Unleash Your Ingenuity: Biotech YES 2017

Unleash Your Ingenuity: Biotech YES 2017

During her time on the UofG Blogger Team, Jiska wrote about PGRs that started their own companies and the MVLS Science Den competition. After leaving Blog HQ, she decided to dive into the world of entrepreneurship herself and signed up for the Biotech YES competition. Here, she shares her experiences with you!

The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme is a UK-wide competition that aims to introduce postgraduate researchers and postdocs to science commercialisation and entrepreneurship. During an intense three days, participants attend workshops, mentor sessions, and ultimately present their hypothetical company – Dragon’s Den style! This sounded like a brilliant mini-MBA to me, and I soon found two partners in crime to join me. With financial support from the university we were able to sign up and soon the game was on: we’d represent the University of Glasgow at #BiotechYES 2017!

Our team, ready to face the dragons! Jiska van der Reest, Marisa Nacke, and Lucie Robert de Beauchamp. Image (c) Young Entrepreneurs Scheme

Our team, ready to face the dragons! Jiska van der Reest, Marisa Nacke, and Lucie Robert de Beauchamp.
Image (c) Young Entrepreneurs Scheme

There are three YES competitions – focused on biotechnology, engineering, and the environment – and in turn, each stream hosts different workshops in collaboration with industry partners. As our PhD research focusses on cancer biology, we applied for the Biomedical Workshop that was held at GlaxoSmithKline and the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst near London. Over the next two days, we were drilled in all steps required to set up a company: intellectual property and patenting strategies, regulatory affairs, various approaches to commercialisation & marketing, and of course financial strategies. We also heard from many entrepreneurs that started up and spun out companies successfully. It was especially cool that many of them had participated in Biotech YES themselves and started on real entrepreneurial journeys after the competition.  

In the afternoons we met with business developers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs to develop our own business plan. We decided to stay close to our PhD research, so that we would learn about a commercialisation path relevant to our own work. After some brainstorming, we developed a non-invasive diagnostic test for lung cancer based on novel CRISPR technology and liquid biopsies! In the months leading up to the competition, we pulled all the strings we could find in our networks and talked to clinical oncologists, pathologists, and scientists to cover our bases on the science front. We also discussed practicalities and clinical applications with consultants and diagnosticians within the NHS. This was super interesting, as we didn’t have a clue how new tests and products developed in the lab are actually incorporated into the NHS, and which regulatory steps you have to take to make this happen. To talk finance and marketing, we liaised with business development managers and entrepreneurs. They taught us to focus on market values and return on investment: ultimately investors want to make money and its dollar signs rather than science that excites them! Finally, we pitched in front of professionals in communication and management to ensure a smooth delivery.

Finalising our business plan at GSK: coffee, coffee, coffee! Image (c) Lucie Robert de Beauchamp

Finalising our business plan at GSK: coffee, coffee, coffee!
Image (c) Lucie Robert de Beauchamp

Despite our preparations, we were still one of the many teams adding the final touches to their presentation in the hotel bar at 3am! But our prep work did pay off, as we were quite pleased with how we handled our pitch and question round the next day. Unfortunately only one team could win, and the investment panel ultimately voted for an implantable chip that monitors oncoming heart attacks. Though it’s always more fun to win, we had a great time together!

Besides all the business knowledge we gained during the workshops, I think there were some bigger lessons we learned as well. The competition forced us to step outside our regular science bubble and comb through our network to find professionals in other fields. I was quite surprised we knew so many of these people, and how eager they were to help! This definitely showed us the power of networking (and how nice people are!), as well as the vast amounts of jobs you can do with a science PhD. At the competition itself, the workshops were a brilliant introduction to entrepreneurship and spending three intense days in a business environment forces you to think in a different way. This all helps to broaden your view and see beyond your daily research project to wider opportunities in society. I always say that science can’t make an impact if it just stays in the lab, and understanding how you can move your research into the real world is valuable for any scientist. But especially if you want to move into industry, such experiences will make you differentiate from other applicants. Everyone will have a PhD – what else did you do to stand out from the crowd?

I also asked my dream team why they decided to participate in the competition. Lucie explained: “I worked in a medical technology start-up before starting my PhD, and I am keen to stay close to industry and entrepreneurship throughout it. The Biotech YES competition seemed like an ideal way to do just that! The competition was intense, but it was great to hear from so many entrepreneurs and their diverse backgrounds."

Our team is still going strong after the competition – climbing hills in the Scottish Highlands this time! Image (c) Marisa Nacke

Our team is still going strong after the competition – climbing hills in the Scottish Highlands this time!
Image (c) Marisa Nacke

Marisa participated because she wanted to learn more about the biotech industry, but she enjoyed many other aspects: “It was cool to meet other highly motivated students and hear their views and ideas. Visiting the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst was a great experience, as this is where entrepreneurs in this field are making their ideas happen for real! It was lots of fun to work as a team on a small project with a practical application, and working together to get past problems, which is an experience we often lack in our daily research.” Looking back, we’d all recommend other students to join competitions like Biotech YES. As Marisa said: “When I think about my PhD in ten years’ time I may have forgotten the long nights in the lab, but this will definitely be one of the projects that I remember!”

Surprisingly, there was only one other team representing Scotland at the competition – I’m sure we can do better! So if you’re keen to learn more about commercialising your research and entrepreneurship, consider joining one of the YES competitions next year. Get in touch with Elizabeth Adams and perhaps you can represent #TeamUofG!

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