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Building a synthetic biology-rich biotech business from scratch

Elliot Greaves, MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship Class of 2020, shares insight into his experience on the SynbiCITE More Business Acumen programme.

What is SynbiCITE?

“SynbiCITE is the Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) for synthetic biology. Its primary goal is to accelerate the commercialisation of applications that utilise this disruptive technology by acting as a catalyst for the industry. The SynbiCITE More Business Acumen programme is focused on one of the major components of their strategy, the syn-bio start-up space.

“The More Business Acumen one-week short course is designed predominantly for academic researchers to enhance their ability to both spot opportunities to commercialise their research and in order for them to succeed in doing so.

“Throughout the week teams work on a business proposal of their own, that progressively builds in line with the taught aspects of the programme, and is ultimately pitched to a set of 'dragons'. The course is run by industry professionals, covering subjects such as ethics and IP protection and is enriched by numerous guest speakers ranging from patent attorneys to syn-bio founders. It is an intense four-day week running from around 9am to late into the evening each day, but it is as rewarding as it is exhausting.”

What did you learn?

“Whilst the course covered aspects we have studied extensively on the MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship course, it enhanced that learning by providing specific context to the synthetic biology industry and provided that learning from a perspective outside academia.

“Elements such as IP protection and funding strategies were particularly comprehensive and the philosophical debates that ensued after a fantastic workshop from Hattusia are definite highlights. The influencing and networking sessions with Skillfluence were also immensely rewarding. Overall the course rounded-off many of the principles we have studied with a specific industry in mind, it was a fantastic way to draw out that knowledge and try it out.”

Did it connect with certain parts or course units of MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship?

“Absolutely, the process was somewhat similar to High-Tech Entrepreneurship but there were large aspects of other units such as Innovation Management and Global Challenges as well.

“Working with exciting and disruptive technology such as synthetic biology, especially with a group of post-doc researchers, was a great opportunity to bring that learning outside the lecture theatre. Areas such as IP protection that were only broadly covered in our core units were expanded upon as they are particularly applicable to science-based ventures.”

Has it made you think differently about an aspect of your programme or business?

“There were only three MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship students from approximately 20 participants. Exposure to working in teams with broadly different skill sets is something that I would expect graduates of the MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship course to strive towards, certainly in the context of new ventures.

“This, at least to me, highlighted the opportunity for the course to become far less insular than it presently is. Engaging with more projects that form cross-discipline teams will not only enhance the learning aspects of the degree through pragmatic application but also develop our skills as team facilitators.

“It was one of the most rewarding learning experiences across the semester and it was completely unplanned. Exploring options to make similar opportunities available to future cohorts would certainly add value to the MSc.”

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