offers a major advantage for companies, because everything is geared to their needs. Moreover, we are in the position to disburse the costs for furnishing, renovations and adjustments. We really try to take our tenants’ perspective to see what they need.’

How do you define the pharma profile when it comes to criteria for tenants? The field is developing very fast.

‘That is a valid point. Diagnostics is a good example, I used to say that it doesn’t fit here on campus, but now I no longer say ‘no’ right away. Companion diagnostics are really moving towards pharma applications. We also take the team into account when choosing a tenant. Do they have what it takes to succeed? Do they fit in here?’

At the start in 2012, there was a lot of doubt and criticism. The campus was seen as just a way of saving grace for Oss; it would never work out because the city lacks a university and a research hospital; there was already an overload of campuses, etcetera.

‘True, there was a lot of scepticism at the start, but those voices have really been proven wrong by now.’

‘There was a lot of scepticism at the start’

What constitutes the success of Pivot Park?

‘Our sole focus on pharma ensures that we know what our tenants need. That is a major difference compared to an academic business park that has to host all the different university spin-offs. Another important aspect is that right from the start, this campus housed several companies that provide services to third parties in the international pharma industry. Therefore, these companies are very well aware of what is going on in the pharmaceutical field. At first, these entrepreneurs were former MSD-/Organon employees who took ‘their’ expertise and started new businesses. All this created a very stimulating environment to hit the ground running and get new activity going. Finally, there is the tremendous support from the province, the city council and particularly the BOM, the Brabant Development Agency. Without their support, this would not have been achieved. And there is the local character of Oss, which also counts. It is no surprise that Organon started out here, that Unilever has its origins here and that Philips decided to open its first factory outside Eindhoven here in Oss.’

Can you describe that local Oss-character?

‘It is a combination of the hands-on mentality of Rotterdam and the capacity for making connections that defines Brabant.’

Building activities are ongoing all over the park, but do you have other plans for the coming years as well?

‘Education is a real driver for growth. As companies expand and grow, they need new people. So, it is also in our interest to ensure that there is an adequately trained workforce available. Therefore, we will set-up a range of professional, post-graduate education programmes and to this end, we are teaming up with a several educational institutions here in Oss and beyond. A second important project is a ‘lab of the future’, which will include a demonstration facility for suppliers. This space will also act as a shared facilities lab for start-ups and a training lab. It will be located close to the start-ups, int the new incubator that is currently under construction.’

You have been in this role for five years. If we look another five years ahead, what will see here at Pivot Park?

[She points at a sitemap on the wall that includes all the planned constructions]

By that time, all this will have been completed or be underway, we will have really increased the space available, and we will again have doubled the number of companies as well as of people working here on site. What I hope is that by then, we will no longer present ourselves as different entities like Pivot Park, Organon, MSD and Aspen, but as Oss Life Sciences Park. A move that has taken off by our collaboration to celebrate 100 years pharma industry in Oss.’