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Double win for early-career researchers with top entrepreneurial skills and ideas for food security

14 December 2010

The entrepreneurial skills of a team of early career bioscientists with ideas for food security have earned them top place in a national competition held at County Hall, London last night. The winners of the 2010 Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) competition are Laura Davies, Chris Cobb, Elizabeth Wright, Christal Fisher and Carmine Circelli from The University of Manchester.

  Biotechnology/Environment Young Entrepreneurs Scheme final 2010.

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Biotechnology YES is an annual business plan competition run by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI).

The team impressed a panel of investors with their hypothetical company Microbe Solutions Ltd when they presented their business idea for an alternative to conventional nitrogen fertilisers called Nitro-Pods® - a soil treatment consisting of enhanced naturally occurring nitrogen-fixing bacteria housed in a unique and environmentally safe pod. The judges were so impressed with their pitch that the team also take home the prize for best plant and microbial science business plan, sponsored by Syngenta.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said "I would like to congratulate the winners on their success. The UK is world leading in bioscience research and the 21st century will be the age of bioscience driving the knowledge based bio-economy, already estimated to be worth €2 trillion per year in Europe. We need scientists to become equipped to exploit the results of their excellent work and so help the UK economy to compete and grow.

"The participants in Biotechnology YES have had a brilliant opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial skills early in their careers. Translating knowledge into innovation is the challenge that we face, and developing these skills will put them in an excellent position to translate discoveries into social and economic benefits for the UK."

It is expected that the future security of our food supply will rely on the translation of high quality fundamental bioscience research into new products and technologies. The team from Manchester have demonstrated that they have the skills to do this in their future careers, should they choose to.

Microbe Solutions Ltd made it through regional heats to compete against 10 other teams in the final, eventually going head to head with runners up Aptatek from the University of Bristol. Over 100 teams entered the 2010 competition, with each participant receiving mentoring and coaching in business planning; commercial and marketing strategies; raising and managing finance; and patenting and intellectual property.

Winners of the 2010 Biotechnology YES competition, Microbe Solutions Ltd. Left-right: Chris Cobb, Laura Davies, Elizabeth Wright, Carmine Circelli, Christal Fisher. Image: Marcos Bevilacqua

Winners of the 2010 Biotechnology YES competition, Microbe Solutions Ltd.
Left-right: Chris Cobb, Laura Davies, Elizabeth Wright, Carmine Circelli, Christal Fisher.
Image: Marcos Bevilacqua

Dr Laura Davies, Managing Director of Microbe Solutions said "We feel very privileged to have won - the standard was extremely high. We've enjoyed the experience immensely and it has opened our horizons to the kinds of careers that are available later.

"We'd like to thank the University, especially UMIP, for their help and support. We have learned a tremendous amount from working with them and throughout the competition.

"The team was put together for this experience and we'll definitely stay close afterwards; who knows, perhaps there will be future business collaborations!"

As well as the title, the team take away £1000, tickets to the Bioindustry Association annual gala dinner and the chance to present the winning business plan at the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston, Texas, USA.

Professor Sir Tom Blundell, Chair of BBSRC, an early patron of the Scheme, and after dinner speaker at the Biotechnology YES 2010 final said "Congratulations to the winning team on a well deserved victory. I was involved in the early days of the Biotechnology YES competition in 1995 and the standard of competition has clearly risen year on year - the level at which teams are competing is now extraordinarily high. All the finalists gave impressive presentations and many would clearly be comfortable in the boardroom already. This is a great prospect for scientific entrepreneurship and I would like to wish all the competitors every success in their future careers."

Biotechnology YES is annual business plan competition designed to raise awareness of commercialisation amongst bioscience postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. It was developed and is delivered by a partnership between the University of Nottingham, Institute of Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Biotechnology YES has a strong history and this year marks its 15th anniversary.

Professor John Peberdy MBE, Emeritus Professor of Enterprise, UNIEI said "We are tremendously proud of this year's winners as we are of all who have participated over the years. Before the launch of Biotechnology YES there was very little awareness of the need for entrepreneurial skills amongst scientists and this scheme has played no small part in changing that. Biotechnology YES has now trained almost 3000 early career researchers in business-relevant skills and many previous participants have put these skills into practice as their careers have developed. It gives me great pleasure to have been part of the Competition from the start."

The value of the scheme has been recognised by Newcastle University in particular and it has now been integrated into their postgraduate continuing professional development programme. For the fifth year, a spin-off competition called Environment YES has been run by the Natural Environment Research Council and also receives sponsorship from Indigo. 3 teams competed last night in parallel with the Biotechnology YES competition for the Environment YES title, with Mara Mor Ltdfrom the UHI Millennium Institute being crowned the winners.

A recent independent review of the scheme shows that it gives early career researchers the edge in entrepreneurial skills and future career prospects. Having participated in the Biotechnology YES competition, early career scientists are well prepared to move into industry where their improved entrepreneurial skills are highly valued. There is some evidence to suggest that past participants perceive their earning potential as greater following the competition and the review indicates that the skills gained are exactly complementary to those acquired during a PhD.

Other winners in the Biotechnology YES competition were:

  • Best healthcare business plan sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline
    Orexipro, Newcastle University
  • Best consideration of financial planning strategy sponsored by James Cowper LLP
    Aeternus, Queen Mary, University of London
  • Best consideration of IP strategy sponsored by Potter Clarkson
    Aptatek, University of Bristol
  • Best plant and microbial science business plan sponsored by Syngenta
    Microbe Solutions, The University of Manchester
  • Best presenter sponsored by University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation
    Melanie Wrigley, Tellus Technologies, The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland

ENDS

Notes to editors

2010 finalists: Biotechnology YES

NB. All companies are hypothetical and products are imaginary

  • Aeternus (Queen Mary, University of London) have developed a novel delivery system that penetrates the cornified layer of skin to deliver a range of novel peptides to living cells.
  • Aptatek (University of Bristol) discovered a surface protein unique to legionella and an aptamer which binds to it. They have patented this interaction as a means of testing for legionella. They have applied this to an existing technology that converts this interaction into an electrical signal. Their instrument will be installed into water and air conditioning systems to comply with government legislation on legionella testing.
  • Co-Alyst Technology (University of East Anglia) provides the science that allows the attachment of biological cofactors, such as purified heme, on a carbon fibre mesh, which can then be used as a catalyst in car exhaust pipes. This catalytic filter, HemeCleanT, is able to convert NO and CO to less toxic exhaust gases at an efficiency rate of > 90%. HemeCleanT is the only product available that allows car manufacturers to fulfil EU regulations and does not rely on the use of precious metals or reduces the fuel efficiency of the car engine.
  • DeeNature (University of Aberdeen) who have patented a polymer filter that can remove oxalate from drinks without changing their tastes.
  • DentRegen (University of Manchester) offers the first, unique biodegradable dental filling material that fully regenerates the tooth. The filling material is a gel/fibre composite which degrades at the same rate as new tooth formation. This material will remove the need for unsightly dental filling materials and fillings that require repair. DentRegen provides a single procedure and leaves your tooth as good as new.
  • Disulfide bonds create curls in hair. Eden Laboratories (University of Exeter) have isolated an enzyme that can be incorporated into a shampoo that will temporarily and harmlessly break these disulfide bonds. When washed with a normal shampoo, hair will return to previous state. The temporary and non-damaging nature of Eden Laboratories product "Duolocks straightening shampoo" makes it a novel and appealing straightening method.
  • Hema Stem (Imperial College) has made a major scientific breakthrough by mimicking the human bone marrow in producing fully functional red blood cells that have passed pre-clinical trials stage. This consists of an automated system that uses usually discarded umbilical cords to produce natural blood cells in a continuous fashion.
  • While allergies are on the rise in the west, populations in developing nations, with high burdens of gut parasites, suffer lower levels of hay fever and asthma. Exploring this phenomenon the Immuno-Peptech team (John Innes Centre) have identified proteins from the parasites that the human immune system recognise to start an immune response. These proteins pre-stimulate the immune system's own regulatory networks resulting in widespread anti-inflammatory action. This novel approach to drug discovery is allowing the development of immunotherapy treatments for major inflammatory disorders including allergies, IBD and arthritis.
  • Microbe Solutions (University of Manchester) have developed the nitro-pod. Their enhanced, naturally occurring bacteria optimally fix nitrogen when enclosed in their unique capsule pods, which can be sewn along with seeds. The pods are activated once in contact with wet soil and last roughly two years but should be applied annually for optimum effect. The pods can be used with any plant and the bacteria cannot survive outside of the pod ensuring an environmental safeguard. The nitro-pods are not only cheaper to produce than existing fertilisers but also increase yield by 20-25%.
  • Orexipro (Newcastle University) have developed an idea to manipulate the ratio of two gut bacteria therefore reducing the calories absorbed from food.
  • Ribotech Biosystems (University of East Anglia) uses a patent synthetic ribosome technology to make de novo peptides.

2010 finalists: Environment YES

NB. All companies are hypothetical and products are imaginary

Buzz Scientific (University of Southampton) have identified the honey bee genes responsible for disease resistance and developed a handheld device so breeders can perform a genetic analysis at the hive to assist in selective breeding.

Mara Mor (UHI Millennium Institute) have identified and isolated a spawning stimulant for the European Eel.

Tellus Technologies (Geological Survey of Northern Ireland) have developed a technology which allows them to produce a product which downscales and deskills the use of a magnetic resonance based approach to ground water prospect targeting.

Sponsorship

The competition is sponsored by (alphabetical order):

  • Bioindustry Association
  • BioSKAPE
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
  • MRC Technology
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Nestle
  • Syngenta
  • University of Manchester Incubator Company (UMIC)
  • University of Manchester Intellectual Property Ltd (UMIP)
  • University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI)
  • Wellcome Trust
  • Yorkshire Forward

About UNIEI

The University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) is a world class centre committed to the development of entrepreneurial skills and the commercial innovation of new technologies and ideas. Our purpose is to engage staff and students in the acquisition of enterprise skills so that they are better able to realize the opportunities generated in a rapidly developing entrepreneurial culture. UNIEI aims to be at the forefront of international thinking and best practice in engaging universities and businesses in the process of wealth creation.

For more information see: www.nottingham.ac.uk/enterprise

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.