Turning science into start-ups

Members of British start-up Entrepreneur First (from left) Mr Alex Crompton, programme director, Ms Anne-Marie Droste, head of European outreach, and Ms Alice Bentinck, co-founder, with Mr Zach Tan, director of Infocomm Investments' London office.
Members of British start-up Entrepreneur First (from left) Mr Alex Crompton, programme director, Ms Anne-Marie Droste, head of European outreach, and Ms Alice Bentinck, co-founder, with Mr Zach Tan, director of Infocomm Investments' London office.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZACH TAN

Start-ups are usually founded by businessmen, bankers, engineers and others who get together to work on a business idea. Few succeed.

A British start-up believes it can do much better by focusing on geeks with science-based ideas those can be transformed into businesses. Co-founder Alice Bentinck of Entrepreneur First (EF) said geeks are equally ambitious and want to do well. "It is just that they don't think about it or aren't given the opportunity," she said in a media briefing earlier this week.

So the firm is headhunting computer scientists, mathematicians, robotics engineers and other technical experts from top British universities such as Oxford and Cambridge to join its six-month programme. 

The recipe is to throw the geeks together so they get to know and convince one another of their science-based ideas. When they find their co-founders, they then work on translating their ideas into start-ups. 

In the first three months, each participant is paid $2,500 a month. In the next three months, when they form their businesses, EF invests £10,000 pounds (S$21,000) and takes a 8 per cent equity stake in each start-up.

EF is considering expanding overseas and Singapore is a possible location. Said Ms Bentinck: "I visited Singapore last year and was impressed. There are good universities and good technical talent. The start-up ecosystem is also in its nascent stage like where Britain was three years ago. So it is a good place for us but we haven't decided yet."

In April, EF raised a 10-year fund of US$8.5 million (S$12 million) to expand its programme. Its major aim is to form about 200 start-ups in the next three years. Infocomm Investments, the venture arm of the Infocomm Development Authority, also invested an undisclosed sum in the fund. 

"We believe we're unique, we're the only organisation in the world focusing on technical talent to build start-ups." said Ms Bentinck. 

Grace Chng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Turning science into start-ups'. Print Edition | Subscribe