Dept of Biological Sciences | News | ISMB Retreat stretches entrepreneurial skills of students with Dragons’ Den activity
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ISMB Retreat stretches entrepreneurial skills of students with Dragons’ Den activity

The end of the first day of this year’s ISMB Retreat saw student and postdoctoral delegates taking part in a productive and enjoyable group activity entitled From Idea to Business: Fostering an Entrepreneurial Mindset.

This was designed by ISMB principal investigators Kostas Thalassinos and Alan Lowe. ‘The activity aimed to highlight the broader context of basic scientific research in society by exploring industrial-academic connections, commercialisation and the way entrepreneurs think’, explained Lowe.

Birkbeck’s Renos Savva, who co-founded a drug discovery company, Domainex, in 2001 and now directs the college’s Bio-Business MSc, helped refine the idea and also invited the industry and sector specialists who ably put the teams through their paces.

Twelve teams of six or seven young scientists were each assigned a senior scientist with industrial experience as a mentor and given a task: to create a fictional life sciences company to a specific brief and present their idea in a brief ‘elevator pitch’ to a panel of mock investors. The brief was either to design a drug or other therapeutic; to develop a new computational tool; or to produce a new scientific instrument or piece of lab equipment.

One team with each brief was chosen to go forward to a final round, where they were asked to present their idea to a panel of ‘dragons’ and be quizzed on it in front of all other delegates. All the teams settled to their tasks well and there was soon a lively buzz in all three rooms. Even in the short time available, each ‘company’ was able to produce an idea that held water to at least some extent. The delegates who assembled for the final were treated to a set of excellent pitches from the winning companies: I-protein, TerraNova and C-Three. The inventions they presented were, respectively, a program for selecting sets of crystallisation conditions from a protein’s sequence; an antibody-drug conjugate for primary progressive multiple sclerosis; and a dishwasher for fragile, sterile laboratory glassware that could not otherwise be re-used.

Each company was quizzed by four ‘dragons’ who had not been involved in their heat. The feedback on all three presentations was very positive but there could only be one winner, and that was the drug discovery company TerraNova for developing ‘a plausible concept that addresses a huge medical need’. The C-Three presentation, however, was highly commended for accessibility and humour.

Further Information

Clare Sansom wrote a full report on this year’s ISMB Retreat, including the piece for this news story.