Singapore Is Seeing A Rise In Entrepreneurship Competitions For Lifescience Researchers

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Ask any graduate or undergraduate student in Singapore and you will soon learn that their academic schedules are packed with coursework assignments, internships and other allied projects. However, does it train these future scientists in other important skills like giving a business pitch, building your business acumen, leadership skills, marketing and selling of a product, time-management, group work and spur them to do their best, like in entrepreneurship competitions? No!

It is time that the biotech students of Singapore and Asia step up and actively involve themselves in international science competitions such as iGEM, a very reputed science competition that tries to advance the synthetic biology community, Biology Olympiads, Biohacking and hackathon competitions like Bioideate, Bio-leadership competitions like the GAP Summit and Singapore Leaders of Tomorrow Forum that aims to tackle the gaps in the biotech and healthcare sector. If you are an environmentally-conscious individual and seek to do something for Planet Earth, look around and you will find umpteen Haze hackathons, Waste recycling hackathons, Clean & Green Hackathons which seek actionable solutions for real-world problems from young researchers like you!

Such competitions may lead to collaborations with like-minded peers and may even spark the entrepreneurial spirit in youth and inspire them to team up and tackle some of the most pressing issues our world is facing or yet to face. Most importantly, it is a great way to introspect and learn more about the future career path, one wishes to take. As they say, inspiration can come from anywhere.

Recently, two such competitions were held in Singapore that aimed to spark the entrepreneurial spirit in youth, that could actually translate into real-world innovations.

The inaugural Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Biotechnology YES) competition was held in Singapore recently with an aim to foster entrepreneurial culture in Singapore’s postgraduate and postdoctoral life sciences research community.

Originally developed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) of the UK, the Singapore edition of the competition is a collaboration between the YES Organising Group, Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), A*STAR’s commercialization arm Exploit Technologies (ETPL) and global consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G).

The aim of this competition was to raise awareness about the commercialisation of ideas amongst postgraduate researchers. The YES model provides a learning experience to enable researchers to understand the issues involved in the commercialisation of science, gain an insight into the challenges faced by companies and obtain transferable skills such as commercial awareness, entrepreneurship and communication skills.

This year, a total of 28 teams participated, of which 5 were shortlisted for the finals. The final round of the competition was held on the 3rd of October in which each finalist team was supposed to come up with an innovative idea aligned to P&G’s interests, and prepare a 15-minute business pitch in front of a panel of judges from P&G and ETPL.

The Winning Team which was also awarded Best Business Plan consisted of teammates Koh Fong Ming (who also won the Best Presenter award), Jasmine Lau, SIgN; Ang Siang Yun, IMB, Rosanna Chau, IMB and Chin Sau Yin, Molecular Engineering Lab- post-doctoral fellows from A*STAR.

Their idea was a platform technology to screen and engineer anti-microbial proteins derived from bacteriophages. This allowed them to target multiple diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria, including skin and gut health markets.

This team will be given an opportunity to present their business plan at the Biotechnology YES Finals in London on 5th December 2016.

Team Temasek Therapeutics, consisting of members Jackie Tan and Larry Loo from NTU who are doing a PhD; Kenny Low and Cally Owh from IMRE, A*STAR who are doing a PhD and Masters degree respectively and Delon Toh, a post-doctoral fellow from IMCB, A*STAR won “The Most Original Award” in the competition.

Their solution was a mobile app termed “Lumina” that leveraged the modern trend of “selfie-taking” to measure your skin tone, detect freckles and blemishes that will aid in formulating a personalized skincare product or siRNA formulation that achieves whatever skin tone the user wants.

Winners of the YES challenge "The Most Original Award", Team Temasek Therapeutics
Winners of the YES challenge “The Most Original Award”, Team Temasek Therapeutics Credit: A*STAR

The NTU-Quintiles Challenge 2016 which concluded on 7th November, challenged the participants to develop solutions to address real problems faced within the clinical trial process. Organised by NTU and Quintiles, world’s largest contract research organization, the participants had to tackle one of the three problem statements – Taking the right medications, Prediction of Patient Quality Risks and Identifying Best Clinical Research Sites. The winner will get to work on their solution through an internship with Quintiles along with cash prizes.

Quintiles First Prize Winner, Team Theragyne
Quintiles First Prize Winner, Team Theragyne Credit: NTU

A total of 30 teams participated in the competition, and 9 teams ended up presenting in the finals. The winning team, Team Theragyne consisted of members Jackie Tan, Larry Loo and Everett Koh from NTU who are presently doing a PhD. Their solution was a computer app that uses an algorithm that predicts clinical trial audit status.

It is notable that Jackie and Larry who won in both these competitions, were students of the first batch of bio-entrepreneurship class offered by LKC School of Medicine earlier this year, where the students were taught the business aspect of biotech.

Maybe it is time to teach our students, the business aspect of biotech rather than just imparting theoretical knowledge.