On October 15, 2012, the recipients of the 2012 Innovation Challenge Award were announced. Among the 9 recipients was Dr. Andrew Tait, a recent graduate from the Straus group here at UBC Chemistry.
The Innovation Challenge Award, established in 2004, is granted to graduate students in engineering and the natural sciences, and highlights not only outstanding research theses, but also entrepreneurialism in turning their academic work into products and processes that can benefit the general Canadian population.
Tait’s company, Tait Laboratories Inc., develops and markets plant-based extracts found in traditional Chinese medicine that may potentially help many people suffering from neurodegenerative disease associated with aging and multiple sclerosis. This venture has a direct relation to the work that he performed during his PhD degree on better understanding of the role of the protein U24 in myelin degradation.
When asked about the challenges in starting a business straight out of a graduate degree, Tait says, “The key for me was to start early in building a network outside of academia, of people I could go to for help. The Student Biotechnology Network is a great place to start, but there are many other similar organizations out there. You might be surprised at how many industry members are receptive to going for coffee just to chat and provide encouragement.”
The company has accomplished significant growth and traction in a short time, with major funding coming from the National Research Council Industry Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) and the Bank of Development of Canada (BDC). Since its inception last year, the company has hired Dr. Harish Vasudevan, a UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences grad and former postoc from the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD). They have gained support from winning a voucher from UBC UILO and settled into incubator space on campus through entrepreneurship@UBC. Their first product is currently being reviewed by Health Canada and expected to hit the market mid-2013.
Receiving such an honour as the Innovation Challenge Award will surely impact the company’s future, but this is not what Tait takes form the award. “I think Chemistry grads can accomplish leaps and bounds in the world of industry and entrepreneurship, just as long as they know it is possible! This is but one, of what I am sure will be more examples from the Department, of just how possible it is.”
For more information about the Innovation Challenge Awards, please click here.