"A platform for scientific growth and development"

Verónica Rendo

Verónica Rendo is a doctoral student at Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology. She joined the Mentor4Research programme in 2017 with the idea of targeting colorectal cancers with higher specificity compared to what current treatments offer. During the year her goal was to identify how her research could be transformed into commercial value and benefits for society. At the end of the programme, since she was the researcher who developed the most during the year, she was awarded a trip to the startup event, SLUSH, in Helsinki together with her mentor, Markus Thor.

Why did you become interested in Mentor4Research?
Halfway through my graduate studies, I actively started looking for ways to transform my research findings into benefits for society. I wanted my research to make a difference. I first heard about Mentor4Research through my PhD supervisor, who had participated himself in an earlier version of the program and strongly recommended it. I thought Mentor4Research could be a platform to bridge the gap between the academic and the industrial world, providing the adequate tools and network to transform basic research into ideas of commercial value.

What did you learn from your mentor?
My mentor Markus Thor was truly an expert guide throughout the whole duration of the program! He quickly introduced me to the industrial world, its philosophy and the key points that researchers should highlight in their work to make it more appealing to customers. Markus provided me access to his professional network, and paved the way to acquire invaluable contacts that I would have never obtained on my own. Throughout the program I had the opportunity to meet with several companies and discuss my research project, and Markus made sure I knew how to use a scientific flyer to communicate the key points of my idea. We would sit down together and go meeting by meeting trying to plan the best way to adapt my pitch to the needs of each potential customer. In retrospect, I feel like I was the luckiest person for receiving so much attention and patience!

How did you use the expense account coming with the programme?
I joined the program with the idea of targeting colorectal cancers with higher specificity compared to what current treatments offer. It was therefore quite important for me to meet with different pharmaceutical companies and get feedback on whether there was a commercial interest for this targeted therapy approach. The expense account provided by the program allowed me to attend the Nordic Life Science Days partnering conference in Malmö earlier this year, where face-to-face meetings could be requested between participating companies and institutes. I had the opportunity to meet with pharmaceutical companies, smaller biotechs and with several venture capital firms within the field of life science. The feedback I obtained from each of the meetings was invaluable, but most importantly different. I can’t envision a faster way to network and put in practice what we learnt during the program’s workshops! I am forever grateful to Markus for encouraging me to attend this event and for the financial support I received from Mentor4Research.

What did you appreciate most with the programme?
Mentor4Research is structured in such a way that each participant gets access to truly personalized mentorship and support. I joined the program during my last year of PhD studies with many expectations and questions on where to go next with my research. I feel that my mentor was able to answer most of these uncertainties and not only help me develop professionally but also personally throughout the nine months of the program. Mentor4Research is a platform for scientific growth and development, strongly enabled by the opportunity to connect with the business community. I got incredible support from the program coordinators and UU Innovation regarding the development of my idea, and I already miss the rewarding talks, brainstorming sessions and social events shared together with the other participants! I really have to thank Mentor4Research for allowing me to take my research beyond the lab bench and test its commercial potential in the business world.

Now, tell us about SLUSH!
SLUSH is definitely not the kind of “conference” I am used to attending.  Entering that big venue in Helsinki felt like stepping into another world, or perhaps a music festival? Fluorescent lights, music and big illuminated stages were among my first impressions, but I soon realized that it was also about showing the world what innovation has led to in the past years. I had never participated in an event for startups before, and felt amazed by the spirit and the drive that many of these companies have. I was also surprised by the interest that investors put into the scientific content of those who they support, and how one of the principal transmitted messages was to do business without damaging the planet. The presence of big political leaders and CEOs of powerful companies in this event reinforced the feeling that real profits can be made even when taking the environment into consideration. I particularly enjoyed a parallel session of SLUSH dedicated to academic scientists who have translated their discoveries into commercial products. It felt close to my heart, easier to relate to and follow. However, I tried to also focus on topics that had absolutely nothing to do with my work: space, fashion, food, etc. I was also very happy that my mentor could join me on this event; it was the perfect way to celebrate a year of hard teamwork!

Would you recommend other academic scientists to participate in Mentor4Research?
Definitely! If you are curious about the commercial potential of your research idea then this is the perfect program for you. Even if you consider that your project might be at an early a stage, I guarantee that the journey throughout the program will develop your idea further. And if you are lucky, you will end up with new friendships and valuable contacts after these exciting months!