Joanne Whitaker

Joanne runs Favio, a company that manufactures an innovative backless bra. At doctoral study level she liked "that you are in control of your own destiny and your own learning. You can choose your path, and you get out what you put in..."

"I studied my first degree at Birmingham, and then I moved to Nottingham to study a Masters degree in oncology. I really enjoyed the research component of the MSc and decided to carry it forward into a PhD. The area of my doctorate was biomedical sciences – specifically immunology and oncology. I was looking at antigens that could be important in developing cancer treatment vaccines. Much of your first degree was learning to pass tests, but at doctoral study level I liked that you are in control of your own destiny and your own learning. You can choose your path ,and you get out what you put in. I found it even more interesting because my research supervisor had a spin-out company – she was taking her research towards finding a cure for cancer.

"I had become a bit disillusioned with academia on noticing that career progression was more limited for women – female heads of department within science disciplines were rare, although postgraduates made up more than 50% of the intake. I decided I didn’t want to fight that battle, instead deciding to combine my science and business knowledge. Having had a variety of jobs involving sales and marketing during my academic career, I realised that I had other skill sets besides those I had learnt in academia, and I was interested in turning research that was interesting into research that made a difference to society.

"Following my PhD, I completed the prestigious Medici Fellowship full-time, and I worked with Health Care and Life Science Inventions developed from University of Nottingham research. It included training around bringing a new product to market with intellectual property (IP), such as patents, at the core. I learned a lot about inventing new products and bringing them to market. Following this I worked at NHS Innovations (the same type of job for the NHS), and then Fusion IP – a venture capitalist investor who invested in IP from the University of Sheffield in order to license technology and start spin-out companies. Again, turning interesting research into research that matters.

"Whilst my career involved working with inventors to bring new products to market, I had myself invented a new product in my spare time – a gravity defying bra! It took me about three years to raise investment, recruit staff and start selling the finished product (D+ Perk Ups). You have to get the product to a certain stage, and spend quite a bit on IP costs before it is ready to sell. We then invented another product that we sold a licence for, and we hope that will be sold as ‘the new Wonderbra ®’ in 2011/2012.

"I found that my doctoral study really taught me to think logically and carry out effective research and development – some very transferable skills. There were quite a few challenges along the way, but my experience in technology transfer for universities and the NHS was the perfect background I needed as it taught the basics of doing business in this way.

"Inventing and launching a new product requires a broad range of skills – financial, business, technical, IP, funding, research, development, people management, customer service, and many more. All my little jobs during college, my degrees and full-time work prepared me for the experience of running a company. My advice is to say that learning is never a waste of time – you never know when it might come in handy!"