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Here’s how Cambridge University is driving academic entrepreneurship

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Cambridge University is accepting entries for its 2019 Business Plan Competition for budding startups and business ideas.

Sometimes referred to as higher education’s third mission, “academic entrepreneurship” is rising in prevalence and significance as universities try to prepare students for a changing workplace and recognise the value of instilling the entrepreneurial spirit in their students.

The University of Cambridge is, of course, no exception to this, understanding the value of bringing together academia and private sector commercialisation for both students and the institution itself. To give their post-doctoral researchers a head start in future business prospects, Cambridge is offering them the opportunity to win thousands of pounds of seed funding, as well as help to incubate ideas for new business ventures.

The university’s commercialisation department, Cambridge Enterprise, has teamed up with Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge (EPOC) to open the 2019 Business Plan Competition for budding startups and business ideas.

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The money up for grabs could be the difference between commercial success and just another failed startup. For first prize, winners will receive £20,000 (US$25,000) investment from the university. Second will receive £10,000 investment and £5,000 for the third.

While only three can come out victorious, the Cambridge Enterprise hopes the initiative will teach postdocs about academic entrepreneurship and the possibilities of turning their long and in-depth academic research into commercially viable business.

Even those that don’t make the top three will still receive priceless assistance on their road to entrepreneurial success.

All entrants will receive expert advice on how to hone and refine their business plan. Those that make it to the semi-final will be coached on how to pitch to investors and matched with a seasoned mentor from Cambridge Enterprise’s wide-reaching network.

Sometimes even the basics can be tricky so anyone unfamiliar with how to write a business plan or who wants to talk through their idea before submitting, can attend one of the joint Cambridge Enterprise/EPOC workshops. Given that it’s Cambridge, it’s not just anyone leading these guidance sessions.

“The Geek Whisperer” Adeline Chalmers is running the workshop on how to write a business plan. And founder of The Innovation Practice, Ludo Chapman, will give postdocs an introduction to business modelling.

On top of that, Cambridge Enterprise will also be hosting weekly informal surgeries across campus and encourage any budding entrepreneurs to drop in to discuss their ideas.

The competition is taking entries now with the cut-off date being July 14.

Last year’s winner, Poro Technologies – which is developing next-generation LED technology – is already putting all the experience to good use.

“This competition is truly a great experience thanks to Cambridge Enterprise and EPOC. I was thrilled to be selected for the first prize and very grateful for both the recognition from the judges and the opportunity to have my business plan critiqued,” CEO Tongtong Zhu told Business Weekly.

“The mentoring and coaching really helped me improve the plan and my pitching skills. Winning the prize and the investment from Cambridge Enterprise has allowed Poro Technologies to take a further step towards the commercialisation of its scientific findings.”