The year is 1990; a lack of funding to support meaningful practical classes led John Peberdy (then Professor of Microbial Biotechnology/Enterprise at Nottingham) to develop an original idea.
Instead of writing a laboratory report he asked his final year Biology students to produce a business plan for an imaginary biotechnology business. This was driven in part by his joint research with several companies and being the Research Director of a small biotech start up. Furthermore Dr Louis Nisbet, Founder and Chief Executive of Xenova, a biotech company located in Slough and Dr Jill Ogden, a manager at Delta Biotechnology located in Nottingham, had been appointed as a Special Professor and Special Lecturer, respectively, and both were very enthusiastic to trial the idea.
Professor Peberdy was honoured with the award of an MBE in January 2000 in recognition of his role in developing entrepreneurial training for scientists and his vision in starting the competition.
To launch the project Louis invited the students to visit his company and during the day they had the opportunity to learn from practitioners who could advise on producing a business plan based on intellectual property, understanding markets, business development, sources of finance and financial planning and company valuation – the core elements that still feature in YES.
Having run the project for two years (1991/2) and with very positive comments from students, John sought the views of Louis and Jill on expanding the idea and learning experience for 3rd year Biology undergraduates from all UK universities. A sabbatical year in 1993/94 gave him the opportunity to formalise a plan for a pilot competition. It was agreed to be very important that the students should be taken away from a university environment to achieve the desired goals and hotel with suitable business facilities for a weekend workshop was sourced. Having the contacts who could be possible sponsors for the event, Louis took on the task of raising finance to support the venture from the Department of Trade and Industry, the BBSRC, Beechams and Glaxo. John set about recruiting students and with the help of Jill, enthusiastic speakers were persuaded to take part.
The Biology Departments of fifteen universities raised teams of five final year undergraduate students to join the weekend workshop which was held in Loughborough in November 1995. A condition of taking part was an agreement for the teams to prepare written business plans by the end of February 1996. A panel of Biotech specialists was recruited for the onerous task of selecting five teams with the best plans to go forward to a final, which at the invitation of the then Minister for Science was held at the DTI offices in London. Feedback from many of the students who had taken part was very positive and equally so were the speakers who participated at the workshop. Seeing what the undergraduates had achieved, it was not surprising that the BBSRC wanted to run a similar pilot event for postgraduate students. Jill, by now a self-employed consultant, was appointed to organise and run the event in the spring of 1996. This was held at the University of Nottingham and followed the successful format used at the undergraduate event.
Following these two pilot events, a small committee of people who had supported them met to review the outcomes of our activities and made the decision to launch an annual competition, to be called Biotechnology YES.
The experiences of the two pilots made it clear that the appointment of an administrator/manager would be required for the project to be successful. Tracey Hassall-Jones took up the position working with the BBSRC on the organisation of the first competition, at three venues, in the autumn of 1997.
In the first years the competition was open to undergraduate and postgraduate students, however, after a few years interest in the undergraduate competition declined leading to its demise.
Tracey and John ran the competition until 2004, when he retired, and Professor Simon Mosey then took on the academic lead.