HRH The Duke of York opens the Pitch@Palace 5.0 finale
AstraZeneca is a company with science at its heart, and it is science that drives the majority of its partnerships with organisations across industry, biotech, the public sector and academia.
In fact, the opportunity to strengthen and forge new science-led partnerships was a significant driver behind our decision to move one of our three strategic R&D centres and global headquarters to Cambridge, UK, to benefit from the city’s rich, bioscience ecosystem.
However, we do not operate in an ecosystem of bioscience alone, but also of businesses – and it is this that has prompted very different type of partnership for AstraZeneca, with a number of business mentoring initiatives to support life science entrepreneurs. Through these schemes, employees across AstraZeneca and MedImmune, its global biologics research and development arm, are able to share their expertise in areas such as business development, marketing, intellectual property and early development and innovation alliances, with the next generation of biotech start-ups in the UK.
The schemes, which underline AstraZeneca’s commitment to support scientific innovation and entrepreneurship, include a number of programmes run by the University of Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre, including Accelerate Cambridge, and HRH the Duke of York’s Pitch@Palace initiative, a platform to help entrepreneurs across the UK advance their business ideas.
Pitching at the Palace
Pitch@Palace was set up by Prince Andrew in 2014. The Dragons Den-style initiative, which provides start-ups with access to mentors and potential business partners, includes a number of regional ‘heats’, a boot camp event, and culminates at St James’ Palace in London. The final of Pitch@Palace 6.0 takes place this evening, Wednesday 2 November 2016, and will see 12 finalists pitch their business ideas to a room of around 300 business angels and investors at the Palace.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot and Mene Pangalos, EVPIMED Biotech Unit, meeting Accelerate Cambridge entrepreneurs and their mentors
Accelerating life science innovation in Cambridge
AstraZeneca’s partnership with Cambridge Judge Business School includes hands-on support as part of the Accelerate Cambridge programme, an initiative designed to further engage, train and mentor fledgling life science businesses.
Over 60 colleagues from AstraZeneca and MedImmune are already involved in the scheme and around 75 start-ups have benefitted from their experience so far. A number of entrepreneurs with ties to the scheme are also taking part in the Pitch@Palace 6.0 finale.
When we first announced that AstraZeneca would be partnering with us, the enthusiastic response we received was incredible – we saw a huge surge in interest in the programme.
Inspiring new ideas and approaches
AstraZeneca’s involvement in programmes like Accelerate Cambridge and Pitch@Palace is more than simply a philanthropic exercise - it is just as much about challenging thinking within the company and exposing colleagues to new approaches that can be applied back to their own work and the work of their teams.
Colleagues involved in the schemes thrive on the energy of the entrepreneurs they work with, and are bringing that energy back into the organisation, which is great to see. These programmes are about bringing together different ways of thinking to help entrepreneurs distil their ideas and address challenges in creative ways. Going through this process can’t help but inspire our teams to think differently about the challenges in their own work.
MedImmune mentor, Lynne Murray, with her mentees at the Accelerate Cambridge Biotech Startup Weekend in March 2015
As part of the partnership, AstraZeneca has also been able to benefit from the expertise within Cambridge Judge Business School, through access to its entrepreneurship training courses.
This taps into one of AstraZeneca’s core values as an organisation – a large company that demonstrates the flexibility and smart risk-taking more commonly associated with a smaller, entrepreneurial business.
Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration
Alongside the chance to gain inspiration from entrepreneurs through the various mentoring schemes, AstraZeneca’s involvement in programmes like Accelerate Cambridge also opens up a range of other opportunities for collaboration and partnership.
It’s exciting to be around fledgling biotech businesses as part of our work with Cambridge Judge Business School. We benefit hugely from their entrepreneurial thinking and it allows us to have a hand in shaping the future of our industry. You never know, but with a bit of luck one of the companies we mentor could turn out to be the next Cambridge Antibody Technology or Horizon Discovery.
A mentor’s perspective
Two colleagues from AstraZeneca’s Scientific Partnering and Alliances team, Duncan Young and Hitesh Sanganee, are closely involved with the Accelerate Cambridge programme as volunteer mentors.
As a mentoring team we all enjoy the outreach, and the diverse ideas and discussions we get involved with through the Judge. These are young and enthusiastic students and post-docs trying to develop their own technology and ideas. We feel inspired by their energy. It stretches our brainpower and helps us think more creatively back in the workplace.
Hitesh Sanganee echoes Duncan’s sentiments and feels the programme is an opportunity to give something back, having benefitted from mentors who have inspired him through his career.
The feedback we receive from our mentees is heartening. They appreciate the industry perspective we’ve been able to offer on their innovative scientific ideas.
A mentee’s perspective
Dr. Neal Lathia, ‘jumped at the chance’ to join the Accelerate Cambridge Life Sciences programme run by Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre when he heard about AstraZeneca’s involvement.
A computer scientist, he completed his PhD at UCL in London in 2010 and joined Cambridge University as a researcher. Since then, as Senior Research Associate in the University’s Computer Laboratory, he has been involved with various projects monitoring health behaviours. He and a small team of fellow researchers developed an app for Android that enables the user to explore how their mood relates to the data that their smartphone can invisibly capture as they carry it throughout the day.
"Everyone has a mobile phone, and the technology I’m working with has the potential to capture information about physical activity, social activity and mobility – behavioural data that could be of great importance to healthcare outcomes."
Obviously the Cambridge Judge has a great reputation for helping start-up businesses, and when I heard of AstraZeneca’s involvement, I jumped at the chance to join the Accelerate Cambridge Life Sciences programme. My background is technology, and I knew little about healthcare or the pharmaceutical industry, so being able to interact with AstraZeneca has been invaluable.
Neal joined the Accelerate programme in April and has since been meeting with a variety of mentors, from different organisations, every week. “Increasingly, my mentoring has come from AstraZeneca, as we explore the journey of how a technology such as mine could work with a company such as AstraZeneca, and where it might fit.
“I’ve met with people from all sorts of different backgrounds – scientists, business people, marketing etc, and each of them gives me a different angle. I’ve gained some great insight from the experience they’ve shared with me.”