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A solution to lab solutions

Could you sell an idea to an audience of over 350 people in just 2 minutes?  That was the challenge facing two Biochemistry postgraduate students, Camilla Oxley and Jochen Klingelhoefer, at the final of the business ideas competition, 'Idea Idol' in Oxford recently.  They did such a impressive job that they won first place and took away a cash prize, as well as legal support to get their idea off the ground.

Camilla Oxley and Jochen Klingelhoefer

Jochen and Camilla at the 'Idea Idol' final

Like many good ideas, Camilla and Jochen's idea, 'EasySolution', was beautifully simple. 'The idea was to automate preparation of solutions in the lab which are made up manually out of stock solutions,' Camilla explains. This is probably the slowest and most tedious tasks that any biomedical researcher has to do, yet it is crucial for their experiments and has to be done carefully.

'We wanted to develop something that frees up this time so that you can be more creative in the time available,' says Jochen. 'The competition was the perfect thing – we really didn't have much more than the idea.'

Taking part in the competition, which is run by Oxford Entrepreneurs, was an eye-opener for them. 'The challenge was to bring the idea across to an audience who were not scientists,' says Camilla.  The 7 finalists each had 2 minutes to deliver their pitch to a panel of four judges including a CEO and Marketing Directors, and then faced 5 minutes of tough questions.

'The challenge was to bring the idea across to an audience who were not scientists'

'We basically said that there's a market, this is the product, this is what it does, this is how much time it could save and how much money,' explains Camilla.  They have calculated that the machine would save an average-sized lab around half a year of research time.

Between the second round and the final pitch, all the finalists had a number of valuable training events including workshops on Intellectual Property (IP), legal advice and writing a business plan.  They were also assigned a personal coach.  'For 3 weeks we had an advisor and she was really helpful, ' says Jochen. 'She told us we could call her at three o'clock in the morning, ' adds Camilla.

After this intensive training, the pair changed their pitch completely. 'One thing we developed was how we would try and relate our machine to someone else, like by saying it was some automated biochemical cocktail mixer.  That's how we sold it to the audience, ' says Jochen.

Camilla and Jochen have ideal backgrounds to develop their idea further.  Camilla trained as a chemical engineer and Jochen as a mechanical and electrical engineer before moving into biochemistry research where they have become very used to preparing their own solutions. 'We think we are pretty capable of understanding what we want to build,' Jochen says.

'The crucial bit is the IP and whether we can secure this'

So where are they taking their idea and potential business venture now?  After 3 weeks of networking opportunities, they have built up contacts with many key players.  'It's no longer just an idea,' says Jochen, 'We are looking into getting further funding to be able to build a prototype. The crucial bit is the IP and whether we can secure this.'

Although Camilla and Jochen thoroughly enjoyed participating in the competition and are passionate to see their idea implemented, they would both love to stay in research whilst continuing these entrepreneurial activities as a side interest.

Now that Camilla is starting to write up her D.Phil project, she wonders what she could have done with the extra time that the machine would have given her whilst she was in the lab. 'It would have saved me 2 months during my D.Phil. In that time I could have written up my thesis.'

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