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Winning early-career researchers excel in entrepreneurship

After an intense day of competition in London, a team of four budding biotechnology entrepreneurs from the University of Oxford have emerged as the winners of this year's Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES).

The winners of the 2011 Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) competition are Ben Owens, Hannah Richards, Bonnie Murphy and Phillip Wulff from The University of Oxford.

The team pitched their plan for a hypothetical business called Metachem Solutions to a panel of investors. The panel were impressed by their idea for using yeast to produce high value fragrance components.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said "I would like to congratulate the winners of the Biotechnology and Environment YES competitions on their success. Scientists who are able to combine their expertise with an understanding of business are a very precious resource. By learning how to translate research into wider successes, they can help ensure their work delivers the maximum benefits to society and the economy.

"I am impressed that the participants are taking the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge at this early stage of their careers - it suggests a bright future for the commercialisation of UK research."

Biotechnology YES is annual business plan competition designed to raise awareness of commercialisation amongst bioscience postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. The teams prepare a business plan for an imaginary company, generally based on hypothetical (but plausible) science. The team members assume the roles of directors of their company and seek funding for their business plan from a group of equity investors.

Biotechnology YES 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).

In the run up to the finals in London, teams competed at 5 regional heats across the country. This year, for the first time, one of these heats was hosted by an industrial sponsor, the agri-business Syngenta, at their Jealott's Hill site. This gave participants the opportunity to learn about the commercialisation of science from the perspective of a large agri-business company expanding the career horizons beyond academia.

This year's winning team of four early-career researchers emerged from the 390 competitors across all of the regional heats. Their Managing Director, Ben Owens, said "We're delighted to have won. We formed our team especially for the competition we didn't all know each other before and it has been an incredible journey.

"It has been great to develop a diverse range of skills outside of the lab and I know these are going to be invaluable for the rest of my career. The competition has made me think completely differently about how academic research can be translated to a commercial environment and has given me the confidence to think that researchers can do it themselves take your own research forward to create a viable business. It's really unique to have this kind of opportunity and I really encourage all early-career researchers to get involved."

Professor Sir Tom Blundell, Chair of BBSRC and after dinner speaker at the Biotechnology YES 2011 final said "Congratulations to the winners and to all of the finalists. I have had the pleasure to be involved with Biotechnology YES for many of its sixteen years and the participants' entrepreneurial skills seem to improve year on year.

"It is clear when speaking to the participants that they have many exciting ideas for commercialising their science whilst having also spent an enormous amount of time and effort developing an understanding of the principles of finance, marketing and intellectual property. These will be an invaluable asset in their future careers and I wish them the best."

Glyn Edwards, interim Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA) "Recent announcements by the government have underlined how important the commercialisation of our world-class life sciences research will be to rebalancing our economy and driving growth. The early-career researchers I saw at Biotechnology YES demonstrated an impressive understanding of what it takes to bring scientific research to market and tremendous enthusiasm for taking their science out of the lab. Encouraging and developing business skills in scientists is a great investment for the UK economy."

An independent review of Biotechnology YES published in 2010 showed that it gives early career researchers the edge in entrepreneurial skills and future career prospects. Having participated in the 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.

For the sixth year, a spin-off competition called Environment YES has been run by the Natural Environment Research Council. 3 teams competed last night in parallel with the Biotechnology YES competition for the Environment YES title, with ReNeVention Ltd from the University of East Anglia being crowned the winners.

Contact: Mike Davies
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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