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Exceptional entrepreneurial skills win omega-3 team best young entrepreneur title
9 December 2008
A team of bioscientists from the University of Reading were last night rewarded for their exceptional entrepreneurial skills as they were crowned winners of a national competition run by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI).
The team scooped top prize in the annual Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) by impressing a panel of judges with their proposal for a hypothetical company called Ovega and its revolutionary new product which aims to produce vegetarian Omega-3 oil from food industry waste. The team are Dr Nadia Abed, Federico Dorati, Joao Lopes, Dr Abby Thompson and Cristina Fante and were mentored by Dr Samantha Decombel from the University of Reading Technology Transfer Office.
The Reading team is one of 14 teams that made it through to the final from a total of 73 teams of bioscientists that took part in regional heats. Their fictional product, also named Ovega, was pitched against some excellent business ideas, such as a gel that indicates the presence of skin cancer cells; a food additive that fools you into feeling full and lowers cholesterol; a hair removal cream that prevents hair re-growth for three months; and a kit for allergy sufferers to detect traces of peanuts in their food. The winners walked away with the Biotechnology YES 2008 title, £1000 prize money, sponsored places at the Bioindustry Association dinner and the opportunity to give their presentation at a premier regional US Business Plan Competition.
Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, said: "I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Ovega. This scheme is producing a generation of commercially-aware scientists who will be crucial to the UK economy by generating new businesses, jobs and wealth for the UK. In addition to scientific talent, the development of entrepreneurial skills and ability to understand the commercialisation of research are key tools for young researchers today - whether they stay in academia or move into business."
Dr Peter Ringrose, Chair of BBSRC and head of the final judging panel said: "The standard of competition this year was particularly high and in addition to the excellent entrepreneurial skills demonstrated we also heard about some incredibly innovative product ideas. We would like to congratulate the winning team and also commend all the finalists for their achievements throughout the competition.
"We are delighted that these talented scientists are preparing themselves early in their careers to translate their research into benefits for the UK economy and society - an activity for which their grasp of the principles of finance, marketing and intellectual property will be absolutely vital. The UK's bioscience sector is truly world class and we must continue to encourage our early-career scientists to turn excellent science into significant impacts."
Abby Thompson, Operations Director of Ovega, said: "We have learnt so much through this experience and are very grateful for the opportunity to develop the skills we would need to bring a real product to market one day. To win the competition is a huge bonus on top of an amazing journey; we have definitely benefited individually but we have also grown as a team and are looking forward very much to working together in the future."
Biotechnology YES is an annual competition, now in its 13th year, that aims to help the UK's early career bioscientists gain the skills and contacts needed to turn research into commercial reality. Year on year the competition grows in popularity and the 2008 competition was 10% bigger than 2007, with around 330 entrants. Through regional heats across the UK, young scientists competed for places in the final, mentored by a team of advisors including financiers, intellectual property experts and spin-out company heads.
This year saw ONE North East, the development agency for the North East of England, coming on board with Biotechnology YES for the first time as sponsor and host of the North East regional heat. This has paved the way for some excellent talent to come through from the North East region, with two Newcastle University teams scooping prizes at the final. Fybre were awarded the prize for best consideration of IP strategy, sponsored by Potter Clarkson and Allez won the Pfizer prize for innovation.
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Notes to editors
Other winners included:
- Fybre, Newcastle University - Best consideration of IP strategy, sponsored by Potter Clarkson
- Aptamix, University of Leeds - Best healthcare business plan, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline
- BioInspire, University of Leeds - Best medical technology, the Smith & Nephew Prize
- Follix, University of Manchester - Best plant science business plan, sponsored by Syngenta
- Allez, Newcastle University - The Pfizer Prize for Innovation
A parallel Environment YES was run this year for the third time, sponsored by the Natural Environment Research Council. This was won by ProBee, from the University of Oxford for pitching their idea for a feed supplement that uses bacteria to boost the immune systems of bees to enable them to better fight off disease.
Profiles of the hypothetical companies
Allez (Newcastle University) have developed a personal biosensor technology to detect the presence of peanuts in meals, enabling allergy suffers to protect themselves during social dining situations. During detection, specific mobile proteins become bound within modified protein channels. This binding alters ion flow through the channels which can be measured. Allez is currently developing this technology to allow the detection of foods associated with other allergies and intolerances and also the detection of microbes.
Apollo Biotech (University of Edinburgh) detect proliferating cells based on an established redox reaction which is then incorporated into a patch device (called SpotCheck) allowing early indication of potential skin cancer.
RNA aptamers are an existing technology that has huge potential in many industries. Aptamix (University of Leeds) have developed a novel high-throughput RNA aptamer generation process that produces aptamers capable of quantitatively determining the levels of disease markers in blood. The Aptient™ device generates a simple output which can be interpreted by a health care professional, enabling rapid screening of a wide range of diseases at the point of care.
Pathological organisms can be identified from the protein fingerprint of their constituent proteins. It is possible to read this protein fingerprint using mass spectrometry techniques. BioInspire (University of Leeds) have developed a novel sample preparation and handling process and machine configuration that allows complete automation.
Follix (University of Manchester) has developed a patented platform technology which uses targeted microspheres to generate long-term skincare solutions. The first product to be developed, FolliCore, is a medical device which removes the need for frequent hair removal by targeting these microspheres towards hair follicles where they then release a botanical extract that breaks hair down.
Fybre (Newcastle University) has developed novel plant fibre, from seed husks, formed into tablets. The material forms a gel in the stomach giving feeling of satiety. Its action is to chelate bile in small intestine stopping its re-uptake. The consequence is the utilisation in the production of more bile thereby lowering the amount of cholesterol in the body.
KaleidoChem Solutions (University of Manchester) have identified a novel molecule secreted by mycoplasma which has been targeted with their uniquely designed compound. This produces an immediate colour change when the two interact. KaleidoChem Solutions have applied this in cell culture media and are developing its uses as a diagnostic tool in an STI test.
New Forest Innovations (Southampton University) has developed novel chemical compounds which complex together and bind 'superbugs'. Upon binding, an extremely rapid colour change occurs allowing visual verification of the bugs presence.
Ovega (University of Reading) takes food-grade waste oil from the food industry and uses a genetically-modified bacteria over-expressing a protein that catalyses the conversion of 'bad' fat to omega-3. This omega-3 has numerous advantages over existing sources, including having no odour or flavour, vegetarian, environmentally-friendly, non-allergenic and inexpensive to produce so retailed cheaper than competitors.
ProDia (Loughborough University) have developed a real-time screening device which identifies the pH of and two key proteases in chronic wound fluid. The kit will enable clinicians to reduce wound healing times by up to 70%, enable predictive medical treatment and improve clinical outcomes compared to current gold standard treatment.
RapiTect (University of Edinburgh) have developed a novel product which can be applied to moles and changes colour if cancerous cells are present.
Using innovative, taste-receptor based assay system Sensus Biotech (University College London) have identified a number of compounds with high potential as anti-obesity drugs and flavouring substitutes.
Medicinal use of intestinal parasites has been shown to be a highly successful treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). TriCURIX (University of Oxford) has genetically modified the worm used in treatment of IBD increasing safety and reducing cost.
Ventrica (University of Liverpool) has identified an active ingredient in seaweed, Crinophol, which inhibits hair growth. Crinophol synchronises hair follicles to enter catagen, or the stationary growth stage of the follicular life cycle, preventing any new hair growth for 2-3 months. Crinophol has been formulated into Sleek™, a moisturiser applied after hair removal.
JetLabs (Cranfield University) proposal, JetShield, is aimed at dramatically reducing supermarkets' electricity bill. It is based on an advanced aerospace-derived technology, the Synthetic Jet, suitably tuned to create a virtual surface separating the cold air inside open vertical refrigerators from the external warmer air.
Northern hemisphere bee colonies are being devastated by disease, with severe consequences for agriculture and the environment. ProBee (University of Oxford) has developed a unique feed supplement which utilizes natural bee bacteria to boost bees' immune systems and enables them to fight off disease.
About Biotechnology YES
Biotechnology YES has been running since 1995. Research has found that young scientists participating in the competition are more likely to enter business roles than other young scientists.
The competition is sponsored by 24 different organisations:
- The University of Manchester Incubator Company (UMIC)
- The University of Manchester Intellectual Property Ltd (UMIP)
- Manchester Investment Agency (MIDAS)
- The North West Development Agency (NWDA)
- Cancer Research UK
- Potter Clarkson
- Gatsby Charitable Foundation
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- ONE North East
- Royal Academy of Engineering
- Smith & Nephew
- University of Liverpool
- University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI)
- Yorkshire Forward
Matt Goode, Head of External Relations
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