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Sink or Swim: NBI's Product Innovation Workshop

In order for a business to thrive in a competitive global market, entrepreneurs must transmit a clear message that their product meets and even exceeds the needs of their customer. This message goes beyond simply selling a product or providing a service; a company’s value must be created by identifying and targeting a customer’s needs and wants. This proposition must be strategically constructed and manifests itself as that unique selling point that differentiates one business from the rest of its competitors.

On Wednesday the 24th of February 2016, NBI invited 5 business experts to introduce attendees to the tools and techniques that successful entrepreneurs use to develop effective business models and how to apply them to scientific ventures:

  • Dr Martin Henery: Enterprise Lecturer, Manchester Enterprise Centre, Alliance Manchester Business School

  • Mr. Gabriel Perez: PGDip in Bioscience Enterprises; Msc Candidate in Biotechnology and Enterprise, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester

  • Professor Richard Walmsley: Professor of Genetics at the University of Manchester, Founder and CSO of Gentronix Ltd

  • Dr Dan Jones: Director of Fusion Implants, a University of Liverpool spin-out

  • Ms. Ellie Buckley: Enterprise and Business Development Executive, University of Manchester Intellectual Property (UMIP)

Sink or Swim: NBI’s Product Innovation Workshop proved to be a worthwhile afternoon filled with speaker presentations, interactive break-out sessions, and informal networking opportunities for those interested in learning more about building a sound business model with a focus on Osterwalder’s Value Proposition canvas. For those of you who missed the event, here is a brief compendium of what took place.

Value and the Value Proposition

Mr. Perez took the audience through the concepts of value and the value proposition, providing examples of how we interact with these concepts in our everyday life. He described the information, knowledge, and tools required for entrepreneurs to successfully create and deliver superior value. Mr. Perez placed these concepts in context by explaining the three types of value propositions typically found in the market place: 1) listing all of the benefits of a venture, 2) focusing only on the favourable points which differ from a competitor’s venture, and 3) a proposition with a “resonating focus.” From this theoretical introduction, a case study was presented about how two very different value propositions for the same biotech product resulted in that venture’s success or failure once launched into the market, highligting the importance of designing a value proposition that resonates in the mind of the customer.

Gabriel Perez (above) introducing the audience to the concept of value and the "Value Proposition."

The Business Model

Dr. Martin Henery illustrated the complex process of building a start-up and the number of questions that need to be answered in order to effectively undertake the entrepreneurial process. Dr. Henery highlighted the usefulness of the Business Model Canvas for directing efforts towards generating answers to those fundamental questions. One of the crucial messages conveyed by Dr. Henery emphasized that without an opportunity there is no problem, and without a problem no solution can be developed, which ultimately means that there is no chance to make a profit. Thus, the key to entrepreneurship is to spot and exploit opportunities. To achieve this, Dr. Henery stressed that the “needs and wants” of the target customer must be understood in order to offer them an appropriate value proposition. In turn, the Value Proposition Canvas is a helpful tool for operationalising the relationships between what you’re offering and what the customer actually needs and/or wants. Dr. Henery concluded his presentation by mentioning some of the particularities of doing science-based business, highlighting the relevance of acquiring information from the ecosystem in order to “turn unknowns into knowns.”

Product Development

Professor Richard Walmsley spoke about his journey from inventor to entrepreneur as he described the almost 20 yearlong product development and IP process behind the various technologies that supported the formation and growth of Gentronix Ltd- a company that provides genotoxicity testing products and services to various industries including producers of pharmaceuticals, pesticides and fragrances.

Professor Walmsley walked the audience through the steps he and his team took to create a product from a genetoxicity assay, highlighting key questions a scientist has to ask himself/herself when validating a scientific product to make sure that they’ve developed what the market needs and wants. He very candidly discussed how an opportune encounter with big pharma executives at an academic conference eventually led him on his trajectory towards becoming an entrepreneur. He described the process of applying for patents, developing marketing strategies, and securing funding and other support from a range of sources including national research council grants, a cash prize from the UK’s first BioBusiness plan competition and collaborations with big pharma - illustrating the flexible nature of how scientific entrepreneurs can finance the costs of discovery and development that are accrued before a single product is even launched or a profit is made.

Interactive Break-out Sessions

The speaker presentations were followed by break-out sessions that were tailored to the audience’s needs. Those with an interest in learning how to use the Value Proposition canvas (but had no business idea currently in the works) were guided through a case study demonstration led by Professor Walmsley and NBI’s Mohammad El Hajj. The end result was a value proposition of Gentronix’s GreenScreenHC created and refined by the team of workshop attendees.

The second break-out session, led by Dr Dan Jones and Ms. Ellie Buckley, provided a space for attendees currently working on developing their business ideas to receive personalised feedback from the session leaders. The session began with Dr Jones sharing the story of his University of Liverpool spin-out, Fusion Implants, continuing directly into the one-on-one sessions with attendees. Attendees worked individually or with their business partners on refining the value proposition canvas for their ventures.

Dr. Jones and Ms. Buckley were each able to engage in one-on-one discussions with all attendees. As mentors, they helped each entrepreneur highlight the positive aspects of their business proposals, but also encouraged a continuing thinking process to ensure that their ideas were leading them in the right direction based on their expertise. There was a general sense of support and encouragement in the room, and each individual or team of business partners was able to progress and improve their value proposition and business idea on the whole.

By the end of the workshop, attendees became familiar with the Value Proposition canvas, how it fits into a larger Business Model, and how it has been applied to the product development and innovation trajectories of real-world scientific enterprises. This dynamic afternoon culminated with a catered networking reception where attendees informally mingled with fellow entrepreneurial researchers as well as guest speakers.

If you’re interested in joining NBI for our next event, please sign up to our mailing list HERE and watch this space for upcoming event announcements!

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