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Innovators under 36, please

OneStart winners Puridify.

A corporate venture group and a student-led network pulled off a daring business plan competition that saw the winners walk away with a £100,000 ($157,000) cash prize and free laboratory space to develop their idea. GlaxoSmithKline's venture arm, SR One, launched the OneStart competition with the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR), a two-year-old network of 10,000 life sciences and business students, that grew out of Oxford and Cambridge and now spans Europe and the US. The prize money is exceptional for a startup competition. In the US, MassChallenge, for instance, awards a $100,000 or $50,000 cash prize. Also notable about OneStart is that entrepreneurs have to be young—under 36. Organizers promoted the competition through the OBR network (, and participants were encouraged to send in ideas in drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics and health IT. The competition received 100 entries from eight countries and took place in stages, over five months. Thirty-five semifinalist teams joined a Business Bootcamp in London, where they received mentorship from industry, venture capitalists, healthcare entrepreneurs, and intellectual property and tech transfer advisors to help them shape their ideas into a feasible business plan. On May 16, ten finalists pitched their ideas to a panel of investors and academics, who selected Puridify, a spinout from the Department of Biochemical Engineering, at University College London, as the winner. Their product, FibroSelect, a new chromatography reagent, slashes manufacturing costs for biotherapeutics by 40–90%. SR One President, Jens Eckstein, was so impressed with the runner-up, LipoPep from the University of Manchester, that he awarded them £10,000 ($15,700) to help kickstart their business developing a nanocarrier to target drugs to the placenta. Hagan Bayley, professor of chemical biology at the University of Oxford and a member of OBR's scientific advisory board says, “OBR came out of nowhere in 2011 and since then has provided a colossal stimulus for university entrepreneurship at all levels from undergraduates to academic staff.” As a grassroots initiative that ushers in fresh entrepreneurial blood, OneStart seems an experiment worth replicating. It gives a chance to young entrepreneurs early in their careers, and fosters a culture of risk taking, which is unusual outside the US. Sarah Holland, head of strategic partnering at Roche, added, “It is very encouraging to see a student-led initiative to foster the next generation of biotech entrepreneurs. Who knows—one of the competitors may start the next Genentech!”


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Melton, L. Innovators under 36, please. Nat Biotechnol 31, 576 (2013).

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