“Cambridge Enterprise’s business plan competition has brought me closer to my dream of running a start-up”
As a postdoc in stem cell research, I’ve always had a passion for stem cells and their unequivocal potential in biomedical applications. And since technology development has long been an interest of mine, I have often dreamt of setting up my own biotech company. But it wasn’t until a friend forwarded me the link to the Cambridge Postdoc Enterprise Competition that I decided to do something about it.
It’s my vision to provide an innovative solution for automated, standardised stem cell culture based on advanced microfluidics. Automating the cell culture would offer enormous time and cost benefits to researchers worldwide, while providing highly robust and reproducible cell culture conditions. Most importantly, these stringently controlled conditions are vital when using stem cells in therapeutic applications to advance regenerative medicine. The competition seemed like the perfect opportunity to develop my ideas into something more concrete.
I could not wait to get started and as luck would have it, I met Dr Christine Martin, Drug Discovery Manager at Cambridge Enterprise, at the Gurdon Institute Postdoc Retreat just one week before the competition entry deadline. I was immediately taken by Christine’s approachability and friendliness. Christine helped answer some questions I had on the essentials of business and intellectual property, and with her help I submitted my business plan by midnight on deadline day.
Two months later, I was thrilled to find out that I’d made it to the competition semi-finals. Cambridge Enterprise matched up all semi-finalists with personal mentors, to help us develop our business ideas further. I could not have had a more dedicated, driven, and knowledgeable mentor than Mehryar Behizad, an independent consultant with broad-ranging experience in the biopharmaceutical and medical devices industry. Mehryar’s insight, his ability to absorb and consult on both technical details and strategic questions, and his expert advice all contributed invaluably to the success of the plan.
Discussions with Mehryar not only taught me about product development, regulatory affairs, value proposition and routes to market, but always left me feeling I’d achieved something. It was fantastic to have a mentor who truly believed in me, who enthusiastically supported me in realizing my full potential, and who genuinely wanted me to succeed. Mehryar is still my first point of contact for critical advice and expert guidance.
A successful realisation of my start-up idea would require a truly interdisciplinary approach, with experts in stem cell biology working closely alongside experts in advanced microfluidic technology. A mutual friend introduced me to Professor Sebastian Maerkl at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), one of the world’s leading experts in microfluidic technology and its application to biology. An aspiring entrepreneur himself, Professor Maerkl was in full support of my business idea and offered invaluable knowledge, expertise, and insight into microfluidics. We are now seeking to merge our know-how; we believe that our technology has the potential to accelerate regenerative medicine.
Over the past months, we have developed a strong professional bond, with frequent discussions and brainstorming sessions. We are looking to bring some of the cutting-edge technology (a microfluidic diagnostic chip) developed in the Maerkl Lab to market. Developing this relationship with Professor Maerkl, an exceptionally creative and open-minded scientist, has been one of the major benefits of participating in the competition.
Although I didn’t win the Cambridge Postdoc Enterprise Competition, there have been many benefits of entering. I was elected a full committee member of the Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge (EPOC), becoming part of a vibrant association of like-minded postdocs with entrepreneurial aspirations. EPOC is fostering a multidisciplinary network of entrepreneurs, aiming to create awareness and support entrepreneurial activities within the University. EPOC also collaborate with Cambridge Enterprise to run the competition.
In addition, the competition pointed me to the numerous exceptional entrepreneurial training opportunities offered by the University of Cambridge. I recently attended the Accelerate Weekend and ETECH Lecture Series offered by the Cambridge Judge Business School. I am also taking part in the Judge Business School EnterpriseWISE Programme, an entrepreneurship-training course that aims to ‘make wise women more enterprising’.
Participating in the first-ever Cambridge Postdoc Enterprise Competition has been an extremely rewarding experience. There was a steep learning curve, but one that equipped me with a variety of new skills. It gave me the chance to develop an exciting novel idea from scratch, under the mentoring and guidance of an expert in biotechnology and medical devices.
Succeeding in an area I had no prior knowledge of was empowering. Furthermore, the competition invaluably contributed to expanding my network of science enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and mentors, thereby opening up exciting novel opportunities.
My plans to start a biotech company are still firmly on the radar, so watch this space.
Julia Tischler, PhD
APART Research Fellow/Wellcome Trust ISSF Interdisciplinary Senior Research Associate at the Wellcome Trust/ Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute
This blog is reproduced with permission and first appeared on the Cambridge Enterprise website