The A.C.E Saturdays Program; A Starter Toolkit for Science Entrepreneurs

Dr Mira Kassouf Written by Mira Kassouf
Published on 21 May 2019
5 min. read

In our academic community, we lack no creativity, ability, or character to innovate and be entrepreneurial. We only need a nudge in the right direction, a starter business toolkit for a kickstart, and most importantly a nurturing ecosystem to provide the appropriate support. Innovation Forum Oxford had the pleasure to be initiators in the Oxford ecosystem, providing inspiration, knowledge, and network to academic and clinical researchers as well as science entrepreneurs to engage effectively with the entrepreneurial space and act on their interest to create impact beyond the bounds of their current roles


When IFO delivered the Health and Life Sciences Entrepreneurship lecture series in 2016-2017, curiosity and eagerness among the Oxford academic community for exploring themes that interface life sciences and entrepreneurship became very clear. We have identified through participants’ feedback and direct interactions with IFO supporters that two main stumbling blocks hinder academics’ fruitful engagement with entrepreneurial activities: the need for basic business skill-set and the opportunity to interact in an immersive environment with like-minded science entrepreneurs to engage with the entrepreneurial community. Interestingly, short networking sessions following events are not effective enough for initiating contacts and building relationships—something very much reinforced by our own experiences.


As such, we wanted to create a training platform that addresses these points by providing “learning by doing” workshops. We envisioned a space where attendees acquire tools that awaken their creativity, hone problem-solving skills in teams, introduce business understanding, and tailor communication skills to non-academic audiences.


This is how A.C.E (Awareness, Connectivity, Exchange) Saturdays came about.



We believe that it is not only what you know and learn, it is how you position it, with whom you share it, and how you use it, that makes the difference. We created a platform for Awareness where participants explored the relevance and value of their learning, ideas and skills in a particular topic or field; Connectivity where participants enjoyed various perspectives outside their usual circles; and Exchange where attendees could share their knowledge and skills to synergistically tackle challenges in each workshop. A.C.E Saturdays became a platform that unlocked innovative potential, and provided an environment primed for relationship-building, skill-exchange and follow-on opportunities. Most importantly, it offered experiential activities that extended from half to full days to allow for all these processes of learning, sharing, and exploring to happen.


In 2018, the series focused on Design Thinking process; a human-centric problem-solving tool, prolific in the innovation and entrepreneurship circles, and a valuable too to introduce to the Oxford ecosystem. Both workshops (Oxford as a Future City and Innovation in Child Health Hackathon) were intended to disrupt silo-ed perspective of researchers, clinicians, businesspeople, patients, residents or end-users in the Oxford ecosystem. These workshops highlighted to academics and experts the value of building innovation projects with stakeholder inclusion at their core. 

Another major challenge hindering collaboration and idea exchange was the inability to communicate ideas across barriers; academics and “the outside world” speaking “different languages”. We found that workshops tackling presentation and communication were far more effective when considering different audiences and frameworks. This perspective was explored in the “Pitching yourself” and “Health and Life Sciences Consulting” workshops in the series.


Returning for 2019, the series focuses on academic/start-up engagement. It brings together researchers and start-up companies to together tackle diverse topics, whilst allowing the exchange of unique experiences and perspectives within the sessions. In collaboration with the Oxford BioEscalator, we have crafted a business toolkit for start-ups; the BioEscalator Business Toolkit. As part of this series we will provide five workshops that together build the crucial starter toolkit for innovative academics and early-stage entrepreneurs. More importantly, the topics covered will help participants in navigating and appreciating teamwork; focussing on relationship building; considering all aspects of creativity and idea externalization, whilst strategising and communicating business plans.


In our academic community, we lack no creativity, ability, or character to innovate and be entrepreneurial. We only need a nudge in the right direction, a well-equipped but basic toolkit to give a kickstart, and most importantly the right people to provide the appropriate support. Innovation Forum Oxford has had the pleasure to be initiators in the Oxford ecosystem, striving to inspire, nurture, empower and enable academics and science entrepreneurs to engage in the process of creating impact beyond traditional research.


IFO will continue to offer the A.C.E. Saturdays projects with topics and formats that suit the time, place, and needs of participants. The quality of the workshops we are offering contributes to building a tractable and recognizable brand within our ecosystem; we intend to harness it to collaborate with innovation and entrepreneurship stakeholders to deliver exciting and valuable projects locally and beyond.


The A.C.E Saturdays 2018 was hosted and supported by the Oxford University Careers Service, the Oxford Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund, the Oxford University Medical Sciences Division, and the Oxford Biomedical Research Center. We also partnered with Triteq and Thinking of Oscar.



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