Following last week’s announcement of the 2014 winner of the Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES), co-organised by the BBSRC and the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Engineering at the University of Nottingham, previous winner Ajoeb Baridi describes how the competition kick-started his journey as a bio-entrepreneur, including a ticket to the BIA Gala Dinner!

The Biotechnology YES is an exceptional national competition that trains young researchers to become passionate bio-entrepreneurs, well-versed in the arts of entrepreneurship. The experience of winning the Biotechnology YES finals in London with my team Calvitium Solutions, a cosmeceutical start-up, has been key for kick-starting my journey as a very active early stage bio-entrepreneur.

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Finals of Biotechnology YES 2012, London.

In 2012 I joined a team of highly motivated life science PhD students, from different departments of Cambridge University, entering the Biotechnology YES competition (377 competitors, 82 teams, five UK regional finals). Aside from a handful of management, business courses and industry placements, most of us were pure blue sky researchers with limited entrepreneurship experience. However the intense pressure of the Biotechnology YES programme to develop a biotech/pharma company, which presented innovative new technology to address a specific market need, soon proved to be more challenging and forced us to venture out of our science comfort zone.

We received outstanding support and mentoring from many great institutions, including: Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC); GlaxoSmithKline; SROne; Index Ventures; Cambridge Enterprise; the Wellcome Trust; and courses/mentoring at the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS – Prof Shai Vyakarnam, Simon Stockley). Wining the Biotechnology YES competition with Calvitium Solutions resulted in great publicity, as well as the opportunity to present at the Rice University World Business Plan Competition in the US, One Start competition and a guest attendance at the eventful BIA Annual Gala Dinner at the London Natural History Museum.

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Calvitium Pitch at Rice Business Plan Competition, Houston

Due to the different stages of team members’ PhD phases and subsequent newly accepted postdoc positions, we decided to retire Calvitium Solutions to be potentially revived in the near future. In the meantime, this experience had immersed me in the vibrant Cambridge entrepreneurial ecosystem and exposed me to numerous national and international entrepreneurial initiatives and competitions, such as Cambridge University Entrepreneurs, Arab Innovation Network, Enterprisers and the Merck Innovation Cup.

In early 2013, following my experience at Biotechnology YES, I joined a team co-founding the Innovation Forum, followed by Cambridge Squared and more recently in 2014, Healx, a pharmaceutical informatics company that uses advanced computer based software to reposition currently available (FDA approved) drugs for alternative use in rare diseases. Healx was accepted into the SBC Incubator programme and the Accelerate Cambridge programme, part of the CJBS, receiving outstanding advice and guidance as part of these schemes from mentors and senior staff. One of our first projects involves a new case of a rare disease, first diagnosed in five year old Bertrand Might from New York. We are currently working with his family to try and identify alternative drugs that might target the same pathway disrupted in similar patients.

These great opportunities are the result of the excellent stepping stone role Biotechnology YES and similar programmes play, inspiring me and also many of my colleagues in research to venture into the world of bio-entrepreneurship and consider the biotech/pharma industry as a possible career path. This valuable support for the grassroots research community will continue to generate more dedicated young entrepreneurs that are making the UK one of the foremost bio-entrepreneurial regions in the world.