Why scientists should consider transitioning from research to entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship can be a great option for PhD and postdoc researchers to make an impact with their science. Read about our recent event series on the topic, that was hosted in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and Entrepreneur First  

PhD and postdoc researchers are in a strong position to make a positive impact on the world, whichever path they chose to take, Often, it makes sense to build a career in academia and take advantage of the resources available to undertake their research. However, many overlook the potential to pursue their passion by taking an entrepreneurial path which can be equally impactful. Weighing up these options is not easy. Entrepreneurship can look risky from the outside and many will find the prospect of embracing such a commercially intense activity daunting.

It is with this in mind that The Francis Crick Institute, the Alan Turing Institute, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Entrepreneur First joined forces in hosting the Data Science X Biomedical Science Entrepreneurship Summer Series for postdocs and PhD students working in the Biomedical and Data Sciences.

The organisations share the same mission — to inspire, support and help create the next wave of scientist-entrepreneurs.

The series was delivered virtually, as a series of two sessions over one week in July 2021.

At the first panel event, we heard insights from our panel of dynamic speakers, including Professors and founding CEOs, who shared insightful stories and advice from their transitions from researcher to company founder, or from joint careers in academia and entrepreneurship.

This session was hosted by Barbara Domayne-Hayman, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Crick, and we heard from an impressive panel of experts;

• Professor Chris Holmes, Programme Director for Health and Medical Sciences at The Alan Turing Institute

• Noor Shaker, founder and CEO of Glamorous AI

• Patrick Short, co-founder and CEO of Sano Genetics

• Ijeoma Uchegbu, Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanoscience at the UCL School of Pharmacy, UCL and founder and CSO of Nanomerics.

As we heard from the chair, Barbara Domayne-Hayman, “the interface between data and biomedical science is exploding”. The session provided useful advice and inspired the audience of biomedical and/or data scientists to see entrepreneurship as a potential career pathway in the future to achieve real world applications of their science.

Amongst other insights, the audience learned the importance of getting market feedback on their idea at the outset and the importance of garnering support at an early stage from mentors and potential investors:

Patrick Short — The most important thing at the early stage is validating that the problem is a real and important one and your technology can solve that problem.

Chris Holmes — Get out and talk to knowledgeable people, don’t be precious about the idea and be prepared to pivot. By talking to people, you’ll surface the barriers. Talk to people who have done it before and learn…. Piece of advice — Don’t get hung up on failure — see it as a learning opportunity, be objective and take the lessons away.

Noor Shaker — Hire people with knowledge that spans the area you need between different disciplines — be in-between disciplines — go out and explore and be curious.

Ijeoma Uchegbu — Events like this are useful — as researchers, you’re ideally placed to see gaps in the field that present great opportunities and events like this, where you hear other people’s stories might crystallise this for you.

At our follow-on workshop, leaders from the Turing, the Wellcome Sanger, and the Crick introduced the session by encouraging researchers to explore entrepreneurship as another way to have impact through their science. This was followed by an interactive workshop, delivered by Ali Susskind, Senior Programme Associate at Entrepreneur First, where we were introduced to the ‘Edge’ based ideation framework that Entrepreneur First uses to help founders identify the problems they are best suited to solve.

In summary, the two sessions provided a stimulating and practical way to help the audience understand the entrepreneurial opportunity and highlighted the first steps that they might take if they are considering this path.

About The Francis Crick Institute

The Francis Crick Institute is dedicated to understanding the fundamental biology underlying health and disease. Its work is helping to understand why disease develops and to translate discoveries into new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, infections and neurodegenerative diseases.

An independent organisation, its founding partners are the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, Wellcome, UCL, Imperial College London and King’s College London.

The Crick was formed in 2015, and in 2016 it moved into a brand new state-of-the-art building in central London which brings together 1500 scientists and support staff working collaboratively across disciplines, making it the biggest Biomedical research facility under a single roof in Europe.

The Alan Turing Institute

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence. The Institute is named in honour of Alan Turing, whose pioneering work in theoretical and applied mathematics, engineering and computing is considered to have laid the foundations for modern-day data science and artificial intelligence. The Institute’s goals are to undertake world-class research in data science and artificial intelligence, apply its research to real-world problems, driving economic impact and societal good, lead the training of a new generation of scientists, and shape the public conversation around data and algorithms. For further information, please visit www.turing.ac.uk.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Sanger Institute is one of the premier centres of genomic discovery and understanding in the world. It leads ambitious collaborations across the globe to provide the foundations for further research and transformative healthcare innovations. Its success is founded on the expertise and knowledge of its people and the Institute seeks to share its discoveries and techniques with the next generation of genomics scientists and researchers worldwide.

Entrepreneur First

Entrepreneur First is the place where the ambitious come together to build globally important technology companies.

Through our platform running in 6 cities across 3 continents, we invest in high-potential individuals to help them meet their co-founder, develop their ideas and secure funding from leading investors in the shortest possible time.

We have built over 300 companies from scratch; have over 2500 alumni worldwide; and our portfolio is valued at over $4bn.

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