One problem employers find with new graduates is that they lack any knowledge of business. Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR) aims to build bridges between academia and industry.

Founder and president Dan Perez was born in Miami, but is now part of the Skaggs Oxford Programme, a fellowship that permits two students per year to pursue a dual-doctorate at Lincoln College, Oxford and The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California.

He has always been fascinated about the opportunities for links between science and business and has seized the initiative to create OBR.

Mr Perez said: “Coming to Oxford was my first time in Britain I found the British really bright, well educated and great to work with. I knew very little about biotech and pharma and came up with OBR as a way of getting both sides together.”

He found that while there was interaction at senior levels in academia and industry, there was little if any at student level.

Through senior academics at Oxford, Mr Perez was given introductions to a number of chief executives in pharma and biotech. Unsure of the reception he would receive, he was delighted with the positive responses to OBR.

The chief executives’ consensus was that they did not feel welcome on campuses, but really wanted to be invited to meet students.

The Roundtable was founded in late June 2011 and the first meeting, advertised throughout the university, attracted more than 100. By the end of the summer term, traditionally a quiet time in colleges, OBR had in excess of 500 members.

Using the same door-opening approach, contacts were established in Cambridge and a chapter opened there in August. This was followed by a London chapter in December. Through the Scripps Institute, a San Diego chapter was founded in early 2012.

Surprisingly, Mr Perez feels that, despite a more entrepreneurial culture in the United States, he would have found it far harder to establish OBR is his own country.

Mr Perez had heard about the Oxford-Cambridge rivalry but said he need not have worried. In his experience, the alleged schism is on a friendly banter level and students from both universities are keen to interact.

The keystone of the bridge is that from the outset, Mr Perez has insisted on the highest professional standards.

“It simply could not be just another student organisation if business was to take us seriously,” he explained.

“We have to be professional in all our dealings and we have to add value.”

OBR offers three products: education through seminars, workshops and networking, consultancy and communications.

The consultancy arm came from an enquiry from Pfizer for a project. A number of students worked together for several weeks, then produced a final report.

That report, said Pfizer, was indistinguishable from that of a professional firm. OBR charges clients a fee, but it is a fraction of that of an outside consultancy. An intellectual property review would have cost up to £120,000 from an outside firm. OBR charged 100th of that.

From that Pfizer project, word has spread and OBR enjoys a high level of enquiries. The selection criteria is demanding. A team will usually be four or five and for every vacancy, they receive ten applications.

From those, the very best are selected and will work part-time for between six and ten hours a week for up to eight weeks.

With electronic communications, they do not need to be co-located and can be geographically spread.

The projects offer an ideal opportunity for students to learn and for industry to evaluate team members’ abilities.

As a direct result, consultancies have led to job offers. A further consequence is that companies now attend events to watch students in action and talent spot.

By any yardstick, OBR has been an outstanding success. Those initial 500 members have grown to more than 4,000 worldwide, 80 per cent from academia and 20 per cent from industry.

OBR attracts students not only from science but law, marketing and other disciplines. Most students are foreign and Mr Perez would love to have more British members.

A formidable scientific advisory board has been key to strategy and success and remains so.

Professors Graham Richards and Sir Steven Bloom from Oxford and Imperial College respectively and Sir Gregory Winter from Cambridge are three of the board members.

Similarly, the list of 13 sponsors features key names in the science world — Imperial Innovations, Queen Mary College Innovation, Oxford University, Oxford Nanopore Technology and the London and Cambridge-based One Nucleus life sciences network.

Mr Perez and his chapter teams liaise daily and are intent on creating a sustainable OBR.

“OBR continues to evolve and in a year’s time, it may be a totally different animal,” said Mr Perez. “Our job is to make sure we survive and thrive.”

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