Interview with Dr Nessa Carey
In January 2020, the MSD Translational Research Office (TRO) welcomed Dr Nessa Carey as a Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR). In this role, Nessa leads the strategic development and implementation of the Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) scheme in Medical Sciences, laying the foundation of a world-class innovation support ecosystem capable of accelerating the translation of world-leading research into innovative therapies, business and commercial products.
In this interview, Nessa talks about her career to date, the hurdles she has overcome both professionally and personally, and why its never too early to seek expert advice.
First, tell us a little bit about your career to date and why you wanted to be involved in the Entrepreneur in Residence scheme?
I've been successful as an academic, an industry person and as a freelance consultant, specialising in drug discovery. I love working at the interface between different sectors, looking at basic research and unravelling the ways in which its outputs could help make the world a better place, and finding the routes to do that. The Entrepreneur-in-Residence scheme is a great opportunity to put all of that into practise, and includes really fun activities such as working with younger scientists to help them think about their research and their careers in new and exciting ways.
What opportunities does entrepreneurship bring to an academic and scientific career?
So many! Working on exciting challenges; the satisfaction of knowing you're making a difference to people's lives through multiple routes such as job creation or development of better therapies; publishing high impact multidisciplinary papers; more funding for research; building an expanded professional network that supports your future activities; learning amazing skills that are applicable in multiple sectors. You may even get a bit richer.
How will the Entrepreneur and Experts in Residence schemes support early career researchers at Oxford?
We're always available to discuss your innovative ideas, help you test them, give you insight, share our knowledge, connect you to other people. We're also working with some of the Experts to design training courses and workshops, and we're happy to share our experiences of working in multiple types of organisations, which can be invaluable for researchers thinking about where their future lies.
How about researchers with projects that are at an early stage of development, can the schemes help them?
It's never too early to seek expert advice. Often the most useful thing we can do is not to provide answers but to help researchers identify the right questions. If it's your first time working in innovation, it's really easy to start off down the wrong path, such as improving the technical features of an innovation for which there is ultimately no market niche. We can help you to avoid those sorts of mistakes.
The EiR scheme aims to help our research community navigate hurdles to commercialisation and spin-out. What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome?
In a professional sense, it was being in a company where the tech was fantastic but we really struggled to find a way that it could meet a market need. We were too in love with the science to take the hard decisions about the commercial reality. In a personal sense, the biggest hurdle is that I come from a working class background and didn't grow up with the same sense of confidence of many of the people I met in the world of start-ups.
What kind of events and opportunities can Oxford researchers look forward to getting involved with over the next 12 months?
Anyone at Oxford who wants to get involved in entrepreneurship and innovation has wonderful opportunities, ranging from lunchtime seminars to MBA-type courses. I'm working with colleagues to try to increase the offerings that really focus on helping researchers engage with innovation very early on in research projects, and to learn to triage efficiently and kill entrepreneurship projects ruthlessly if they are fatally flawed. That sounds brutal but in reality innovation by its very nature is risky and stopping something appropriately isn't failure, it's smart decision-making. Of course, we're also hoping that as we move past Covid-19, we can get our Experts together for some fabulous events where they can interact with, and inspire, even more researchers to get involved in entrepreneurship.