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Conception X is a venture builder creating deep tech startups from the UK’s leading PhD programmes. Cohort III commences at the end of February 2020. This article presents a number of exciting themes to look forward to, based on what we have learned as the first UK programme training PhDs to become venture scientists during their degrees.

Cohort III: Deeper tech, wider applications

I recently found myself in the company of a genius with a particularly mind-bending innovation for clean energy. I would meet many other geniuses like her, as we concluded two weeks of interviewing candidates for Conception X Cohort III. Our new PhDs have come from several leading universities across the UK, eager to commercialise their research and see its impact on the world. 

Our new PhDs are working on timely and deep technologies like quantum computing, 3D printing, VR, genetic engineering, and human-computer interaction. The AI current remains strong. They are solving huge problems in health, energy, climate, and wellbeing. They have come in teams, or as sole founders. They all want their research to come to light and be effective, solving big challenges in an ever-changing world. 

This cohort is now a hazy cloud bursting with potential, and I can start making out the startups that will be conceived, and the founders who may be at the start of a life-changing, venture-building journey. The Conception X team and I are very excited to be part of it.

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A spectrum of venture science options

Not all of the PhD teams will end up building companies. That is fine, as the founder path is not for everyone. Neither is all research easily commercialisable. At Conception X, we are training and shaping PhDs for a spectrum of possibilities for the future economy. Our job is to help them figure out their best path and arm them with the partners and resources that they need to make it to the end. That is precisely why we are slowly deviating from the term  ‘entrepreneur’ and leaning towards ‘venture scientist’.

Some PhD teams will become acqui-hires, getting absorbed into larger organisations like our partners and collaborators. Some will use the PhD incubation period to build a product, and move on to other pastures. Others will have different enterprise-related employment opportunities, which the PhD does not train them for. Finally, a group of them will find themselves on the long journey as startup founders, and we do our best to set them up for success. 

Some of the PhD founders see themselves as CEOs, while others want to get on with the research and let someone else do the ‘businessy bits’. We do not comment much on the latter point, as we have seen our teams discover things about themselves which they did not know before starting the Conception X journey.

Conception X has achieved product-market fit

A recurrent theme in the interviews has been the students’ appreciation of the fact that we run alongside the PhD without them taking time off their research. We believe this is a large factor behind our diversity metrics, as it may be the case that fewer women would take the plunge into entrepreneurship if they had a job offer lined up after their PhD.

The university-as-incubator premise is also resonating with our investor community. Whereas previously a dominant narrative would be ‘I will invest if you leave your PhD’; it is now becoming more apparent that staying in the PhD makes sense, especially where the use of expensive equipment is necessary. The fact that students own their IP as a default position in several universities makes the entire package enticing.

Our teams are shaping the future of industries

One of our core differentiators is that we take on Phds working on exciting technologies without immediately clear application areas. Who they meet first, in terms of mentors and partners, has a huge influence on the sector of the nascent technology. For example, a novel ultrasound sensor could easily be a medical device or a prop-tech innovation depending on the initial conversations the PhD has. 

It is our job to help these technologies find their home by getting the right mentors, partners, and experts involved in the programme. Our partners are keen to shape the future of their own industries by working with our deep tech teams. At Conception X, we endorse this collaborative approach and encourage our teams and partners to think of the world 5-10 years from now. What products and services will our future economies need? Let’s be at the forefront of these innovations.

What happens next?

We will launch the cohort at the end of February. The new PhDs will work extensively with our coaches, trainers, and partners. By May, we will be ready to show our student startup teams to the rest of the world. We are expecting the tech to be deeper, and the application areas to be wider. By the time we get to demo day in November, we will have picked the ones most ready to move forward with exciting propositions.

We are already setting the scene for Cohort IV; which will be even larger, more diverse, and with more application areas.

The work never stops. This is a movement, and we invite you to join us.

In the meantime, sign up to our newsletter here.

Published by

Riam Kanso, DPhil

Founder & CEO | Conception X

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