Mismatch made in heaven: Science, business combine to create novel innovations

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Determined to ensure student innovation does not go to waste, Dr Faisal Khan introduced a course on the subject of bioentrepreneurship for the first time in Pakistan—introducing biology students to entrepreneurship and business.
The professor now has a chance to see the fruits of his labour as the first batch of students, armed with the necessary skills and cutting-edge ideas, is ready to show their worth to the country and potentially the rest of the world. With a master’s degree and PhD from the University of Oxford, Khan is well qualified to teach the subject. His first batch of students started their course in 2013 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 Bio Science at CECOS University of Information Technology and Emerging Sciences and is also part of the visiting faculty at UoP.

Making science consumer-friendly

Talking to The Express Tribune, Khan said biotechnology has been taught as a subject at universities in the country for the last 10 years. However, there has been little progress in the field and graduating students find jobs difficult to come by.

He said students at varsities believe these courses are merely theoretical and not practical.

Khan said he introduced this subject in 2013 and his students have managed to come up with 47 new start-up ideas through the academic programme.

“I was surprised when I heard the ideas of these students,” the teacher said, adding he was a little spoiled for choice. “Shortlisting the ideas was difficult as all of them were brilliant,” he said. “In the end, 66 students were divided into 14 groups with each bunch working on a separate idea.”

Intelligent tech

The projects included bio-based solar cells for electricity generation, magneto detectors for quick and easy diagnosis of malaria and a bio-based chewing gum to fight cavities. One of the groups wanted to make use of technology to treat cancer.

Other interesting entries included a start-up which wanted to resolve the CNG shortage by installing methane-generating duel kits in vehicles. Meanwhile, one of the group’s idea is using mint plants to battle malaria, while another wanted to produce probiotics to fight obesity by degrading fat inside the human body.

Khan said it was crucial to expose students to an innovative environment and arm them with the necessary skills and the courage to take on the task of introducing start-ups to the market.

Local solutions

He claimed the “first-of-its-kind course” emphasises on introducing biology students to the language, theory and practice of business and gives them the choice of becoming entrepreneurs. Khan said the programme would allow them to take the lead and find local solutions to local problems in Pakistan.

‘The course is all about developing the best practices and the right business model for your ideas,” he said. The teacher added the programme does not focus on scientific aspects. “The need of the hour is to have business-savvy scientists,” the professor stressed.

He urged the government and private sectors to come forward and fund these students’ projects. The teacher said on the one hand, the pupils will be encouraged while at the same time their ideas can find their way to the right market and benefit the masses.

Other educationists say such programmes are an encouraging sign.

“It’s exciting to see biotechnology students involved in projects on business models, and customer validation,” said Edwardes College lecturer Bilal Ahmad. “I am also very impressed with some of the design elements they have used in their presentation slides”.

He pointed out,“Scientists are very good at working in their labs and writing papers. However, sometimes it’s good to come out and speak to people and understand real world problems.”
World Bank representative in Pakistan, Nicola Magri told The Express Tribune, “This course seems to be a great platform.”

University of Peshawar Physics Department Chairman Professor Yaseen Iqbal, added, “Biotechnology in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is ready to give something to the world.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2015.