Entrepreneurial scientists scoop prizes at anniversary finals

11 December 2015

Two teams of entrepreneurial researchers have triumphed in a business plan competition for hypothetical biotechnology and environmental start-up companies in London on Thursday.

Environment YES 2015 winners

BioPhosphate Solutions, Bristol University and NERC GW4+ DTP, winners of the 2015 Environment YES competition. Copyright Joel Knight.

One of the winning teams had an idea to strip phosphate from waste water using algae. The other was a new way to detect head lice and a spray to help treat them.

The two annual competitions, the Environment Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Environment YES - external link), in its 10th year, and Biotechnology YES - external link, now in its 20th year, involve postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers developing hypothetical business plans for environmental and biotech companies. Team members seek equity investment for their business from a panel drawn from experts in industry and science.

The competitions help early-career researchers from the biosciences and environmental sciences to develop entrepreneurship, business and commercialisation skills. Former contestants have gone on to form successful companies, develop business ideas and work in industry, as well as pursue academic careers.

Throughout the competition, the teams receive help and advice from mentors, who are experts in areas including intellectual property, financial planning and marketing.

After qualifying from heats, at Syngenta in Bracknell and at the University of Nottingham, to reach the finals, the teams presented the ideas for their respective businesses to a panel of experts, who grilled them 'Dragons-Den' style, before scooping the top prize in each competition.

The competitions are organised by NERC, the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the University of Nottingham, and are open to all early career researchers and PhD students undertaking relevant research. They are supported by GSK, Syngenta, Potter Clarkson, Unilever and James Cowper Kreston.

Universities & Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

The Biotechnology YES and Environment YES competitions play an important role in inspiring the next generation of leading scientists and entrepreneurs. We need more bright young scientists to apply their minds to challenges in areas such as healthcare and the environment, and this year's winning start-ups point to a bright future for the participants and for UK science.

The NERC chief executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, 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.

The winners of Environment YES and Biotechnology YES received a £2,500 prize and the opportunity to present at the Rice Business Plan competition in the United States.

The managing director of BioPhosphate Solutions, Moya MacDonald, said:

We were very surprised to win but it's a real pleasure, as we put in so much hard work, and had many sleepless nights. It was exciting to be involved in Environment YES, it's so different from anything else we do in for our PhD. It was great to learn new skills and put them into practice and we enjoyed finding ways of transferring our science into the business world.

Tom Jenkins, managing director of Palm Solutions, also from the NERC GW4+ DTP, winners of the Syngenta award for best plant and microbial business plan, said:

We're really pleased to win the Syngenta award. It's been a tough competition and all the teams had exciting and business worthy ideas. Environment YES has been a great experience and challenge, and we have learnt a whole range of business skills and knowledge. We would recommend the competition to other NERC students who want to learn more about the world of business.

Biotechnology YES 2015 winners

ECTODECTO, winners of the 2015 Biotechnology YES competition. Copyright Joel Knight.

Claire Lewis, managing director of ECTODECTO, the winners of the Biotechnology YES competition, said:

It's amazing to win, the hard work paid off. We knew we did ourselves proud so this is just the icing on the cake, the standard was very high. I'd love to pursue avenues in these sorts of careers and I'd definitely recommend taking part. We've learned how to take our science to the market, intellectual property, marketing strategies, licensing, just a whole world we didn't know about before.

Further information

Karen Christian
NERC media office
01793 411568


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). This year marks NERC's 50th anniversary.

2. Environment YES is organised jointly by NERC and the University of Nottingham's Haydn Green Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (HGI).