Jennie Ekbeck, CEO at Umeå Biotech Incubator, has been appointed Innovations Angel of 2015. With her drive and problem-solving mindset she wants to make exciting research into business ideas and create a better environment for Swedish life science.
The Innovation Angel Award was established by VINNOVA and Veckans Affärer and is given to an individual who has contributed to a better innovation climate in Sweden. During the 3.5 years that Jennie Ekbeck has been running Umeå Biotech Incubator, UBI, she has worked to improve the possibilities for scientists to approach the business world. Taking ideas from the lab to create a commercial product is not as easy task, and this is what Ekbeck together with her colleagues at UBI have been doing.
“I think the jury recognized my work for bringing out more life science ideas and innovations in Sweden. Also, I believe they appreciated my ideas for coming up with financing alternatives for academic research,” she says.
A business mindset into the world of research
UBI’s board presented Ekbeck with the task of finding financial alternatives to the support UBI already had. After some Googling, looking for organizations that could have a significant interest in applied research, she came into contact with the Erling-Persson Family Foundation and managed to convince them to support scientists with the intention of taking their research results forwards to commercialization. Also, together with eight other Swedish life science incubators, UBI presented a report with suggestions for creating better funding in early stage start-ups.
“Instead of waiting for someone else to deal with the problem we teamed up to come up with solutions,” says Ekbeck.
Her vision for Swedish life science is to improve conditions so much that companies and competences can thrive on a local and national level. One way of getting there is to inject more of a business mindset into the world of research, an area where she believes Umeå Biotech Incubator can be an important contributor. The Umeå region has some outstanding research, for example within infectious diseases, neurological diseases and various types of cancer. What is lacking is the business development.
“There need to be preconditions that help innovators create companies that actually stay in Sweden. My driving force is to identify research with potential for winning commercial ideas and help them to get out onto the market,” she says.
According to Ekbeck, a key to also make more investors interested in scientists and early stage research companies is to emphasize the importance of verification and setting up clear goals.
“The challenge is that even if the investors are not there for the whole journey, they need to know how it will evolve and what the costs will be. The final product determines all of the activities throughout the entire journey and if you’re not sure about which direction you are heading you might make the wrong decisions from the beginning. The value is thus in your future plans more so than what you have done so far. We put a lot of effort in mapping out the journey ahead to increase the company’s credibility among investors.”
Another vital strategy for early stage research companies to approach the business sector is verification.
“Stop believing and start asking questions. Don’t be afraid to go out there and ask as many as you can for their perspective to get a better idea of what the actual needs are. What would the industry accept and what are they really looking for? A notion that was an accepted truth five years ago might not be so today. It’s important to have this in mind to build a stable foundation and business idea. Scientists don’t always have this sort of relationship with the industry, that’s why our job is to help them find the answers,” explains Ekbeck.
Ekbeck’s drive, goal-oriented and problem-solving personality is something she uses to inspire others, both as a leader and in contact with the incubator projects that UBI handles.
“I tend to see the possibilities instead of the obstacles, and find a way to get around them. When someone says that it can’t be done, I see a challenge. Everything can be done, it just takes different amounts of energy or money,” Ekbeck concludes.
Photographer: Lindsten & Nilsson