Congratulations to Grantham Scholars Reena Sayani and Nancy Muringai for winning the YES finance prize.
Their team, TerraTech, won best consideration of financial planning strategy at the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES). YES is a competition that encourages PhD students, postdocs and research staff to think about how their work could be commercialised. Interested Grantham Scholars are supported in taking part in YES by the Grantham Centre’s Deborah Beck and Jana Green.
We spoke to Reena and Nancy after their win and found out all about it.
YES is all about drawing scientific innovations into full scale commercial business plans. Entrepreneurs need to learn various components of business, for example market research and financing strategies.
For the first stage all the competing teams pitch their business ideas in different streams, e.g. biotech, engineering and environment. Teams who cleared the first round then submit an executive summary of their business plan and pitch again in the final round. Our team’s financial planning was recognised as the best among all other business pitches in the final.
We came up with a solution for accelerating the composting process.
Our plan was to use de novo enzymes, designed to be stable under different temperature and pH ranges, and suitable for all types of compost source material. This allows for the accelerated decomposition of biodegradable waste, which would otherwise take at least 4 months. Our target customers were big waste management companies who face challenges with biodegradable waste management and those facing fines for sending biodegradable waste to landfill.
At the moment waste management companies in the UK are struggling to manage biodegradable waste. And this leads to 6.6 M tonnes of waste going to landfill every year! But there is also increasing demand for compost that remains unmet.
So keeping a circular economy in mind, we proposed a flagship product hypothetically named CompoQuick. You spray CompoQuick directly onto the organic waste pile. Then the waste is converted into nutritious compost 100x faster.
Overall, this solves a dual problem of waste management and compost shortage.
Observing the global challenges at COP26 was overwhelming. But the YES workshops inspired me to convert those challenges into opportunities by solving local problems through innovation and entrepreneurship.
Moreover, I can confidently say on behalf of the team, that the entire YES experience was a 101 of commercialisation and business planning. And this was unexplored territory for us. Now we feel less intimidated in the world of entrepreneurship. As Simon Mosey said at the final: after YES, you will see the world of entrepreneurship altogether differently! I can’t agree more. This experience profoundly changed my world view of businesses.
But the short answer is team work. PhD is generally a solo endeavour, but YES introduced us to a wider landscape of work opportunities after PhD, where working in a team is a quintessential.
I have learned a lot about career options outside of academia.
And I have gained a wealth of knowledge on business development, starting a start-up, managing finances and other aspects of business. Plus I learnt many transferable skills. My teamwork skills have improved from working with a group of like minded people.
I saw in the Grantham training update that Nancy was looking for team members. I have been working from home at my own pace so I was a bit nervous about working with a diverse team from different universities in the beginning. But I am so glad I made that decision to jump in at the deep end. We were a great team!
I attended the YES info session by Emily Goodall. It caught my eye because I was already interested in entrepreneurship and sustainability. I then contacted Deborah and Jana who helped me find teammates. And Emily helped match us with the 2 team members from other universities, Liam Maddison and Alina Capatina from University of Leeds and York respectively.
Reena and Nancy aren’t the first Grantham Scholars to do well in the YES competition. In previous years Grantham Scholars Chris Dutton and his team won the overall prize at YES. Read: University of Sheffield team wins YES entrepreneur competition.
And Grantham Scholars Hannah Sewell and James Lambert got to the finals in 2015.