Kieran Clarke is Professor of Physiological Biochemistry in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics (DPAG) at the University of Oxford. Her spinout company, T∆S®, is a fast-growing, ambitious biochemical research company commercialising a ketone ester, ∆G®, as a sports drink and for metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
A: I am originally from Australia, where I studied Biochemistry, before working at Harvard on cardiac magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging. I came to Oxford in 1991 and soon began looking at substrates that the heart needs to function. After collaborating for 10 years with the NIH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) gave us a contract to create an efficient food for the US Army, so we made a new (fourth) food group out of ketones. The ketone food worked, so I decided to start a company, T∆S®, in 2005 to license my DARPA-based IP from ISIS and older ketone patents from BTG.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Entrepreneurship is deciding what really matters, then going out to make a difference to the world!
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur; I set out to run a company! I knew we had made a world-changing discovery so, to ensure it would be translated and taken to market, I had to do something. Often if you don’t do something with a scientific discovery, no one else will. It’s a way to make sure the technology is used and not lost.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: You need to be really flexible, and open to ideas, but also to be able to judge people well, to see if they are advising you for their benefit or yours! You also need to be brave and work really hard!
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Achieving a goal, such as getting through the FDA, or having a patent granted. Being able to still do research, have new ideas, and see how those ideas can be applied. Meeting interesting people that you seldom meet as a scientist - such as Olympic athletes or Tour de France cyclists.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: I am inspired by others in academia who have started companies, such as Professor Ed Southern (Oxford Gene Technology) or Professor Raymond Dwek (Oxford GlycoSciences Ltd), both of whom are still excellent scientists and run successful businesses.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above individual/company, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: I would ask them what they did well, what they would do differently and how they stayed true to their ideals.
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Getting through the FDA and being able to sell ∆G® in the US is a big achievement for us!
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: Pay attention to good advice and always watch your cashflow!
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: Oxford has a great name, which often helps give a stamp of approval. Academics here are very open to innovation, so it’s a very encouraging place to be.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources, where would you send them?
A: James Mallinson at OSEM (Oxford Spinout Equity Management) and Philip Chu (a true Angel investor) have been most helpful to me, with excellent business advice and encouragement.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Be brave! Ask for, and listen to, advice from people you know and trust. Be happy to do everything, from making tea for visitors and writing the regulatory dossiers to reading all legal agreements and patent applications. And sit in the cheap seats at the back of the plane.