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18 July 2009
Can a department in the School of Medicine commercialise its services and capabilities and sell them to the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology sectors?
This was just one of four real-life problems posed to a group of postgraduate students as part of i-Solve, a unique enterprise initiative to help identify the next commercial venture based on ground-breaking research taking place across the University today.
The first of its kind to be run at Cardiff, i-Solve brought an eclectic mix of enterprising students together into four competing teams to take on the challenge of investigating market demand for carefully selected research projects based on their commercial potential, either through licensing or via a future start-up.
Following eight-weeks of hard investigation, the i-Solve team led by School of Medicine student Suraj Menon, secured the title of ‘Best Overall Project’ for their innovative strategic business model developed for Central Biotechnology Services (CBS), the state-of-the-art, high throughput laboratory facilities based at the School of Medicine.
CBS looked to the i-Solve team to determine whether there is sufficient external demand for CBS's services (technology platforms and academic expertise) to justify future expenditure on essential accreditation processes. In addition, a clear roadmap for CBS' commercial development, and the scope for engagement and collaboration in knowledge transfer activity with the Welsh, and wider with strategic partners in Bristol as part of SARTRE, as well as biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors was required.
i-Solve team leader Suraj Menon who is in his final year of a PhD in Microarray Bioinformatics said: "It has been a great opportunity to get hands-on experience of, and insight into, the commercialization of academic research and services. I was able to experience many different aspects of this, including project management, market research, competitor analyses, and financial assessments. Our mentor Professor Ian Weeks has been a great resource to us – he was a great help throughout the project, from strategising through data collection and analysis, and motivated us during the difficult times."
CBS Director, Professor Nick Topley said: "Being involved in the i-Solve project has been invaluable. It has enabled us to obtain fresh new ideas about the development of CBS from an enthusiastic team who had no prior experience of CBS. As a direct result from the i-Solve project they have identified some new areas that could be improved, but also reinforced areas where we where are getting it right!"
i-Solve attracted more than twenty postgraduate students from across the University with each team expected to research and create a go-to-market strategy with the support of a Principal Investigator and overseen by a mentor from industry. It was run by Student Enterprise, part of the Research and Commercial Development Division.
Cardiff’s i-Solve is based on the i-Teams programmes at Cambridge University and MIT. This makes Cardiff the first university in the UK after Cambridge University to launch an i-Teams course.
Dr Nick Bourne, Deputy Director Commercial Development of RACD said "i-Solve is not a business game or competition - it is a win-win situation for everyone involved. The University and the Principal Investigator for each project gets valuable information about the future commercialization of their technology and the students gain excellent skills to enhance their careers.
"It has proved itself to be a real opportunity to make real impact on real projects. The students demonstrated great ingenuity and innovation, and their recommendations will be taken very seriously indeed."
The i-Solve challenge culminated in presenting their projects to an esteemed team of judges which included Dr Peter Grant – Chief Technical Officer from Fusion IP, Dr Gillian Whitfield from Astrum-IP and Mr Yannis Pierrakis from National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA).
The other three commercial ventures examined by i-Solve teams were:
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