Enterprising young scientists scoop start up prize

10 December 2014

Two teams of enterprising scientist's scooped top prize in a business plan competition for environmental and biotechnology start-up companies in London on Monday.

Team FruitFULL. Copyright Max Alexander

Team FruitFULL. Copyright Max Alexander.

After qualifying from regional heats to reach the finals, both teams pitched their ideas to a panel of expert judges, and weathered tough questioning to take first place in the respective competitions.

The two competitions, Environment Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) and Biotechnology YES, are co-organised by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Nottingham.

The competitions, supported by industry, allow early-career researchers from environmental and bioscience sciences to develop skills and learn about taking research into the marketplace.

The winners of Environment YES, receiving a £2,500 prize, places on an Indigo Business Solutions training programme and the opportunity to present at the Rice Business Plan competition in the United States, were FruitFULL from the University of Leeds. Their company plan would use a fruit coating to delay senescence and reduce post-harvest losses in fresh fruit.

Managing Director Tiffany Aslam said:

"We're delighted to have won. It's been a fantastic experience, we've put in a lot of long hours and hard work and we've gained a lot of new skills. We're grateful for the opportunity.

We've learned lots of business and financial skills as well as an appreciation of the process that products go through to reach markets. It's made us all think differently about our futures."

The winners of Biotechnology YES, also receiving a £2,500 prize, sponsored places at the BioIndustry Association dinner and the opportunity to present at the Rice Business Plan competition in the United States, were SenzaSeeds Ltd from the University of Leicester. Their idea was to produce naturally caffeine-free coffee without loss of flavour.

Managing Director Zoe Stephenson said:

"We can't quite believe we've won. It feels incredible because we've put in so much hard work and the standard was incredibly high. There are so many things that we have taken out of it, it's incredible to think how far we've come."

Minister for Universities & Science Greg Clark said:

"For the UK to continue to punch above its weight globally in science, we will need exactly the sort of scientists who take part in these competitions; intelligent, confident and enterprising.

The skills the entrants learn across the YES schemes will help them translate research from the laboratory to deliver economic growth, jobs and innovations to change lives for the better in the UK and across the world."

The competitions involve postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers developing hypothetical but credible business plans for either environmental or biotechnology companies.

Team members act as directors in their company seeking equity investment from a panel of industry and science experts.

Throughout the competitions the teams receive help and advice from expert mentors and guest speakers in areas including intellectual property, financial planning and marketing. Entrants develop their knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship, business and commercialisation.

This year for the first time all the finalists competed for a £1,000 prize in a 'Shark Tank' - delivering a 60-second elevator pitch followed by a 'Killer Question' from one of the judges.

Former contestants have formed successful companies, developed business ideas and worked in industry, as well as pursuing collaborative academic careers.

NERC's 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."

Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC chief executive, said:

"Biotechnology YES is a fantastic opportunity for enterprising early-career bioscientists to develop skills, knowledge and contacts that will benefit them throughout their careers, whether in industry or academia.

The UK is a world-leading nation for science and we need our entrepreneurial scientists to be able to take their excellent research from the lab into the world to create social and economic impacts.

Yet again this year, the 19th of the competition, I have been impressed by the ability, enthusiasm and determination of the entrants. Congratulations to all our finalists and to the winners SenzaSeeds Ltd from the University of Leicester."

Professor Simon Mosey, director of the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Nottingham, said:

"It has been a real privilege working with this year's students as they have deployed cutting edge science to make the world a better place.

Our winners have really developed their ingenuity to show how science and entrepreneurship can be combined to solve seemingly impossible problems."

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411939
07785 459139


1. An independent evaluation of Biotechnology YES (PDF, 1·7MB) - external link published in 2010 showed that it gives early career researchers the edge in entrepreneurial skills and future career prospects. Having participated in the competition, early career scientists are well prepared to move into industry where their improved entrepreneurial skills are highly valued. There is some evidence to suggest that past participants perceive their earning potential as greater following the competition and the review indicates that the skills gained are exactly complementary to those acquired during a PhD.

The competitions receive support from:

  • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst
  • Syngenta
  • University of Nottingham Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HGI)

In addition, numerous other organisations support the competition through providing speakers, mentors and judges for the workshops and final.

The following awards were also presented at the finals:

  • Best 'Shark Tank' presentation sponsored by the University of Nottingham's Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship - Melatec from University of Manchester
  • Best healthcare business plan sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline - InfectDetect Ltd from Imperial College London
  • Best consideration of financial planning strategy sponsored by James Cowper LLP - VitaSense from Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Best consideration of IP strategy sponsored by Potter Clarkson - eGlaze from University of Cambridge
  • Best plant, microbial and environmental business plan sponsored by Syngenta - EnviroGrow Ltd from Rothamsted Research

2. NERC is the largest funder of environmental science in the UK. We invest £330 million in cutting-edge research, training and knowledge transfer in the environmental sciences. Our scientists study and monitor the whole planet, from pole to pole, and from the deep Earth and oceans to the edge of space. We address and respond to critical issues such as environmental hazards, resource security and environmental change. Through collaboration with other science disciplines, with UK business and with policymakers, we make sure our knowledge and skills support sustainable economic growth and public wellbeing - reducing risks to health, infrastructure, supply chains and our changing environment.

3. The University of Nottingham - external link has 42,000 students and is 'the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain' (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world's greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for 'Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development'. It is ranked in the World's Top 75 universities by the QS World University Rankings.

Based in Nottingham University Business School, the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is one of the leading centres of excellence in enterprise education in Europe.

The institute's mission is to be a centre of excellence in the development of enterprise and entrepreneurial skills, innovation and understanding the commercialisation of research. Globally, it is recognised that creativity, innovation, risk, knowledge transfer and technology transfer are key to competitiveness. The institute aims to broaden and deepen the development of entrepreneurial skills that are so important in today's economy. This will encourage innovation and growth in the short, medium, and long term both regionally and nationally.

4. BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Their aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £467 million (2012-2013), they support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people they fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Their investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, science and impact visit the BBSRC website - external link.

More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes - external link is available.

Press release: 33/14