JIC success at Biotechnology YES

A team of students from the John Innes Centre are through to the final of a national business plan competition, having won through from their regional heat.

The Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is an annual business plan competition for PhD students and early career postdocs. Now in its 16th year, the highly successful programme continues to evolve and this year, for the first time, one of the regional heats was hosted by an industrial sponsor, the agri-business Syngenta at their Jealott’s Hill site.

Biotechnology YES is organised by BBSRC and the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) and was developed to raise awareness among researchers of the commercialisation of ideas from bioscience. Each team develops a business plan for a product or service that is imaginary (but may be based on actual research) and they pitch ‘Dragon’s Den’ style as though seeking investment.

The two winning teams from this workshop were HortiSense from the John Innes Centre and Soil Solutions from the University of Cambridge. The regional heats will be completed during November in time for the final, to be held in London on 5 December.

The JIC HortiSense team are Daniel Tromans, Farzana Miah, Philippa Borrill and Tilly Eldridge.

Daniel Tromans

“Our idea is for a new compound that binds to boron, which we developed into a colorimetric assay to detect boron levels in the soil. We complemented this with a product, known as Nutri-Orb, and by using currently available assays for other soil nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus,” said Daniel Tromans. “We sold the idea as a ‘one stop shop for all your soil nutrient detection needs’.”

Philippa Borrill

“The experience of the competition has taught us a lot and we’re really looking forward to the final in December. We felt particularly privileged to be part of the Syngenta workshop.” said Philippa Borrill, Managing Director of HortiSense.

The competition always gives the researchers involved the opportunity to develop their skills in marketing, finance and intellectual property. However, the workshop held at Jealott’s Hill in late October also gave participants an opportunity to access the extensive expertise at Syngenta and to learn about business from the perspective of a large agri-business company. The participants also valued the chance to see and hear for themselves what it is like to work for Syngenta giving them an insight into career options outside of academia.

“At Syngenta we were really excited to be hosting one of the Biotechnology YES workshops.” said Dr Mike Bushell, Principal Scientific Advisor, Syngenta. ”We’ve been sponsoring the competition for a number of years, recognising the value of helping young researchers gain a better understanding of how business works. It is an exciting competition for the people taking part and a really valuable activity for companies like Syngenta to be involved with.”

The participants were given a theme for the Syngenta workshop so all the businesses were focussed on using plant biotechnologies to meet the challenges of food security.

Professor Stuart John Dunbar, Senior Syngenta Fellow and team mentor said ”Biotechnology YES is an important event for Syngenta as it enables young scientists to engage in the challenges facing world agriculture and the real-world decisions we have to make.”

Farzana Miah and Tilly Eldridge

Prof. Mike Merrick, Chair of Graduate Studies at JIC, said “I’m delighted with the success of the team. Personal and Professional Development is an integral part of the modern PhD and is strongly supported in the JIC graduate programme. We are very keen to encourage our students to develop a range of skills that will equip them for careers in academia, in industry, or in other science-related careers and the Biotechnology YES scheme is an excellent opportunity to do this.”

“I am delighted to see that a team from JIC has reached the finals of the competition this year continuing our strong tradition of success.” said Dr Jonathan Clarke, Head of Business Development at the JIC.  “Biotechnology YES plays an important role in stimulating the entrepreneurial culture at JIC. JIC has taken a lead in extending the programme and last year ran the first competition in South Africa with Durban University and we hope expand further in Southern and Eastern Africa in the near future.”

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