Next week 100 “Leaders of Tomorrow” will gather in Cambridge, UK for the 2018 GapSummit. This year, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of them.
The Summit, organised by the student lead Global Biotech Revolution, professes to be the first intergenerational biotechnology leadership conference. It brings together early career academics, professionals and entrepreneurs with current leaders in the field of biotechnology, helping to pass on knowledge and experience and help us to shape the future bioeconomy to tackle the grand challenges that society faces.
In effect, the summit is already well underway, with the Voices of Tomorrow (VoT) competition which began in January. VoT involves the Leaders of Tomorrow working together in groups of 3 to 5 to develop a solution, in the form of a business plan, to solve one of the seven ‘Gaps’ which represent key challenges which biotechnology innovation can provide solutions to. The gaps are as follows:
- R&D Productivity Gap
- Digital Healthcare & Personalized Medicine
- Drug Affordability
- Young Entrepreneurs
- Road from Academia to Industry
My team is called Sustineo, which is the latin verb for sustain, in recognition of the important contribution biotechnology could make to global sustainability.
Alex and Jess both join us from Baltimore, MD in the USA. Alex is originally from Philadelphia and enjoys watching and playing sport. Alex holds a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and he now works for a biotech new venture creation/investment firm while also being COO for a health services company he cofounded while a graduate student.
Jess, our glorious team leader, is originally from San Francisco, California. Jess loves the outdoors, traveling, music and pretty much any and all sports. After completing an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louise she went on to undertake a PhD at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where she is now in her 3rd year researching ALS, looking at astrocyte toxicity and the mechanisms behind disease propagation. Jess runs the Entrepreneurship arm of the Hopkins Biotech Network.
And then there’s me, the brit. Originally from Bristol, UK, I enjoy pretty much any physical activity, but especially squash. I recently embarked on a PhD at the University of Manchester where I am investigating the sustainability impacts of microbial-based small and speciality chemicals production. Industry collaboration forms a key pillar of my research approach and I am excited to gain experience of the biotech industry. I am passionate that biotech and synthetic biology should be applied to tackle sustainability issues and aim to help researchers and industry to achieve this.
GreenEyes: a novel drought resistant platform with farmers in mind
So, how’s Sustineo getting on? Well, we started off with four ideas which, after some initial exploration and some brilliant feedback from our mentor Anya, we narrowed down on drought-resistant potatoes. We knew that crop losses due to drought are a major challenge to global food sustainability and had found some IP developed by researchers at the University of Maryland which uses a drought responsive genetic system to increase water conservation. Our business plan, titled GreenEyes, involves transforming this system into potato and pioneering drought resistant potatoes in the US market before moving towards developing countries. We love that our plan is is both socially and commercially beneficial, saving lives and making money at the same time.
We were over the moon to recently find out that our proposal has been selected as one of 8 finalists which will pitch at the GapSummit to a group of investors, with the winner getting a £2,000 grant to kickstart their business. So now it’s all hands to the pump making up a pitch deck and fine-tuning our proposal ready for the summit next week. We all can’t wait for the GapSummit next week and the development and growth of Sustineo into the future.