Liliya Serazetdinova | Earlham Institute
Passionate about plants
Liliya Serazetdinova, Head of Business Development and Impact at Earlham Institute, is an experienced senior manager and knowledge transfer professional with strong industry and academic networks in the agri-biotech sectors.
The Earlham Institute (EI) is based at the Norwich Research Park and specialises in genomics and bioinformatics, and applies data driven approaches to answer complex biological questions.
"None of these roles would be open to me if I hadn’t joined YES in 2004."
The applications of EI’s science are very broad, from medicine to defence, and have potential to generate significant impacts when science is translated into society and economy. It’s the perfect workplace for someone with Liliya’s expertise.
Liliya arrived in Norwich in 2003 with in-depth know-how in plant genetics and phytopathology after completing a PhD and postdoc at the University of Hamburg in Germany. For the next five years, she worked as a research associate at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, a research institute working on the science of plant-microbe interactions, and it was during this time she was a member of the HiTEF team, winners of the Biotechnology YES competition in 2004.
YES strengthens team bond
Liliya joined four fellow scientists working at The Sainsbury Laboratory to form HiTEF. She recalls “We decided to form a team after seeing posters around the communal areas encouraging early-career researchers to take part and gain new transferable skills.”
The team’s winning hypothetical proposal looked to revolutionise the production of ethanol. They developed a system that increased efficiency and yield by combining the distillation and fermentation parts of the production process in one stage. Dr Peter Ringrose, Chairman of BBSRC and head of the judging panel, remarked how the team demonstrated they had the skills needed to make a biotechnology start-up company a success.
Along with their cash prize, the team had the opportunity to attend a prestigious business plan competition at Rice University in Texas, USA, courtesy of the Department of Trade and Industry (now BEIS), the following year. Liliya says “The competition is the world's richest and largest graduate-level student start-up competition - it was both overwhelming and inspiring at the same time. This was my very first experience of companies pitching for ‘real’ funding.”
At this time, there were not many training opportunities available to researchers to develop new skills and knowledge of intellectual property, fundraising, financial planning, market research and project management. It opened our eyes to the different careers that we could pursue as biologists and we met inspirational people giving us the confidence that there were possibilities for us to pursue careers outside academia.
YES also created a lasting bond between the five of us – we don’t speak every day or even every month but when we do we are immediately on the same wavelength – we reconnect like it was just yesterday when we were at YES! This unique experience of YES will always keep us connected on some level. All five of us left bench research and broadly operate in the commercialisation of research. Sixteen years after YES, we work with each other in our new capacities or mentor each other or share best practice as we all have different skill sets and experiences.
Switching from research to knowledge exchange
After a year engaging intensively with YES, Liliya realised that her new passion was translating science into applications. She started looking for job opportunities in the knowledge transfer sector, however, with no proven career track or experience, it proved very difficult.
The Managing Director of Plant Bioscience Limited (PBL), Dr Jan Chojecki, mentored the team during their YES journey. Liliya, still undertaking her research associate role, approached Jan in 2005 asking if she could gain some practical experience in commercialisation of science. Around the same time, IDna Genetics was set up as a joint venture between the John Innes Centre and PBL and Jan offered Liliya an opportunity to put those transferable skills gained during YES in to action. Liliya worked for IDna Genetics in 2005, helping to sell plant molecular diagnostic services to plant breeding companies. Subsequently she also had an opportunity to work for PBL in 2006 as a consultant, assisting with the assessment of potential applications for licensed technologies and preparation of patent applications.
To gain more practical knowledge and skills in knowledge transfer, Liliya attended the Fundamentals in Technology Transfer course with PraxisUnico in 2006. This course was very helpful in building her knowledge about intellectual property management, contractual arrangements related to commercialisation of research, practical skills in planning commercialisation strategies, negotiation and relationship building.
Both the practical experience at IDna Genetics and PBL, and professional training, enabled Liliya to transition from research to the knowledge transfer sector, after having taken time out to start a family. Over the next 10 years Liliya delivered business and innovation support to SMEs; managed the delivery of a £5.3m publicly-funded project in the area of innovation in biorenewables; was responsible for corporate governance for a consultancy spin-out company in the bio-based sector; and whilst at the Knowledge Transfer Network worked with Innovate UK, companies, government agencies, research organisations and public funding bodies to add value to the UK economy from exploitation of innovative products and technologies in the agri-food sector.
Staying ahead of the game
Liliya is an advocate of personal development and has been prolific in upskilling in order to seize opportunities and grow into managerial roles – finance and accounting for managers, emotional intelligence, facilitation, influencing, leadership to name but a few.
In her current role, Liliya is a member of EI’s Senior Management Team; advising the Board on their commercialisation activities; and leads on the delivery of the knowledge exchange and commercialisation (KEC) strategy, providing advice and support for all business development activities and intellectual property management within the Institute to maximise impact.
Liliya recently become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, recognising her work in knowledge exchange and demonstrating that KEC is a highly-valued pursuit.
I am very passionate about science, and the ability of science to change our lives for the better and protect the environment.
In a world of climate change, rapidly increasing levels of antibiotic resistance, and global pandemic, translating research into application is really important. Connecting research and innovation is vital in an academic research landscape that increasingly relies on the private sector to supplement public funding and, even more importantly, to inform industrial and societal challenges and feed into research programmes.
Visit Earlham Institute, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Rice Business Plan Competition, Plant Bioscience Limited, John Innes Centre, IDna Genetics, PraxisUnico, Knowledge Transfer Network and Royal Society of Biology