Business leaders guide young researchers

“Sweden can become even better at identifying and utilising the opportunities within academia,” says Mårten Winge, CEO of Medical Vision and one of ten mentors in the Mentor4Research programme helping young researchers bring their innovations to market.

“Academics are good at being academics, but for researchers who want to bring their innovations to the market, a whole new world awaits. Taking yourself past all the pitfalls requires drive, passion, ambition and an openness to learn. If you have all that, Mentor4Research offers invaluable support when it is time to take that step!”

Mårten Winge, CEO of Medical Vision, is visiting Uppsala Science Park. On the agenda is a meeting with Erik Gullberg, a researcher in microbiology. Together, they make up one of ten Mentor4Research teams at Uppsala University, a programme in which business-minded mentors help young researchers build networks and learn about commercialisation.

Mårten Winge and Erik Gullberg

Mentor4Research recently transitioned to local programmes after ten years under the national direction of The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA). Uppsala University became the first higher-education institution in the country to partner up and in March, UU Innovation called the selected researchers and their hand-picked mentors to a start-up meeting.

“The opportunity to broaden your frames of reference and to see what utilisation possibilities your own research could have is extremely appreciated,” says Moa Fransson, Business Advisor at UU Innovation. “Over the years with IVA, the number of participants from Uppsala has steadily increased and interest continues to grow, so we are very happy to be able to lead the programme forward at our own university.”

Halfway through the programme, Erik Gullberg and Mårten Winge have set a clear direction for their work, but for Erik, the path there wasn’t entirely straight. His innovation – an effective method to measure antibiotics in samples and a possible weapon in the fight against antibiotic resistance – arose out of curiosity and ground-level research. The realisation of its commercial potential came only with time and in dialogue with Dan I. Andersson, Professor of Medical Bacteriology.

“We contacted UU Innovation and I am extremely impressed with the reception and support we’ve encountered,” says Gullberg. “We have received lots of invaluable advice and my goal now is to start a company in which I can devote myself full-time to developing our idea in a way that contributes to better care and treatments.”

Mårten Winge’s many years of experience in commercialisation in the life sciences and large international networks makes him a sought-after resource at Mentor4Research. This year, he is participating for the third time. Both of his previous mentees started their own companies but, Mårten emphasises, there is no fixed map for the process.

“Of course there are some patterns, but every new project has new challenges,” says Winge. “As a mentor, it’s my responsibility to mobilise external contacts for things like advising and financing. At the same time, I can’t be a schoolmaster dictating how things have to be. But Erik is motivated, eager to learn what is demanded, and confident in the process, and that makes my role rewarding.”

In December, this year’s edition of Mentor4Research will reach its goal. Whether Gullberg takes the step into the public sphere now or later on in his career, he is happy with the returns on his invested time.

“None of my academic training has touched on how to commercialise your research, and it is definitely not a simple process, so I would highly recommend any researcher with results they want to take further to apply to the programme.”

Mårten Winge shares the conviction that Mentor4Research fills an important need.

“Sweden can get better at identifying and utilising the opportunities within academia, and Uppsala, in the life sciences among other fields, is one of the country’s foremost environments for forging ties between universities and the public sector. But nothing happens on its own, and that is why both UU Innovation and Mentor4Research are absolutely indispensable!”

Text: Magnus Alsne