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Entrepreneur Spotlight

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Dr Arif Surani

Postdoctoral research at Cancer Research UK, Cambridge Institute, Cambridge 

by the p2i Network

Arif's Journey

I'm a postdoc at Cancer Research UK, Cambridge and our group is working on cancer diagnostics.  We have identified a way to detect cancer earlier and minimally invasive in individuals who are at high risk of developing the disease. I'm interested in commercialising this research.


Participating in entrepreneurial training programmes has significantly enriched my understanding of the multifaceted aspects involved in the commercialization of research. Most recently, I participated in the Ignite programme at the University of Cambridge, which has been instrumental in helping me solidify my knowledge, and I've been able to practically apply the insights I've gained to my own project. Engaging in discussions with industry experts has provided me with invaluable perspectives, allowing me to develop a clearer roadmap for potential routes to market.


In the past, I held the belief that having an innovative and scientifically impressive technology would inherently lead to its success and adoption. A pivotal revelation during this journey has been the realization that a technology or solution must first and foremost address a substantial need or opportunity in the market. This need must be compelling enough for potential customers to be willing to pay for the product or service. This understanding is key in securing both interest and funding as it cannot be taken for granted that an impressive technology alone will attract funding.


Moreover, my perspective on the roles within a startup has evolved. While I initially considered pursuing a CEO role, I now appreciate the significance of the CEO's focus on fundraising and business aspects, often at the expense of being closely tied to the science. This insight has led me to contemplate alternative roles like CSO or CTO, where I can leverage my expertise to drive technology and product development -I’m keeping an open mind.

The entrepreneurial training has also increased my confidence to engage with range of non academic stakeholders. I now approach discussions about our opportunity by highlighting its value, rather than solely focusing on the technical aspects. This shift in perspective has improved my conversations, whether with my academic peers or business stakeholders. 


Importantly, the entrepreneurial training has been a catalyst for personal growth, enabling me to become a more impactful researcher as well as a better-equipped individual to navigate the complex landscape of innovation and commercialization.

  • I'm now more strategic in designing experiments, considering not only their immediate results but also their contributions to the broader picture. This approach ensures that every experiment aligns with the larger goals and objectives.

  • I've developed the ability to make quicker decisions with a clear end goal in mind. When faced with challenges, I no longer succumb to panic but instead troubleshoot and explore alternative paths to achieve my objectives efficiently.

  • It’s equipped me with a diverse skill set that has not only made me a more effective researcher but also a more well-rounded individual.

  • I also feel I have better discussions with my PI because I have a clearer understanding of what the next steps are in the project commercialisation journey and am now taking a more leading role in steering the direction of the project.

I encourage fellow researchers to participate in entrepreneurial training. They don’t necessarily need have an idea to learn on many of the programmes. They just need motivation, an open mind and embrace the training as a means to not only enhance their research but also to broaden their skill set and perspective to create impact through a variety of routes in academic or non academic environments".

Read More p2i Researcher Spotlight Interviews

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