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Postdoc business plan finalists are versed in success




2019 winner Simon Baker of Versed AI, left, is congratulated by Tongtong Zhu, co-founder of 2018 winners Poro Technologies
2019 winner Simon Baker of Versed AI, left, is congratulated by Tongtong Zhu, co-founder of 2018 winners Poro Technologies

The winner of this year’s Dragon’s Den-style Postdoc Business Plan competition was Simon Baker of Versed AI.

The event at Downing College saw 150 attendees watch six pitches to three judges. The competition - all project leads were postdocs - was tough just to get to there: this year’s process began in May with 25 applications, with the semi-finalists in July whittled down to 12. The six finalists were then selected by judges/mentors from the Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds team and Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge (EPoC) committee members.

“We started off with 25 entrants at the first round, after some workshops and surgery sessions,” says senior associate, software James Thomas of organisers Cambridge Enterprise, “who were whittled down to 12 semi-finalists by judges from the Cambridge Enterprise seed funds team and EPoC Committee members. After two months of mentoring and resubmission of their plans, a similar set of judges reduced them to six finalists - taking into account mentor feedback. The six finalists received pitch coaching for two sets of pitching – a 20-minute one behind closed doors and a three-minute one at the grand finale.”

The six at the Downing College final pitched to a panel of judges comprising Andrew Williamson, managing partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital; Iris Good, a member of Cambridge Enterprise’s investment committee; and Ashutosh Trehan, president of EPoC.

Three prizes were on offer: £20,000, £10,000 and £5,000 in funding.

In third place was Cambridge Bioelectronics, which is pioneering “a novel spinal cord stimulator implant, with high-resolution stimulation for superior chronic pain management”. The postdoc at the helm, Chris Proctor, is Borysiewicz Fellow at the University of Cambridge and College Research Associate at St John's College. His expertise is at the interface where engineering meets human tissue.

“The competition was a great experience for us,” Chris told the Cambridge Independent. “It forced us to really think critically about the details of our business plan and the best way to bring our invention to the market.”

Timeline for the 2019 Postdoc Business Plan competition
Timeline for the 2019 Postdoc Business Plan competition

In second place was Univursa, which is building a lightweight application using machine learning, algorithms and large curated disease databases to help public health officials detect and respond to disease outbreaks, including in resource-limited and emergency settings.

Winner Versed AI text-mines news, social media and business reports using machine learning and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) technology to help develop knowledge-based insights for business intelligence purposes.

Project lead Simon Baker said: “The market research we had to do for the competition helped us accelerate our start-up tremendously. We were also put in contact with the most amazing mentor. The connections we made with Cambridge Enterprise will take us beyond what we have achieved in the competition alone.

“I also took part in very useful workshops to help me pitch in public. At the start, I was absolutely terrified of public speaking, but Cambridge Enterprise has helped me a lot to build up the confidence to win the competition.”

Freya Jephcott of Univursa said: “The Postdoc Business Plan Competition has been a fantastic experience. It gave us the support and the incentive needed to develop our first business plan and the guidance we have received from our assigned mentor Adrian Alexa has been invaluable.”

Andrew Williamson said of the competition: “The Postdoc Business Plan competition demonstrated the incredibly high quality of research and innovation coming out of Cambridge. The standard of finalists was exceptional, with compelling business plans and disruptive technologies.”

Iris Good said: “The calibre of entries for this year’s competition challenged the judges. All six finalists presented promising enterprises and we look forward to seeing them pitching to the Investment Committee and/or CIC in due course and hearing how they progress.”

“Special thanks to our event sponsors, Taylor Vinters and Hardcastle Burton,” said organiser Rob Ince, marketing executive with Cambridge Enterprise. “With the calibre of entries continuing to rise each year, it is no surprise that the grand finale event at Downing College attracted a record number of attendees. The audience was captivated by the presentations from the six finalists, and we look forward to working with each of them as they continue on their entrepreneurial journey.”

Cambridge Enterprise sponsored the first and second prizes while Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC) sponsored the third.

The Postdoc Business Plan competition's three prizes
The Postdoc Business Plan competition's three prizes

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