A competition designed to impel a new generation of bio-entrepreneurs has opened, offering a £100,000 prize for innovative ideas with the potential to improve the lives of patients.

The OneStart contest, the result of a collaboration between SR One, the corporate venture capital arm of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable, a student-run initiative to bring academic and industry groups together on-campus, is the largest of its kind in the world.

The competition consists of three rounds and covers four tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics and health information technology. Entrants are first required to fill in an entry form which sketches out the idea, before up to 35 teams progress to the semi-final round.

“Ideas at all stages of development are accepted,” says D.Phil Organic Chemist and OBR events team member Peter Crane. At the semi-final stage, teams are invited to a day of seminars, breakout sessions and workshops, with the chance to refine their ideas and build a business plan in conversation with industry leaders from across the venture capital, biotech, pharmaceuticals and advisory communities.

Teams will also have the chance to make pitches to expert panels (“like on Dragon’s Den,” Pete says) for specific feedback and advice on how to take their idea forward. The one-day “Business Boot Camp” will take place in mid-March.

President of the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable, and dual-doctorate student at Lincoln College and The Scripps Research Institute in California Dan Perez says, “to be a successful entrepreneur, especially in a field as complicated as the life sciences, you need mentors. Our goal is to equip all the participants (and not just the winners) with the tools they’ll need to get their current and future biotechs off of the ground.”

“It’s about breaking down the barriers between a good idea and its market,” Pete adds.

Entrants come from any profession or degree field, as teams are encouraged to incorporate a range of skills from business savvy to legal knowledge. “If you don’t have an idea, you can still participate,” Dan says. “there are a lot of entrepreneurs looking to complement their ideas with co-founders of a particular skillset. All you need to do is register online, and get networking.”

Judges will be looking for ideas which demonstrate innovativeness, impactfulness upon patient health and potential economic benefit. The winning idea will, by the time of the final rounds, be backed-up by a watertight business plan, which displays the range of talents and backgrounds which make up the team.

“Most of all, you’ve got to believe in your project,” Pete says. “It’s all about the idea. Though there are contacts to be made throughout the process, and doors will open for talented people, the competition isn’t a recruitment exercise, it’s an ideas competition!”

The competition couldn’t come at a more important time for the healthcare industry, with patent cliffs looming, the pursuit of new “blockbuster” drugs on the part of big pharmas seeming ever more futile, and government selectivity narrowing production options.

The competition is an extension of the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable’s broad aim to reconcile the worlds of business and scientific research in the university milieu and beyond: “The aim of the society is to engage people,” Pete says. “Sometimes it feels like there is a link missing between the business students and research scientists. OBR is a great way for scientists who are interested in commercialising their research to really get involved with the business side of things, which may be outside of their comfort zone.”

Budding bio-entrepreneurs from any discipline are eligible to apply, on the condition that each team member is under 36 years of age, and currently living, working or studying in the UK or an EU member state. Entrants needn’t be UK or EU citizens.

The prize money can be used to develop the idea to the point at which it will be able to raise further funds from investors. Dan Perez says, “Science is expensive and risky. While a lot of small web start-ups can be born on a laptop at Starbucks, science needs serious capital to get going. Our goal was for this not to be just a fun prize, but an opportunity for serious entrepreneurs to build a business.”

“Sadly it’s not a chance to go on a holiday of a lifetime. Or several holidays of a lifetime,” Pete jokes.

Also up for grabs is valuable Lab Space at Stevenage BioScience Catalyst, and a year-long membership to a number of life-science related business networks in Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Europe.

The competition launched on the 24th of January at the Said Business School. Initial entries are due by midnight on the 21st of February.