Written by Diana Mehta, Doctoral Researcher, School of Science
The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is a competition that encourages postgraduate students to come up with a hypothetical business plan that focuses on one of three research areas: environmental, biomedical or engineering. The idea can be extravagant and broad as you wish, as long as you have prepared a sound business plan to back up why your idea will make a potential investor some money.
This happened to be the first competition I had the pleasure of taking part in during my PhD. Being in my penultimate year, I needed something to take my mind off the daily grind, and the YES competition seemed like the perfect opportunity to help me do this.
I initially came across the competition through a colleague who had entered it a few years ago. His team thoroughly enjoyed the experience and they picked up a lot of useful information and skills along the way. He advised me to quickly form a team with a few colleagues who hadn’t taken part in the competition, and get stuck in. So we did.
After registering for the competition through the Doctoral College, we were quickly informed by the YES organisers about the competition and given various seminars, including finance and IP, through video chats. These were useful in helping our team expand upon our idea. Although three days were allocated towards the competition itself, our team decided to meet up for an hour a week to discuss ideas and how they fit within the scope of the competition. Initially, this was challenging due to having to think about something that wasn’t strictly research related. We were encouraged by the organisers to think broad and not worry too much about whether the idea was scientifically possible. This is where we were challenged the most, as being research students, we were constantly encouraged to think rationally and explore concepts that aren’t impossible in the real world. However, research also prompts creativity, so we dug deep to produce an idea that had business potential: creating ingredients for cosmetics from food waste.
The day of the competition came speeding by, and we were taken away from our usual day in the lab, to a three day residential in Nottingham. Our first two days at the competition consisted of various talks by influential people, on business strategies, marketing, finance and IP, as well as mentoring sessions to help improve upon our idea. There were a total of 8 teams competing during those three days, however there was always some time allocated during the end of each day to put our competitive spirits aside and network with one another.
The final day was competition day, where all our efforts would be judged by a panel of potential investors. Our team decided to stay up fairly late the night before to make our presentation and rehearse it. To our surprise, many teams also opted to do the same, which meant everyone was very tired during competition day.
We were asked to make a 15 minute pitch to the investors, and allow 10 minutes for questions. Our pitch went as well as we hoped it would, however the questions were fairly challenging. Despite this, we worked as a team to answer the questions, which was lovely to see. We felt we gave it our best shot when we walked away knowing we had given the best possible pitch we could have, and answered the questions to the best of our abilities.
Although we didn’t make it to the final of the competition, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I personally learnt a great deal about forming a start-up company, and the competition gave great insight into what resources are out there for people who wish to go down that route after a few years in academia.
I strongly encourage anybody who is reading this to give it a go, and ‘unleash your ingenuity’! The competition itself helps you to develop skills in areas you may not otherwise develop during your PhD, which will always be valuable regardless of which route you decide to take after your PhD.
My fellow team members: Akash Ratnayaka, Jake Walls, Ime Usen and Ryan Middlemiss were great to work with, and it was our collective efforts which helped us generate and develop an idea that we were proud of presenting to potential investors.
The Doctoral College gave us the support we needed to attend this competition, and I am very thankful to them.