What an experience!
Tacita Nye (Managing Director of SynthiBac)
SynthiBac Team (from left to right) Richard Wheeler, Tacita Nye, Adam Croucher,
Jayne Louise Wilson and Laura Smith.
SynthiBac uses a modified bacterium to synthesise large yields of pure, high grade cellulose, something that trees alone cannot produce. The product has applications in many markets but currently the company focuses on high end paper products, a section of the lucrative paper market that cannot be supplied for by the recycling industry.
SynthiBac was formed following a promotional event held at the University of Sheffield in 2009. The session described how the competition would run and what would be required of us. We also meet previous competitors who were able to give us their personal views of the competition – which were all very positive!
Once securing a place, we attended a briefing at the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI). We were encouraged to work within our team to think of new ideas for a business but approaching this from a problem solving angle so “what problems are there in the world?” and “how can we invent something to overcome them?”. We also received a pack which proved to be invaluable through the rest of the competition! It had lots of information about how to set up a business and what a business plan and pitch to investors should entail.
Following the briefing, we were very enthusiastic to come up with ideas which were innovative and which could have business potential. Most of the ideas were a little random, but others showed great potential. Once we had a couple of plausible ideas we tried to find out if these had been previously turned into a business, or if there were any patents covering the area we hoped to work in. To do this we all took on various director roles; Managing, Finance, R&D, Marketing and Operations. This allowed us all to look into different areas that we would have to consider when putting together the business.
The workshop, held at Weetwood Hall in Leeds, entailed brilliant talks by various experts in the business world who worked to bring new companies to fruition. We heard presentations by patent attorneys, academics who had formed their own spin out companies and financial and investment experts. The talks provided a great opportunity to look at careers which could involve science away from the bench as well as providing us with the foundations upon which to develop our business ideas.
In the afternoons, we were able to get together in our teams to put together our business model. These sessions went late into the night as we worked out finance plans, research objectives and how best to present our idea. During this time mentors offered advice; this was great as we were able to ask questions not only about our idea but also about what it was like to work in their field.
The final day was a bit nerve racking! The teams were split into two streams so we had to present to each other and to a panel of three judges. It was good to hear what the other teams had been working on although presenting was scary! The panel also asked questions about how we thought our business would evolve and our financial projections. When the winners from each stream were announced, we were one of them this was a shock!
Prior to the Final, we were very fortunate to be provided with mentoring by Lisa Ward and Phillip Whaley at Grant Thornton sponsored by Yorkshire Forward. The mentoring sessions were unbelievably valuable as they gave us advice on how to improve our pitch and with some of the more difficult financial calculations! We also meet a patent attorney, David Martin from Marks and Clerk, as well as marketing experts, Sue Whitaker from the University of Sheffield and Kevin Parker from KKi Associates. All these meetings, not only helped us with our Final pitch but gave us the opportunity to explore different careers as well as building a good list of contacts for the future.
We were very well prepared for the Final which was held in London at One Whitehall Place. It was a brilliant experience to meet so many other PhD/Post-Doc scientists. The final pitch was good fun (though the nerves were still there). It was good to present all our ideas, and our mentoring sessions, mock panel and the Bioscience YES workshop had improved our confidence tremendously. We listened to the other pitches and it was amazing to see such variety in ideas!
After a day of presenting, we attend a drinks reception and dinner where we were able to talk to lots of people, including the judges from the competition, most of which were well placed in major companies, the networking opportunities through the entire competition have been superb! Although, we did not win overall we were very please to win the Pfizer Prize for Innovation.
Not only did we get this prize from the competition, we gained an opportunity to look outside of the scientific world and learn from experts how to make an idea into a business. At the same time gaining a vast amount of skills, team work probably being the most prominent, as you certainly learn how to work as a team when you are up at 3am working on financial projections! In addition to this time management and our organisational skills were really put to the test as we organised the mentoring sessions and meetings to discuss our progress. But overall, I think we took away a renewed confidence in our abilities. YES was a steep learning curve with many challenges but we survived and definitely reaped the rewards.
"The whole experience has been fun, intense and exciting. Not only has it opened my eyes to the plethora of opportunities outside the scientific world, but enabled me to improve some of the key skills that are required to succeed within them."
"The competition was a great learning curve. It gave me the opportunity to learn about the business side of science and to build on important skills such as team work, organisation and presentation. It was hard work, but a valuable and very enjoyable experience!"
Jayne Louise Wilson