Mentors gave confidence boost for commercialization
Hi Lauren McKee and Amparo Jimenez Quero. You are two of the researchers who have participated in the KTH Innovation Mentor program, which is now open for application again. Why do you think someone should join the program?
Amparo: Most of the time as researchers, we focus on something very specific and only share it with people who are doing more or less the same thing. That makes your circle very small. Hearing someone from the outside say "that’s a good idea, that can work" inspires you to continue, both with research and commercialization.
Lauren: Exactly, getting an outside perspective on what you do is very valuable.
Together, Lauren and Amparo have started the company MycOligo. They produce molecules from fungal biomass, which can be used for example for diagnostics or to help boost the immune system in the event of an infection.
Why did you decide to apply for the mentor program?
Lauren: I was having questions about my long-term career planning. When you are in academia, it is hard to see opportunities outside of it. I could see that my research could have commercial potential, but for me the route to go from this world to that world was so opaque. That's why I applied for the program.
Amparo: I’m in the program because of Lauren. She joined before me and really recommended me to apply.
Tell us more about your mentors. How did they help you?
Lauren: My mentor was someone who had done a PHD, a postdoc and then started several companies. He could really give me concrete advice on how to go through that transition. I was impressed with the matching. He is from a biotech background, so we were on the same scientific wavelength. In our first meeting I presented three research ideas, and said “What do you think?”. He said “that’s a business, and that’s a business” and I’m like “oh, okay”. It was a confidence boost quite frankly. I just needed someone to say “yes, this makes sense, you should do that”.
Amparo: I started the program in September so I have only met my mentor twice, but he has already given me so many useful tips for MycOligo. He has a PhD in biotechnology and now works as a consultant. He has good contacts, and we are beginning to be plugged in to other networks outside of the university. He’s very interested in my work and in new ideas.
You also get support from a business development coach at KTH Innovation, and take part in the KTH Innovation pre-incubator program. How does combining coaching, mentorship and the different programs work?
Amparo: Being part of both at the same time has been super good! The mentor program really expands your vision, while the other support is more practical. Our coach Daniel knows a lot about the steps you have to take to go from lab to market, and gives us specific and concrete advice on innovation development, IP, and financing. The pre-incubator program is like an education in innovation.
What have you learned from the Mentor program?
Amparo: We are scientists. Our way of doing things is to try to understand, try to develop things, and then normally we stop there. We publish a paper. But these people really make a business out of it. We need to understand how that works. We have been learning a lot, even expressions that we didn’t know.
Lauren: It’s like whole new language! "Tell us about your business plan and business concept" - what?
Amparo: Before I was like "what are they talking about", but now we know.
Lauren: Now it’s easier. We go with more confidence.
Why would you recommend other researchers at KTH to apply for the program?
Amparo: Both of our mentors have made the journey from being full-time researchers to running their own companies. They understand what it's like in the university world, with projects, papers and all that. Seeing how someone else has succeeded in commercialization means that you also begin to see new opportunities for your own career. You get new perspectives on the future.
Lauren: If only one percent of your brain feels that starting a business is a viable option, then you can learn a lot from this experience. I recommend the program to 100%!
Text: Lisa Bäckman