“I was pushed out of the comfort zone of my PhD and was challenged by real life tech transfer cases.” Frederik Van Leemputte is completing his internship at VIB’s Innovation & Business team and is a brisk campaigner of the program. “The installation of an internship program has been a great asset for our team and it creates an excellent opportunity for young and dynamic researchers to broaden their skills as well.” Els Hermans, Business Development manager at VIB, confirms the added value of their recently launched internship program.
When did the idea of an internship at VIB’s Innovation & Business team arise?
Els: “In clinically oriented life sciences, such as veterinary medicine and animal health, the concept of an internship has been implemented for many years, giving young clinicians the possibility to enroll in a rotating program at different medical units for a limited time. I have a background as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and am quite familiar with the idea of an internship program and its potential benefits. Within VIB’s tech transfer unit, we anticipated that an internship program could be a great asset too, and a splendid opportunity for young and dynamic researchers with an interest in business.”
How is the internship organized?
Els: “We want to offer a great experience within the relatively short time frame of one year, while maintaining a balance between the requisites of a specific field and the capacities of the young applicants.
The Innovation & Business team at VIB consists of four different units: Intellectual Property, Business Development, New Ventures and VIB Discovery Sciences. Therefore, we opted for a 3-month period at each unit. In each 3-month period, we alternate theoretical courses with a variety of practical exercises, supervised by the head of the unit and her/his team. The time periods are too short to acquire all the specific knowledge and know-how, but at least in one year our interns get to flavor different fields of tech transfer.”
The bigger picture
Frederik, why did you apply for an internship at the VIB Innovation & Business team?
Frederik: “When I was writing my PhD thesis, I was given the opportunity to temporarily step in for a Business Developer at VIB HQ. That way, I came in touch with both the people and the activities of VIB’s Innovation & Business team, which was definitely an eye opener for me as a PhD student. I applied for the first internship program to deepen my business development skills and to experience other aspects of tech transfer such as spinoff creation, drug discovery, and IP.”
In what way did the internship differ from your PhD-work?
Frederik: “During my PhD I had to remain laser-focused on my research topic in the lab, while at VIB HQ I was exposed to a broad range of biotech valorization routes. That exposure heavily changed my perspective. On top of that, it was exciting for me to be able to develop totally new skillsets. The internship strikes the perfect balance between theoretical study and real-life cases.”
Any personal highlights so far?
Frederik: “I was able to work on a variety of scientific topics. At the IP team, I came into contact with PIs and researchers of six different VIB centers. Under the guidance of the IP managers, I’ve helped with patentability and Freedom to Operate (FTO) analyses, IP landscaping, drafted the claims for a new patent, and completed a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application. I arrived at the New Ventures team just when a really interesting project gained traction. There, I was involved in activities ranging from scientific due diligence to term sheet negotiations. It was genuinely interesting to meet with different stakeholders, such as scientific founders and researchers, business partners, and investors. Next up is Business Development, and I really look forward to join the VIB Discovery Science team! Overall, I greatly appreciate the flexibility of the team. Their openness is absolutely key to the success of the internship.”
Out of the comfort zone
In what way are the internships an asset for VIB and the VIB community?
Els: “By offering the possibility of an internship to young researchers and opening up our in-house expertise to others, we believe we can further contribute to the ecosystem in Belgium and abroad. We thus generate a pool of highly qualified scientists with a clear notice of tech transfer and a better understanding of the field. Some of them will be involved in valorization projects and/or join our team as future colleagues. In sum, we create champion ambassadors of VIB, spreading the legacy of VIB and expanding the network.”
Frederik, which skills did you acquire that could be valuable for your future career?
Frederik: “The program definitely pushed me to step out of the comfort zone of my PhD project. During the internship at the VIB Innovation & Business Team, you really are submerged into all aspects of tech transfer, closely interacting with the biotech ecosystem, which is great for your network. VIB takes up a central position in the local life sciences ecosystem and is a perfect representative of the biotech industry. On top of that you acquire soft skills, such as negotiating and stakeholder management. Skills that you would not necessarily develop in a lab-setting.”
Johan Cardoen, former Managing Director at VIB:
“One of the key roles of VIB is to train and provide a dynamic and highly qualified talent pool for local life sciences companies and organizations. Via this internship program, we offer business experience to young scientists, which can help them to get their foot in the door of industry.”