Entrepreneurial scientists scoop prize money at competition finals

4 December 2013

Two teams of entrepreneurial researchers triumphed in a business plan competition for hypothetical biotechnology and environmental start-up companies at the London Marriot County Hall on Monday.

After qualifying from regional heats to reach the finals, both teams pitched ideas for their businesses to a panel of expert judges, undergoing tough questioning before scooping the top prize in the respective competitions.

The two annual competitions, Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES), now in its 18th year, and Environment YES, are co-organised by the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at The University of Nottingham, the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Environment YES winners

PhageOff, winners of Environment YES. From left to right: Mathew Brown, Ruth Kennedy-Walker, Stephen Edwards.

The competitions, supported by industry, enable early-career researchers from bioscience and environmental sciences to develop their skills and understanding of taking a research idea into the wider marketplace.

The winners of Biotechnology YES, receiving a £2,500 prize, the chance to attend the BioIndustry Association Gala Dinner and the opportunity to present at the Rice Business Plan competition in the United States, were Nutec Ltd from the University of Liverpool, with a concept for a diet aid that acts to reduce the uptake of dietary sugar into the bloodstream.

Managing Director Kelly Ward said, "We're delighted to win, it hasn't really sunk in. We were aware that every team was going to step up for the finals.

"It's definitely made us think differently about possible career paths. We've met so many people along the way who could be invaluable to our future careers, but not only that we've had fun and really enjoyed it. We would definitely recommend it."

The winners of Environment YES, also receiving a £2,500 prize and the opportunity to attend an Indigo Business Solutions training programme, were PhageOff from the University of Newcastle, with their idea for using bacteriophages - viruses - to target and kill the bacteria responsible for causing build up and corrosion in oil and gas pipelines.

Managing Director Stephen Edwards said, "We entered Environment YES as we wanted to learn more about how our research could be used in business, and to learn things about business strategy, marketing, IP. All the things you get as part of Environment YES and the other YES competitions.

"We're relieved to have won! But it's great, we put in a lot of hard work and it's been really enjoyable. Environment YES may not be as well-known as Biotechnology YES but you get exactly the same training and experience. It was definitely worth it."

Minister for Universities & Science David Willetts said, "The participants in these competitions have shown that there is a bright future ahead for biological and environmental science. Both of which are vibrant and increasingly important sectors of the UK. They are developing the skills needed to translate world class research into wider economic and social benefits."

The parallel competitions involve postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers developing hypothetical but plausible business plans for either biotechnology or environmental companies.

Team members assume the roles of directors in their company and seek equity investment for their business from a panel drawn from experts in industry and science.

Throughout the competition, the teams receive help and advice from mentors and guest speakers, who are experts in areas including intellectual property, financial planning and marketing. The competitions help the entrants develop their knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship, business and commercialisation.

Former contestants have gone on to form successful companies, develop business ideas and work in industry, as well as pursue academic careers.

Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said, "Congratulations to all the finalists and to the winners Nutec Ltd. Biotechnology YES, coming of age in its 18th year, helps the next generation of bioscience entrepreneurs develop the essential skills and contacts they will need to succeed in industry, taking their research from the lab and translating it into social and economic impact. It's an extremely exciting time for bioscience and we need entrepreneurs to help take their research to the next stage into translation."

Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC CEO, said, "The participants in this competition gain valuable skills in taking NERC's world class science and translating it into wider impacts for the economy and society. Environment YES is invaluable for encouraging our researchers to think in a more business focused way about responsible management of the environment."

Professor Simon Mosey, Director of the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at The University of Nottingham, said, "This year has given students the opportunity to work on a wide range of challenges, from a growing population to crop diversity to environmental waste, and it's amazing to see the creative ways cutting edge science is put to use solving real world problems.

"Our winners exemplify this challenge-led approach to show how entrepreneurs can take science to solve social problems."

Further information

Environment YES:

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215

Biotechnology YES:
Chris Melvin
Media Officer, BBSRC

Kelly Cookson
Communications Officer
Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship
0115 846 6860


1. An independent review of Biotechnology YES, published in 2010, showed that it gives early career researchers the edge in entrepreneurial skills and future career prospects. Having participated in the competition, early career scientists are well prepared to move into industry where their improved entrepreneurial skills are highly valued. There is some evidence to suggest that past participants perceive their earning potential as greater following the competition and the review indicates that the skills gained are exactly complementary to those acquired during a PhD.

2. The competitions receive support from:

  • BioIndustry Association (BIA)
  • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Medical Research Council Technology (MRC T)
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst
  • Syngenta
  • Technology Strategy Board
  • The Royal Society of Chemistry
  • The University of Nottingham Hadyn Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship
  • Wellcome Trust

In addition, numerous other organisations support the competition through providing speakers, mentors and judges for the workshops and final.

3. The following awards were also presented at the finals:

  • Best consideration of financial planning strategy sponsored by James Cowper LLP - Sensión Nanotech (University of Edinburgh)
  • Best consideration of IP strategy sponsored by Potter Clarkson - Cura Cutis UK (The University of Nottingham)
  • Best healthcare business plan sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline - Cura Cutis UK (The University of Nottingham)
  • Best innovation in consumer goods sponsored by Proctor & Gamble - Bio-Rilliant (Royal Veterinary College)
  • Best plant and microbial business plan sponsored by Syngenta - BioTherma Ltd (University of Manchester)
  • Best presenter sponsored by Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship - Kelly Ward from Nutec Ltd (University of Liverpool)

4. NERC is the largest funder of environmental science in the UK. We invest £330 million in cutting-edge research, training and knowledge transfer in the environmental sciences. Our scientists study and monitor the whole planet, from pole to pole, and from the deep Earth and oceans to the edge of space. We address and respond to critical issues such as environmental hazards, resource security and environmental change. Through collaboration with other science disciplines, with UK business and with policymakers, we make sure our knowledge and skills support sustainable economic growth and public wellbeing - reducing risks to health, infrastructure, supply chains and our changing environment.

5. BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Their aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. Funded by government, and with an annual budget of around £467 million (2012-2013), they support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people they fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Their investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

6. The University of Nottingham has 42,000 students and is "the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain" (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world's greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for 'Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development'. It is ranked in the World's Top 75 universities by the QS World University Rankings.

Based in Nottingham University Business School, the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship is one of the leading centres of excellence in enterprise education in Europe. The institute's mission is to be a centre of excellence in the development of enterprise and entrepreneurial skills, innovation and understanding the commercialisation of research. Globally, it is recognised that creativity, innovation, risk, knowledge transfer and technology transfer are key to competitiveness. The institute aims to broaden and deepen the development of entrepreneurial skills that are so important in today's economy. This will encourage innovation and growth in the short, medium, and long term both regionally and nationally.

Press release: 88/13