One of our two new Enterprise Associates this year is Dr Shilpa Nagarajan, a postdoctoral fellow working at the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM). Here, she tells us a bit about her background, and her hopes and ambitions for the year ahead as an MPLS Enterprise Associate.
Tell us a little about where you come from, and what moves or motivates you?
I'm a cellular biologist, and my research focuses on diabetes and fatty liver disease. While I was doing my Bachelors in Canada, both my parents were diagnosed with type two diabetes. I did my best to answer their questions, but eventually I ran out of answers. So I decided to do a PhD in diabetes research in Sydney, Australia. And because I wanted to bring myself a bit closer to the translational impact of my research, I pursued an industry fellowship with the pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk, and that's what I’m now doing here in Oxford. I work very closely with Novo Nordisk, and try to understand how my work can reach the people that I'm trying to help.
Something that really motivates me is thinking about the end users of my work. I like to work across multiple sectors, and I'm very interested in the intersection of public health policy and medicine - just learning new things about those areas really interests me.
Why are you attracted to entrepreneurship?
I always used to think that entrepreneurship in my field related solely to licensing and spinouts. But through this fellowship, as well as doing the RisingWISE program from MPLS, I realised that there's a lot more to being entrepreneurial than that. It's more wide-ranging, and really relates to anything innovative outside the traditional academic roles of teaching and research that can result in not only financial reward, but also societal impact.
If we limit our notion of what entrepreneurship is, we’re contributing to a narrowing of focus that can lead to limitations on where and who gets any kind of investment, be that funding or resources. I think what really needs to happen is to discuss more about the entrepreneurial mindset, and think more broadly about the beneficiaries of our research, and how our work can impact society. Just reframing and broadening the scope of what an entrepreneur is can expand what every academic is able to do with their research, help them flex that ‘entrepreneurial muscle’ more often and create bigger impact.
Tell us some of the things that you hope being an Enterprise Associate will help you to do or achieve, for yourself or for others.
Well I have two things in mind: the first I know I can deliver relatively quickly, and the other is a bit more ambitious!
Number one: I enjoy being part of committees that support researchers. And because I’m based outside of MPLS (in the medical sciences), a lot of my networks are in different departments across the University. So one of the things I can help with as an Enterprise Associate is to use my network to evangelise and educate wider audiences about what MPLS does, and especially about its Enterprise programme and courses.
The second thing is around creating opportunities or challenges where different groups of people come together and practice using their entrepreneurial mindset. This may be particularly helpful for people that have an interest or curiosity in entrepreneurship, but may not know where to go to explore further. And I'd really like to see more interdisciplinary challenges and events in entrepreneurship, where people who are passionate about the same issue, but have different perspectives and backgrounds can come work together - because forming those wide-reaching networks when your work is based in a single department can be hard to achieve. That’s the wider impact I’d like to have as an Enterprise Associate this year.