Supporting sustainable entrepreneurship in the life sciences

Supporting sustainable entrepreneurship in the life sciences

  • Chris Lowe, Emeritus Professor (right) is pictured with David Holden-White

“Life sciences are the founding stone of entrepreneurship, the key to growing the economy and society” explains Darrin Disley, Chief Executive and Co-founder of Horizon Discovery Group, a translational genomics company credited with bringing about an era of personalised medicine.

Darrin, a postgraduate of the Institute of Biotechnology at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, has established the Christopher R Lowe Carpe Diem Enterprise Programme, named in recognition of his mentor and PhD supervisor.

Darrin explains why he was keen for the programme to fund Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) and Technology and Enterprise Club (CUTEC), as well as student bursaries: “I want to build a culture and confidence amongst students of developing and sustaining inspiring enterprises – to enable them to both start and grow Cambridge-based companies that they’re proud of, not just ones that they want to sell,” he says.

“Cambridge gave me this confidence, it changed my life. The biggest change was socially, the culture – at Cambridge it’s about [personal] growth, about developing confidence in students by exposing them to different people across all different backgrounds”.

An enthusiasm for enterprise

Chris Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Biotechnology, is still to be found behind a desk at the Institute despite retiring recently. Disley describes him as “the only one doing entrepreneurship, a pariah who started spinning companies out” when he joined as a PhD student in 1991.

And he’s still at it, with an impressive list of successful start-up stories to his name. He personally interviews every applicant for the Masters in Bioscience Enterprise programme, to check that they have the ambition and motivation needed to sustain his impressive track record and portfolio.

It is important for us that we produce high-quality postgraduates. The secret to our success is choosing good people who have that extra something – are they going to make a difference to the planet?

Chris Lowe OBE, Emeritus Professor

The value of bursaries

One of these is David Holden-White (pictured with Emeritus Professor Lowe), who abandoned a blossoming career as a patent trainee attorney to join the 2014 MBE cohort. He says: “I wanted to be involved in innovation, in creating biotech ideas, not on the periphery, passively representing others’ innovations! But coming out of a paid job and back in to education is difficult. Thankfully, I received a bursary, so have been able to pursue the MBE – without it, I would have struggled. It’s the enterprise aspect of the programme which is really exciting to me – I had all these ideas before, going round in my head but not going anywhere. The MBE programme really gives my ideas shape and form.”

Professor Lowe observes: “When I first came here, technology transfer took place over a cup of tea in a back room… This morning a former MBE student who has just secured a million-dollar contract phoned me to ask me how he should go about dealing with it.” His legacy is clear, and it doesn’t look likely that he will be slowing down any time soon.

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The Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology has an outstanding reputation for interdisciplinary collaborations across the fields of chemistry, physics, mathematics, clinical medicine and biology. Its scientists work with industry leaders and entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions to a range of global challenges, from finding new ways to create sustainable energy and conserve the environment to developing novel healthcare technologies to diagnose and combat disease.
Emeritus Professor Chris Lowe OBE with David Holden-White (Churchill 2014), Master's in Bioscience Enterprise student
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Professor Timothy Cox's research group is working to develop gene therapy for adults and children affected by Gaucher disease. Gaucher disease is one of the more common of the lysosomal disorders,causing enlargement of the liver and spleen, painful conditions in the bone, anaemia and a tendency to bleed.