For the First Time in Pakistan a Course on Bio-Entrepreneurship at the University of Peshawar
The ‘Centre of Biotechnology and Microbiology’ at the University of Peshawar aims at educating and training the next generation of biotechnologists and microbiologists. It is also fully focusing on scientific research and discovery keeping in mind the needs of a progressive society. It was here in 2014 that Dr. Faisal Khan (a visiting professor) initiated a course for the very first time in Pakistan which has given final year Bio-technology students the opportunity to understand the countless possibilities that the progressive fields of biology, especially ‘Synthetic Biology’ have to offer. Furthermore they were introduced to the prospect of integrating business with biology. The course has two parts i.e.
- Theoretical overview of business and innovation
- The practical application of how to build a startup for a bio-tech product.
Initiative for Developing the Bio-Entrepreneurship Course
According to Dr. Faisal though biotechnology is being taught in Pakistan for at least a decade now, still no real progress has been made in the field. The reason being that it has been treated as merely a theoretical subject. However that is the wrong approach, as in today’s world it is necessary that students are provided the proper environment and taught the skills so that they are confident enough to initiate start-ups which are an excellent means of channeling young talent for maximum social and economic impact. He believes that scientists should definitely be business oriented. Therefore the basic aim of the course is how to fit the right business model to a practical solution and then what steps need to be taken to achieve it.
Outcome of the Bio-Entrepreneurship Course
The students have really enjoyed the course as the curriculum was of a high standard. Also it has instilled in them a sense of duty towards the society and the desire to come up with solutions to solve the problems faced by the public. Until now they were not really aware of what Entrepreneurship was all about, and how they could evolve their research into a successful business. Their vision has been greatly broadened and they have been given the proper guidance for what they can do as soon as they step into their practical life.
The following projects reflect what impact the course had on the students:
Projects in 2015
The first batch came up with some amazing ideas. They best ideas were selected, and the students were divided into 14 groups, each working on one. At the end of the course all groups presented their projects in front of a panel which included people from the government, institutions and the private sector. The top three startups were:
- Oral Smart: A chewing gum that would actually help fight cavities.
- Amber Cells: Solar cells would be used for electricity generation.
- Magneto Detectors: To be able to diagnose Malaria rapidly.
Some other interesting ideas:
- Mintalaria: To use mint plants in treating Malaria.
- Fit Fat: To develop a pro-biotic that would degrade the fat inside of our bodies to deal with obesity.
- Meth Tech: To setup methane producing fuel kits in cars which could counter the shortage of CNG.
Projects in 2016
This year’s batch had some great ideas as well and 21 teams gave presentations. However the females really impressed the judges, and the ‘all girl teams’ stole the show! Following are the top three startups:
- The Electro-Marvel Battery: A battery powered by Bacteria which once charged could last up to a whole year. This would be an ideal battery for the UPS and other household machines.
- Bio-Volt: A power bank (charger) that would be powered by Bacteria instead of electricity. It would last a great deal longer and be much smaller in size as compared to those available in the market.
- Bio-Lamp: By using bio-luminescent bacteria; bulbs and energy savers would be made which would light up when it gets dark, and would automatically dim out during the day.
Others that really stood out:
- Bio-Lumin Seeds: The Bio-Lumin seeds would be developed by adding the genes from a special fish which glows. As soon as the crop became infected they would start to glow indicatoing that action is required.
- Alpine: To save the Tibetan Antelopes ‘Chiru’ from extinction and to produce the famous ‘Shatoosh’ shawls (which are made from their wool) at an affordable cost. This would be done by breeding lambs and sheep with the genes of the chiru, so that their wool can be similar to it.
- Dracu-stroke: A blood thinner or anti-coagulant to be made from an easily available herb. This would be effective in treating patients who have had a stroke, and would not have the adverse effects of those available in the market, like Aspirin.
- Local Chemical Production: To locally manufacture chemicals in order to save the massive amount of money spent in importing them.
The Brilliant Dr Faisal Khan
He has done his BS in Biotechnology from the University of Peshawar. An M.Sc in Integrative Bioscience from the University of Oxford, followed by a PhD there in ‘Intersection of Cell Biology & Systems Biology’ and was awarded many scholarships during his academic years. In 2011 his start-up (Sphericos Biotechnologies) won at one of the world’s thriving entrepreneurship competitions’ which is organized by Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) since 1999. In 2012 he was selected as a Mentor for the ‘Saïd Global Entrepreneur Challenge’ at the University of Oxford.
He has worked at NUST, LUMS and University of Exeter (UK) in different capacities. While at the University of Peshawar he taught a newly designed course about Systems Biology alongside others such as Industrial Biotechnology, Bioinformatics and Human Molecular Genetics.
He is the founding Director of the Institute of Integrative Biosciences as well as Assistant Professor at CECOS University of IT & Emerging Sciences. He is also the co-founder of Peshawar 2.0 (which is a social venture whose aim is to create a startup association in Peshawar) and ‘base camp’ (which is the platform where all the activities take place). It is due to his efforts that many events of international standing have taken place in Peshawar such as the Digital Youth Summit, Global Entrepreneurship Week, TEDx and Startup Weekend.
Last year he was appointed as Board Member of the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board (KPITB). This year he has become a Pakistani Fellow at Acumen (which is an organization with the sole objective of tackling poverty by working out viable solutions).
So it can be rightly said that one man’s foresight and conviction can really motivate people to believe in themselves and come together to unleash their energies, aspiring to become the catalyst of change that they want to see, despite whatever challenges they have to face to get there.