When scientists enter the Dragon’s Den…

Last month, three of my friends and I participated in a competition called EnvironmentYES. The aim was to develop a business idea that will be profitable but also help the environment in a sustainable way. We attended a workshop hosted by the University of Nottingham and Unilever, where we had the opportunity to work with professionals from a variety of business and scientific backgrounds.

It was an intense few days (and nights!) which culminated in the presentation of our business pitch to an expert panel of “investors”.

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Giving our Elevator Pitch on the first evening.

As someone who is not entirely sure what career path I want to take, it was great to get out of the lab (and the environment of academia in general) and look at things from a different perspective. All the participants in the competition were scientists but we were forced out of the academic mindset and into an entrepreneurial way of thinking. While science was still an important component of our business proposals, we had to seriously consider other things such as cash flow, IP and marketing (and all the jargon that goes along with them …). Initially, this was alien to us but it was exciting to get stuck into something new and challenging. The timing was also beneficial for me as I am at the half way point of my PhD so it was refreshing to do something different and get excited about science again. Seeing just how important research and development is to global companies such as Unilever was encouraging as they really do rely on bench-top scientific breakthroughs to innovate products ranging from shower gels to ice cream.

On another note, I was thrilled to see so many women participating, both in the competition and mentoring. I am often disappointed at the lack of female speakers presenting at scientific conferences. Our team had a 50:50 sex ratio with a female Managing Director. This wasn’t intentional but I feel like it was beneficial to have a gender-balanced team.

Overall, I would recommend this competition to everyone – even if you think business isn’t for you. It really does make you think about your own research in a completely different way and, let’s face it, learning about the ins and outs of finance and the corporate world is beneficial in whatever career path you follow. Throughout the workshop you get to work closely with very successful people who have so much knowledge and experience to share – it seems crazy to not take this opportunity. EnvironmentYES really challenged us and we met some great people along the way!

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A very late night working on our proposal … followed by relief once our pitch was over.

Also, our team actually won the regional event and so we will be competing in the final this December. GO TEAM! Watch this space …

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