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From the Lab Bench to the Boardroom

Thinking about making the commercialisation leap? Our newest team member and former Converge alumna, Dr Lissa Herron, talks about her own experiences of transitioning from academia to business.

Q: What made you decide to move from academia to business?

I had known for a while that I didn’t want to be an academic, but I absolutely loved my project in Prof Helen Sang’s lab and really believed in the technology. I decided that instead of trying to find a new job in industry, I would try to commercialise the project myself. Luckily for me, Helen was extremely supportive of my ambitions and let me take the lead in doing so. We first successfully applied for a BBSRC Super Follow-On Fund to de-risk the early commercialisation stage, and I then obtained an RSE Enterprise Fellowship also funded by the BBSRC in April 2017. I also participated in Converge that year, which was a fantastic experience.

Q: What made you want to come back to Converge as a team member this time?

When my fellowship finished, my project didn’t spin out but instead became a business unit in a company called Roslin Technologies Ltd, which had been set up to commercialise projects coming out of The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) Vet School at the University of Edinburgh. It was very satisfying to have made the transition into a commercial venture after more than seven years on the project, but I found myself really missing the entrepreneurial ecosystem and hearing about all of the amazing businesses people are bringing out of Scotland’s universities. When the opportunity came up to join the Converge team and dive back into that world, I just couldn’t resist!

Q: What particular challenges did you face as an academic looking to launch a business?

Learning what felt like a completely different language and way of thinking. The academic mindset can sometimes be at odds with a commercial mindset, and I had to learn to navigate both worlds to make sure the project could move from one to the other as smoothly and successfully as possible. For my particular project, as it was a capital-intensive life science project, trying to figure out how to fund the different stages without succumbing to the infamous ‘valley of death’ between academia and business was tricky.

Q: How did you find out about Converge and how did the programme help?

I was encouraged to apply by my RSE Enterprise Fellowship and Edinburgh Innovations mentors, along with several other members of my cohort. Although some of the training did overlap with the RSE programme, I was still very early in my fellowship, and the intensity of the training really helped to solidify a lot of my thoughts. It was also really useful to write the business plan in August, which really clarified the direction of the second half of my fellowship and made submitting my final RSE business plan much easier! Finally, I got to meet a lot of really great people in my cohort as well as the Converge team and the training team.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting-up in business?

Talk to people who have done it and find out what support is available. Scotland is particularly fortunate to have a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem supporting everything from one-person microbusinesses to high-growth companies with hundreds of employees and everything in between. There’s a lot of information and help (financial and otherwise) in that ecosystem, so make use of it! And of course, if you’re from a Scottish university, give Converge a call!

About the Author: Dr Lissa Herron obtained her PhD in neurobiology from the University of St Andrews in 2008, and after nearly a decade of post-doctoral research, made the commercialisation leap through a Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship and Converge in 2017. Her project ‘Eggcellent Proteins’ was the first for both from The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, and was based on the chicken biotechnology research of Professor Helen Sang.