A Sheffield team are heading to national finals after winning regional heats of Environment YES competition

(Giannis Xanthis and Ben Ward from the Dept. of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular disease and Hannah Sewell and James Lambert from the Dept. of Animal and Plant Sciences)

Congratulations to a cross-faculty team who won their regional heats of the national Environment YES competition. The Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is an innovative competition designed to raise awareness of the commercialisation of bioscience ideas among postgraduate students and research associates.

Teams attend a three day residential workshop (7th-9th October 2015) where they receive training and mentoring in the area of enterprise and commercialisation. During the workshop the teams must develop a business plan for a hypothetical biotechnology start-up. On the final day the teams must pitch for investment to a panel of experts from business, finance and academia, who assume the role of venture capitalists.

The teams’ company ‘Phyto-Switch’ pitched an idea for a system which could be used to selectively induce drought resistance in corn using RNAi technology. The company had developed a RNA spray which when applied to plants caused a drought resistance gene to be turned on. The product would allow farmers to instantly respond to drought conditions negating the need for advanced sowing of drought resistance cultivars and preventing yield loss. They beat off competition from 5 other Universities to win their heats and will now head to London on the 10th December to compete in the final with a chance to win £2500 and a place at the Rice Business Plan Competition in Texas.

The team formed after attending the Innovation and Enterprise Workshop organised by InKForge in March. To prepare for the competition Phyto-Switch took advantage of the pre-competition support offered by InKForge attending mentoring events and sessions on IP. Before heading off to the competition they pitched their idea to a Sheffield panel of judges who offered lots of feedback and advice to implement at the competition.

Professor Sheila Francis (Head of Department, Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease) commented:

“Ben and Giannis are two characterful PhD students in our Department and I am not surprised that they have been so successful in this competition. We wish them all the best for the December 10th final.”

For more information about the YES competition and the support provided by InKForge visit the website: http://www.shef.ac.uk/faculty/medicine-dentistry-health/thinkahead/inkforge or email the InKForge project manager Dr Serina Akhtar: serina.akhtar@sheffield.ac.uk