By rights, the majority of business visitors to Hanover, the capital of the German state of Lower Saxony, should associate the city with exhibition halls and trade fairs. The city has the biggest exhibition ground in the world and hosts nearly one fair every week, including CeBIT, the world's largest computer expo, and Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial fair.

But Hanover is also a part of one of Germany’s largest bioregions. Lower Saxony hosts more than 21 universities and 34 research institutions employing over 5000 scientists, as well as more than 200 companies from the life sciences sector.

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“We cannot be a frontrunner in every biotech field, but if your focus is on infection biology, neurobiology, transplantational medicine, biomedical engineering or veterinary medicine, our region definitely has a compelling offer,” says Anne-Christine Hopert, a biotech specialist at the state's ministry for economics, labour and transport.

Medical cluster

Hanover's medical cluster is located only 15 minutes’ drive from the city's exhibition halls. Apart from a good number of cranes and the highest concentration of PhD-title holders in the city, the cluster also houses Hannover Medical School, as well as the International Neuroscience Institute, located in a building shaped like a human brain.

Most recently the cluster became home to Lumiprobe, a Russian start-up manufacturing advanced chemicals for life sciences research and diagnostics. “According to our analysis there is a big demand for our product in western Europe, so we decided to locate closer to our clients. In Hanover we feel we are right in the heart of Europe,” says chief executive Dmitry Sankevich. “We also received generous assistance from the state and municipal authorities. We did not have to pay for lawyers and actuaries, and for the first year here we pay only half of our rent.”

Help extended to investors can be also in the form of grants and loans. Companies moving to Hanover can tap government-funded research and development programmes, as well as Lower Saxony's venture capital fund. Additionally, companies considering Hanover as their potential investment destination can access the German Marketing and Sales Solutions – a service ran by HannoverImpuls, the city's economic development agency.

“Potential investors basically get a team of sales people working for them, so they can sense how it is going to be operating here,” says Peter Eisenschmidt, international affairs project director at HannoverImpuls.

Region-wide focus

And while Hanover is the biggest biomedical centre in the state of Lower Saxony, life science clusters can be found in other cities in the region. These include Gottingen, home to 11 research institutes and a science park; Braunschweig, a city that hosts the Helmholz Centre for Infection Research; and Wilhelmshaven, the site of Biosphere AG Jade innovations centre, initiatives supporting small and medium enterprise-oriented biotech.

There are certainly more reasons to visit Lower Saxony than its trade shows. But should investors want to combine an exhibition with biotech, unsurprisingly, Hanover counts the biotech fair Biotechnica among the many events it hosts.