The bio-economy of Europe is again being talked about with excitement. The market is worth more than €1500bn and employs more than 22 million people. Production and use of products derived from biotechnology support the generation of nearly 2% of the EU’s gross value added.

Further to the EU’s Lisbon Strategy and Sustainable Development Strategy, biotechnology is seen as an important contributor to securing the dream of a dynamic, knowledge-based economy that is capable of sustainable economic growth. Haven’t we heard that before?

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The last time that biotechnology was in the spotlight was when the medicine and health care industry was promising us miracles. But the boffins have not been the world beaters that they promised. European biotech companies are mostly small and medium-sized enterprises with limited resources to support their growth. There are about 2100 of them, typically six to 10 years old and with an average of 28 employees. Perhaps too much was promised too soon.

In contrast, other parts of the European bioeconomy are in the ascendant, namely the agriculture/ food and industrial production elements. Major drivers are sustainability and security of energy and food supplies.

Europe is a world leader in industrial enzymes and fermentations, and in innovative food technologies and products. Its companies are leading the production of biofuels and the use of biomass for sustainable energy production across the world.

The breadth of bio in Europe is demonstrated by eight European technology platforms that are currently active, which range from nanomedicine through plant genomics to forestry and biofuels. Exciting times indeed!

Douglas Clark is director of Tenon techlocate, a site search and location marketing consultancy which is part of the Tenon Group PLC, a top 10 firm of accountants and business advisers.

E-mail: douglas.clark@tenongroup.com