Researchers reach final of business plan competition

Heriot-Watt-Edinburgh Enterprising Researcher team: (from left) PhD students, Ildar Sagitov, Georg Silber, Sarah Nodwell and Ivan Grebenkin

A group of entrepreneurial PhD students brought together through the Research Futures 'Enterprising Researcher Summer School' have reached the finals of the Environment YES business plan competition having first beaten rivals from other Universities to be declared overall winners in Scotland.

Scientists who are able to combine their expertise with an understanding of business are a very precious resource

David Willetts, UK Government Minister for Universities & Science

Ildar Sagitov and Ivan Grebenkin, doctoral students from the Institute of Petroleum Engineering, and Sarah Nodwell, a PhD researcher from the School of Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University, teamed up with fellow Chemistry PhD student, Georg Silber, University of Edinburgh to formulate an innovative business idea that impressed the judges in both Edinburgh and London.

As part of Environment YES, the team took part in a three day workshop in Edinburgh which included mentoring from leading Scottish business experts. They then went on to compete at a prestigious event held at the Marriott County Hall, London on 5 December 2011, finally coming in 1st runners-up in the national competition. Their imaginary company, "AGC Technologies", aimed to build a business based on facilitating the conversion of methane to methanol at room temperature using a novel chromium based catalyst on a solid state support.

Environment YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) is an innovative scheme for researchers working in natural environmental sciences funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Its aim is to increase the level of entrepreneurial awareness in the environmental science community.

A bright future for the commercialisation of UK research

Congratulating the competitors, UK Government Minister for Universities & Science David Willetts said "Scientists who are able to combine their expertise with an understanding of business are a very precious resource...I am impressed that the participants are taking the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge at this early stage of their careers - it suggests a bright future for the commercialisation of UK research."

The Enterprising Researcher Summer School

Ildar, Ivan and Sarah met at Heriot-Watt's "Enterprising Researcher Summer School" in 2011, which is run as part of the Research Futures programme and taught by enterprise expert, Dr Kevin Parker, Director of KKI Associates Ltd.

Having introduced the group to Georg and mentored the team prior to the competition, Kevin was delighted by their success, saying: "I have recently carried out a project that involved asking major multinational employers of STEM students what they regarded as key skills in their potential recruits. Without exception, these companies talked about the ability to place one's knowledge and expertise at the service of a wider team or project objective. The Heriot-Watt-Edinburgh team is just a great example of this: not only are all four of them expert in their areas, they were really good at interfacing their knowledge with the rest of the team to make a much stronger proposition. I look forward to watching their future success in their on-going careers."

The 4th annual "Enterprising Researcher Summer School" for PhD students and Research Associates will be running at Heriot-Watt University throughout June and July 2012 and organised through Research Futures.