Business plan competition win brought SynBioSeas to life

by Giorgio Divitini

I first heard about the postdoc business plan competition run by Cambridge Enterprise and the Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge (EPOC) in 2016.

My team and I had been discussing a business idea for some time but had not pulled together a structured business plan or thought through the details. It was participating in the competition that really brought our company to life.

Our goal was to improve the management of a specific type of waste from shellfish preparation and consumption. The idea was to utilise a biological process to extract valuable components—chitin, calcium and protein—from the waste with a portable, rugged bioreactor that required minimal energy and could be deployed in emerging countries.

Not only would this process cut the amount of waste sent to landfills or released into the environment, it would also create a new revenue stream for local food processors and SMEs, providing a financial driver.

We called the company SynBioSeas to play on the word ‘symbiosis’ and to suggest synthetic biology, oceans and environmental sustainability.

Although the competition’s prizes are generous, the non-monetary benefits are just as important.

Being required to put your ideas into a business plan is an excellent exercise. It forced me to understand the market, the technology and possible financing. It was also very helpful to have a set of deadlines to force us to draft a business plan and develop a series of pitches.

The feedback from mentors and judges was extremely valuable. The mentoring we received was a great addition—in particular, we are very grateful to Meredith Lloyd-Evans for his valuable feedback on our business approach and for sharing his expertise in the sector.

As we were guided through the stages, we also had sessions with mentors and judges to work on our pitch and get further independent feedback. The business plan competition is a great way to connect the innovation part of the University with the local entrepreneurial environment.

It’s also the logical next step from programmes for students, like the popular “Ideas Take Flight” run by Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE). I’d taken part in the CUE competition, both as a student and as a postdoc. Last year, I was part of a team formed at a business creation programme—Sustainable Futures Challenge, ran by Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club (CUTEC), another of the major components of the Cambridge entrepreneurial environment.

Overall, our team benefited greatly from the competition. Not only did we receive great visibility and guidance, but we were also awarded the Coca-Cola prize for our business idea. We are very grateful to Coca-Cola and Cambridge Enterprise for the support. I’d definitely encourage other postdocs to take up this opportunity!

You can read more about the competition here. The deadline for entries for this year’s competition is 29 June 2017.

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