Five members of the 2020 Executive MBA cohort were part of the winning teams at the recent Biotech and Healthcare Virtual Venture Creation Weekend, hosted by the Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre in collaboration with AstraZeneca.
The Venture Creation Weekend was an opportunity for students from across the University to get involved in entrepreneurship in biotech and healthcare. It sees entrepreneurs and innovators, many of whom are working on real-life venture concepts or applications, team up with students from a range of disciplines to develop a pitch-ready strategy. At the end of the weekend, each team pitches and receives feedback from investors.
Mandeep Gill, Dr Max Zhu and Dr Xuyang Song (EMBA 2020) were part of the team that picked up the first place prize. Their team, Cambridge Nanopores, pitched technology to locate DNA damage to be used in the treatment of oncological and neurodegenerative diseases.
Mandeep, who works as Head of Service for Bracknell Forest Council, Max, who is the Director and Chief Business Development Officer of Cantabio Pharmaceuticals, and Xuyang, an Associate Director of Clinical Pharmacology & Quantitative Pharmacology at AstraZeneca (US), joined Mohammed Alawami and Chris Furlan, PhD students from the University of Cambridge and University of York respectively, to form the prize-winning team.
As the only member of the team from a non-science professional background, Mandeep found he plenty to learn from the experience, as well as contribute.
“During the course of the weekend, we were treated to a number of senior spotlight speakers who are related to the Biotech industry. This was a great opportunity to hear about individuals’ ventures and careers, which encouraged us to push the boundaries, in concept, design and to re-envisage the way we view risks by focusing on the opportunity,” says Mandeep, who is also the Elected Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the British Association of Social Workers.
“On the Sunday night where it was announced that Cambridge Nanopores had won the Venture Creation Weekend, the group started receiving messages and contacts from our personal, professional and academic networks. Queries ranged from learning about the Venture Creation Weekend, understanding the idea in greater detail and opportunities to invest.”
Executive MBA participants were also part of both teams that picked up joint-third place prize. Amit Dugaprasad and Jina Patel were part of the Find Your Voice team, pitching a non-invasive product that can control muscle movement and vocal cords to motivate non-verbal autistic children to speak. This product, they claimed in their pitch, has the potential to help millions of autistic children develop speech competency.
Amit, a sales specialist for enterprise tech company DXC Technology, joined Jina, a finance and investment professional, joined four full-time Cambridge Judge Business School MBA students from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds to develop their pitch. They found the mentorship over the weekend to be of huge value to the advancement of their concept and eventual successful pitch.
“The mentors, from diverse professional backgrounds ranging from user experience (UX) design and tech entrepreneurs to drug development experts, helped us understand pitching, business models and what VCs look for,” says Amit, who is based in Dublin, Ireland. “But the real learning, for me, came from understand team dynamics and considering critical analysis of innovations through the eyes of VCs.”
Jina, who joined the online weekend event from London, says she found the weekend a rewarding complement to her studies for her Executive MBA: “I was keen to understand how ideas are built upon and formed into a pitch, but I was also keen to meet new people and throw myself into a situation where I was completely out of my comfort zone. This was one of the most intense experience I have encountered and I loved every minute of it!”
Tolu Disu, who works as a Programme and Education Manager – Africa for GE Healthcare, was part of the team IVF Enhancement, which came joint-third place. The innovation IVF Enhancement pitched the identification of a compound molecule that has shown improvement in implantation rates in-vitro, potentially dramatically increasing the success rate of IVF.
Tolu, who lives and works in Abuja, Nigeria, as a Programme and Education Manager for GE Healthcare, took on the role of Market and Business Development Manager within her team. Joined by a medical doctor from the NHS, two postdocs from the University and two full-time MBA students, Tolu’s team’s immediate goal was to secure funding for further pre-clinical trials to validate preliminary findings and conduct toxicology studies, with an end goal of getting the product to market.
Highlighting the transferability of entrepreneurial skills and approaches, Tolu, who has a background in biochemistry, maternal and child health, says: “You don’t have to be an aspiring entrepreneur, or even have a business idea, to add value and gain benefits from any venture creations.”
“The weekend had strong practical elements,” she continues, “I saw strong parallels with the business plan we developed and real life drug candidate life cycles. This was further corroborated by case study exercises that took place in Executive MBA coursework recently.”
Many other Executive MBA alumni and participants, working in healthcare and other industries, took part in the Biotech and Healthcare Virtual Venture Creation Weekend, each leading and contributing to innovative healthcare venture pitches.
“On a personal note, I found the entire weekend to be transformative and immersive,” says Mandeep, a member of Hughes Hall College. “Currently, I am looking to pivot my career, so the experience helped me connect with individuals from various disciplines who I would not ordinarily come into contact with. It also enabled me to realise my skills and strengths.”
Note: Venture Creation Weekends are managed and delivered by the Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre. They are not associated with the Executive MBA programme curriculum and attendance is voluntary.