Biotech scene brewing in Northwest Pakistan: Innovation and bio-entrepreneurship

Group

21 startups competed, with 3 winners – all from the Energy category and all women

Determined to bridge the gap between academia and industry through innovation and entrepreneurship, Dr Faisal Khan was delighted to see the second batch of students from the course on Bio-entrepreneurship. He introduced this course for the first time in Pakistan in 2014, getting biology students excited about business and entrepreneurship. The students were given the necessary skills to exploit the potentials in the cutting edge fields of biology, especially focusing on Synthetic Biology.

With a master’s degree and PhD from the University of Oxford, Dr Khan is highly enthusiatic to teach the subject. His second batch of students started their course at the University of Peshawar’s Centre of Biotechnology and Microbiology. The professor also studied strategy and innovation while at Said Business School in Oxford.

Currently, Dr. Faisal works as the director of the Institute of Integrated BioSciences at CECOS University of Information Technology and Emerging Sciences and is also part of the visiting faculty at UoP.

Compared to the 14 startup ideas last year, it was even better and bigger this time. After the meticulous scrutiny of their submissions, 21 groups were made to work on one idea each. For the final pitch session, judges were invited from academia, government and private sectors.

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BioVolt team presenting a bio-based charger for our gadgets

The projects include Alpine, aiming to produce fine shahtoosh wool in lamb instead of using the endangered animal Chiru (Tibetan antelope), BioInk presented a safe alternative to hazardous chemical dyes, while BioLamp talked about the use of bioluminescent bacteria to compensate for power shortage. Bacterial-Cellulose determined to save forests and natural ecosystem by producing cellulose from bacteria. Plastic-Wreckers offered a solution to plastic pollution using worms.

Other interesting ideas include BioVolt: merging biology and engineering principles to make chargers for our gadgets; Electromarvel offered a device powered by bacterial cells to solve the power concerns.

From the pitch session, it was obvious that students have developed a sense of ownership to the society and environment and are eager to step up and solve the local problems with innovative ideas. Earlier unaware of the concept of entrepreneurship in life sciences, the students are now fully armed with necessary skills and excitement to build their own businesses around their brilliant ideas.

However, it is just the beginning; the students felt so accomplished and proud of the knowledge they gained during the course. Sarah of BioVolt said, “After completing the BioE course, to be really honest, I feel more confident because the curriculum was of Oxford and Stanford University. I now have a much wider vision of what I will be in the future.” She further added, “Initially, I didn’t even know the definition of entrepreneur and now I absolutely know how to become one. Becoming an entrepreneur is my goal.”

Ramsha Khalid of Electromarvel shared her experience as, “This course gave me an opportunity to exercise my creative abilities, practically apply different concepts I have learned over the time and most importantly it has given me the confidence to pursue my dreams in the future.”

Rabia Gul of BioLamp believes, “I feel very fortunate to be a part of this course. This helped me understand and apply my skills to solve the real world problems”.

Dr. Khan encouraged students to take advantages of the opportunities and facilities around them; he further boosted their confidence and told them to apply for mentorship in a local business incubator and turn their dreams into reality.

The chief guest Professor Dr. Yasin Iqbal distributed prizes for the best startup ideas and thanked all the judges and government officials for their efforts. He said, “In the West, students are encouraged to come up with new ideas; in the East, we generally discourage entrepreneurship due to the risks involved and are not given enough exposure. But I am impressed with the encouraging environment here, despite the fact that they were competing against each other.”

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