Startup advice from Innovation Prof. Winnie E. Svendsen

Thursday 07 Nov 19

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Winnie Edith Svendsen
Professor
DTU Bioengineering
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Professor Winnie Edith Svendsen from DTU Bioengineering shares her vision and advice for innovation at universities. Her wish is that more senior researchers would go into innovation and argues that nothing is more important than the team.

Professor Winnie Edith Svendsen from DTU Bioengineering is well known for her experience within innovation at DTU. Throughout her time at DTU, she has been involved in many new companies and functioned as a mentor to her students. This has all been alongside her academic career as Professor specialised in micro and Nano integrated system for Bio Medical application.

How two + two can equal more than four

Recently Professor Svendsen earned the title Innovation Professor – a rarity at DTU. However, she will also continue as Professor in research. So what does it mean to be a Professor in Innovation? Winnie E. Svendsen will primarily use the title to motivate senior researchers to work with innovation. She wishes that more seniors would go into innovation at universities, and strives to be an example of this. 

"Two + two equals much more than four when you are doing both research and innovation"
Professor Winnie Svendsen

Only a small percentage of senior researchers  work with innovation at DTU and that is a shame. According to Prof. Winnie E. Svendsen, there is a notion that working with innovation can stand in the way of your academic career and your research group.

”The reason why ’innovation’ is important in my Professor title is that it might  change todays picture and acknowledge senior researchers, that are involved in innovation, as well as showing that it can be advantageously to have a career as a researcher at the same time. By staying at the university and working with innovation, we can be mentors for so many young people and share our knowledge and experience”, she explains.

Professor Winnie E. Svendsen advocates that, “2 + 2 equals much more than 4 when you are doing both research and innovation”.

The team is everything

Her strong motivation for working with innovation comes from wanting to make an impact. “What motivates me is making a difference. I’m a researcher at heart but I want my research to make a difference. We all need to consider what drives us”. 

Strong  motivation lights a fire and Prof. Winnie E. Svendsen wants to share that fire with others. So what is her best advice?

If you want to work in innovation, ”You need to get a clear picture of  what motivates you, is it research, innovation or entrepreneurship or a combination. Then you need to be completely honest with yourself about what your role should be in e.g. a potential company and whether or not you should leave university for that company. If, as a senior researcher, you want to stay at the university, I recommend that you have a role of some kind, but at the same time be realistic about the amount of work you can put into it. You shouldn’t necessarily have 50 percent of the company just because it stems from your research group.”

According to Prof. Svendsen, the most important thing in the startup phase. Not the idea but the team is the most important factor. Even a great invention will not go far if the team isn’t right.

“It is extremely important that a team is clear on who does what”, she says. She has seen examples of teams that consisted of researchers with the same skills who all thought they were supposed to do the same thing. It doesn’t work like that, she explains. There has to be people that represents all skills needed for the company.

“The team needs to be completely clear about their role, and on how things work, otherwise the team will split up when it gets tough and it will get tough.

Taking risks

Of course, there is a certain degree of risk taking in the innovation game, and if you are afraid to fail, you might never go anywhere. 

”Even if your company is successful, you will fail a lot along the way. You need to make mistakes and you need to  learn from them.” Failing is never the end. In fact, it could be the beginning of something remarkable. Professor Svendsen’s own innovation story starts with a company that never took off. That was at the University of Copenhagen decades ago. It involved a team that just wasn’t working and other unfortunate external circumstances. But the beauty of trying to create something new is that it is often the beginning of an entirely different story. For Prof. Winnie E. Svendsen, that experience was the starting point of what ultimately led her to her role as Innovation Professor at DTU and a mentor for students with big dreams. Her best advice to young people is to keep going even when it gets hard. “Many students have great ambitions of becoming entrepreneurs, but give up when they encounter bumps on the road, they need to keep going when it gets hard. Because it will get hard – but it will hopefully be a lot of fun too”, she finishes.