A cure for baldness, an instant skin test to diagnose stroke and a patch to administer a course of antibiotics for cats were just a few of the business ideas presented at the inaugural, Biomedical YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) competition launched last year.
Biomedical YES has grown out of the well-established Biotechnology YES organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the University of Nottingham's Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI). The scheme, which has seen over 3,800 young researchers take part over the years, was developed to raise awareness among researchers of the commercialisation of ideas from bioscience. The competition has grown and developed since its inception in 1995, first with the introduction of a sister competition Environment YES, and last year with the introduction of Biomedical YES.
Professor Simon Mosey, Director of UNIEI, explains: "BioMedical YES is a fantastic initiative because it helps researchers to understand the potential impact of their research upon the healthcare needs of future generations. By working together with expert mentors they can develop exciting new treatments and therapies to tackle the challenges of the aging population and pervasive illnesses."
As with the overarching Biotechnology YES competition, teams taking part in Biomedical YES develop a business plan for an imaginary product or service, which may or may not be based on actual research. They then pitch 'Dragon's Den' style as though seeking investment. Throughout the process they receive mentoring and training from relevant experts.
As the 2013 YES competitions get underway, Dr Simon Cutler, BBSRC Senior Programme Manager at BBSRC, and a former participant of the scheme explains what makes YES so special: "These competitions get young researchers out of the lab and into a business environment early in their careers. The scheme equips them with the skills and knowledge to enable them to commercialise their science when appropriate and to understand more about the benefits of collaborating with industry. But perhaps even more importantly, the scheme shows them what is possible and enables them to see researchers like themselves who have had success developing their own ideas. The energy and buzz created by the competition is electrifying.
"YES has always been responsive to opportunities, and last year a great one arose to bring together industry and funders from the biomedical space and the rest, as they say, is history; Biomedical YES was born and it got off to a great start," Dr Cutler continues.
Biomedical YES is run by BBSRC and the UNIEI with support from GSK, Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, the Medical Research Council (MRC), Technology Strategy Board and the Wellcome Trust. As with Biotechnology YES, the scheme aims to develop key skills in young researchers that will contribute to the UK's bioeconomy and raise awareness of the advantages of collaborating with industry.
What to expect
Teams take part in regional workshops and are all vying for a place at the 'Biotechnology YES' final which takes place in London at the end of the year and where £1000 prize is up for grabs. But getting to the final is a steep learning curve for the researchers.
The regional workshops start with teams having to give a one-minute elevator pitch and come to a close with them giving a much longer presentation to would-be 'investors'. Their presentations are developed over the course of the three-days and fine-tuned as each team receives one-to-one advice from experts in the biomedical and commercial sector including patent lawyers, financiers, industry figures and researchers who have successfully commercialised their work.
To add to the teams' experience, a lot of thought goes into the location of the event too, which is why the first Biomedical YES competition was run at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC).
SBC CEO Dr Martino Picardo explains why he was so keen to host the event, last year, and will be doing so again this year: "I've seen many times the value and benefit young entrepreneurs can derive from being exposed to an incubator and seeing for themselves what can be achieved away from academic research. It is a highly networked atmosphere they are not traditionally exposed to early in their careers - a space where early start-ups develop and grow. It's a whole new world which provides a real-life focus."
Eighty PhD students and early career researchers from across the UK took part in the first Biomedical YES competition, with the winner of the overall Biotechnology YES competition coming from this category. 'Calvitium Solutions' a fivesome from the University of Cambridge scooped the top prize with their business plan to develop a treatment for baldness.
Team members Ajoeb Baridi, Alap Chavda, Anastasiia Kamenska, Liam Hurst and Linsey Porter saw off competition from 11 other teams in the final to win with their idea for a hypothetical hair loss prevention product, which impressed a panel of expert judges from academia and industry.
Dr Peter Dukes, Head of Research Careers Awards at the MRC, was delighted with how the first year of Biomedical YES went: "MRC, like other research councils and funders, is increasingly interested in enabling PhD students to engage with industry and understand what exactly that means. This scheme opens their eyes and raises their enthusiasm and helps them to understand the mutual benefits to themselves, their institute and beyond."
Feedback from researchers who took part was very positive too, including:
"This was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to any PhD student."
"Please keep continuing this competition. It is priceless. Thanks to all who sponsor this competition."
"This was a fantastic three days - quite possibly the best moment was around 3am on Friday morning when we ran through our finished pitch for the first time."
Applications for Biotechnology YES and Biomedical YES have formally opened and the last day for entries for this year is 31 May 2013. For more information and for workshop deadlines, visit: www.biotechnologyyes.co.uk/2013calendar.html