Professor Dame Carol Robinson, Co-founder of OMass

Carol Robinson is the Chief Scientific Consultant to OMass Technologies, a company she co-founded. Based on research that she has pioneered, studying proteins in their native folded states, the company forms partnerships with industries to work on challenging problems - such as membrane protein drug discovery. The company was founded in April 2016 with investment from Oxford Sciences Innovation and currently has three employees.  Carol holds the Chair of Doctor Lee’s Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and is a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Q: What is your background?  What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I worked for a pharmaceutical company for seven years and gained valuable insight into industry. I then had 25 years as an academic at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. My move to spin out a company was prompted by increasing interest from pharma and biotech. I also realised that I had a great team in place and I wanted to keep them together.

Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: For me entrepreneurship means thinking differently about my research. I used to be very focused on publishing in the highest ranked journals. Now I think a lot more about making an impact in drug discovery.

Q: How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
A:  Over the past few years when we started to get increasing interest from industry. We focused on developing these industrial partnerships and have grown our business from there.

Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: in our business we are involved in forming partnerships so communication and interpersonal skills are of paramount importance. The third skill is probably patience – the negotiation phase of contracts seems to be unnecessarily slow….

Q: What is your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
A:  seeing my team do well and realising that what we are doing is of importance in the outside world.

Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: David Norwood. He realized our business plan within minutes of us presenting it to him even though it was outside his area of knowledge as a Historian.

Q: If you had 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A:  I am always interested in his advice. He was a Chess Grandmaster and as such I think he can always see our next move before we can.

Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Establishing our laboratory and securing our first partnerships.  

Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A:  Sometimes we took on projects that were not part of our portfolio of expertise. This took us into new directions. With limited capacity in our current team we have to focus and prioritize the important projects that play to our strengths.  

Q: How have you funded your ideas?  Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
A: Initially we received funding from Oxford Science Innovation. Our first contracts are providing a steady steam of income and we recently made a successful application to Innovate UK

Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire?  Bad?
A:  Begbroke Science Park extends the Oxford Univiersity Campus. From the north it is easy to get to and allows access to more affordable housing for employees. Oxford University provides great students and post docs, enabling us to select future employees, as well as support networks of other entrepreneurs.

Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
A: I would suggest that they talk first to Oxford Science Innovation or Oxford University Innovation. Both have considerable expertise in setting up start-ups and will advise you on the commercial potential of your idea.

Q: Any last words of advice?
A:  Don’t be afraid to try this. There is lots of support and spinning out really does broaden your outlook on your research as well as providing access to additional funding streams.