Tech City: Bio-tech entrepreneurs pitch to Prince Andrew
PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 February 2016
Tech City is the third-largest technology hub in the world, and it's right on our doorstep. Each week, we bring you news from the thriving area around Old Street roundabout. This week, Victoria Ibitoye talks to Tim El-Sheikh, the founder of the bio-tech start-up Scicasts, who pitched to Prince Andrew at Pitch@Palace
Twice a year, budding tech entrepreneurs take part in Pitch@Palace, an event that allows start-up companies to explain their ideas to Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
Last week’s Pitch@Palace On Tour in Stepney Green saw start-ups from London connect with local stakeholders in a bid to develop their businesses.
Scicasts, a Shoreditch bio-tech start-up that provides easy access to research papers, competed in the event.
“Everyone left smiling,” says founder Tim El-Sheikh, 39.
“The duke was really friendly and he made an effort to meet everyone. He was really approachable – at some points I forgot he was a prince!”
He adds: “I wasn’t nervous at all when I was talking to him, he was charming and when pitching he was taking notes. He was very interested.
“His priority was to see the start-ups succeed and do all he possibly could to help us. He was very involved in the process, he would know what to talk about straight away.”
Tim says that while the event is competitive, most start-ups prefer to use the day as a networking opportunity.
“The way the event works is once you’re selected you pitch your start-up idea to investors. The top three pitches go further and you may go through to the next stage,” says Tim.
“Pitching is really just to make introductions easier; all start-ups still have access to the palace.
“It was the first mainstream event with an entirely scientific set-up that deals with bio-tech companies, which is one of the reasons why we wanted to go.”
Scicasts was launched in March 2012 and moved to Google Campus in Shoreditch when its application to join the exclusive community was accepted in 2014.
“It’s been an epic journey,” says Tim. “The concept started in my student bedroom years ago and was more of a little side project.”
The company has since grown from strength to strength and has an office in Hong Kong with plans to move to Boston and San Francisco.
Scicasts works by using self-learning technology to determine which research papers are needed. While it normally takes the average person six months to find relevant research papers, Scicasts allows users to access papers within minutes.
“The current model of accessing critical resources is outdated, really expensive, tedious and time consuming,” says Tim. “In fact it’s a model that’s been around for over 350 years and hasn’t really changed much, despite the internet.
“I experienced it myself when I was a biomedical scientist. It took me and my colleagues an average of four to six months to find any paper that might be useful for our work.
“This really frustrated me and so I decided to use my programming hobby at the time to build a platform that makes this process less tedious and more accessible so our users don’t need to subscribe to redundant journals any more.”
Tim feels that the most challenging aspect of the company is changing old habits.
“The industry is over 350 years old and has really become ingrained within the status quo,” he says.
“However with the advent of the internet, the new generation of scientists and researchers have started a big movement towards change.
“Still the big players in the industry are not moving quickly enough and more and more institutions have started boycotting journals all together.
“There are several apps and social media services that also aim to move the industry away from the old journals model and who also provide online access to selected resources, but we are the first company that physically connects North America, UK/EU and Asia.”
Tim works at Scicasts full time and hopes that it will lead in the market.
“Initially we focused on academics, but we are trying to move into the commercial sector, pharmaceuticals and start-ups,” he said.
Scicasts’ ultimate ambition is to index every single research data that has ever been published.