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Four ways Zinc is Accelerating Research and Innovation

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Zinc brings together the brightest minds to build and scale a brand new way to solve important societal problems. Our 12 month Venture Builder programme exists to build new companies that tackle the biggest social challenges in the developed world, and the next mission we’re tackling is to ensure that every child and young person can develop and maintain good mental and emotional health.

We’re currently looking to speak with researchers from all kinds of disciplines who want to get involved. You might want to become a start-up founder, start a collaboration, learn about opportunities to join our growing R&D team, or simply share knowledge and hear from other people who are passionate about this topic. If you’re interested to see how you can get involved please join one of our upcoming Meet & Greet events.

In this post, Zinc R&D team member Tim Shakespeare describes four ways Zinc aims to accelerate research and innovation.

One thing that unites the academic researchers I’ve met over more than 10 years working in research and development is a deep desire to make the world a better place. But too often I’ve found people frustrated by the system they work in, with competing incentives and demands on their time that mean opportunities for scientific advances to benefit people in the here and now are missed.

For me, moving to Zinc in November brought a new perspective on this all too common problem. It’s not just researchers who are frustrated by the challenges in achieving their potential for societal change. There are highly skilled people from all walks of life — creatives, engineers, public service professionals and entrepreneurs (to name a few) — longing for an opportunity to turn their talents to addressing society’s toughest problems. And increasingly, investors are seeing the benefits of funding companies that are built to advance a social purpose alongside a financial return.

Zinc aims to unlock the potential of motivated people to tackle the hardest challenges faced by society, by finding new ways to align financial, intellectual and social capabilities around them.

By bringing these capabilities together in one place, united behind a social mission, Zinc has created a unique environment that offers researchers and scientists an opportunity to be part of a new kind of innovation that tackles societal problems at scale. Often the pathway from ‘scientific insights’ to ‘products in people’s hands’ is slow and disjointed; at Zinc, we want the way we work to represent a new and different pathway that accelerates the impact of research, and creates potential to generate and share new knowledge. Here are four things about Zinc’s approach that excite me as a scientist who wants to see knowledge from research brought to bear on society’s biggest challenges.

1. Zinc empowers talented people to pursue their passion. Our reason for being is to unlock people’s potential to make a difference on our missions (our next programme’s mission is to tackle children and young people’s mental health). We bring talent from across industries and disciplines around a shared purpose, creating teams that have a unique strength from their diversity.

A great example comes from Dr Rebecca Love who joined as a founder on our mission to add quality years to later life. Rebecca has a background in research and a PhD in evidence-based social and policy interventions. Through the Zinc programme she joined up with Andrea Bechowitz who brought experience of working in women’s health at McKinsey and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, they shared a passion to close the data gap in healthcare for women and created Vira Health. Their first product, Stella, provides on-demand personalised menopause relief and aims to play a part in closing that data gap.

2. Zinc has an inspirational expectation for scale. We aim to develop products or services that can touch the lives of more than 100 million people in the developed world (or have a deeper impact for a smaller number of people). Zinc provides the commercial expertise needed to build start-ups that attract significant funding to reach this scale at pace, and by doing so have a transformative social impact.

3. Zinc embraces an experimental approach. Building a product is a lot like running an experiment. Assumptions or hypotheses around the product need to be understood and tested, and even before that, research is central to fully understand the problem to be tackled. Zinc start-ups use research knowledge and methods to refine their products and ensure they really are effective, whilst prioritising what’s engaging, usable and desirable for users. Where there are research gaps we encourage founders to take risks and ‘learn by doing’, whilst striking a responsible balance that draws on what is already known.

The experimental approach is emphasised by Dr Anna Hushlak in this video where scientists in Zinc ventures share their experience. Anna has a research background having previously undertaken a PhD on how technology and people can be harnessed to drive social change, and joined Zinc’s first mission, to improve women and girl’s mental health. There she co-founded Ferly which aims to empower 50 million women and folx with vulvas to have healthy, confident and pleasurable sex.

4. Zinc creates a thriving ecosystem around each mission. This goes far beyond what would be called interdisciplinary work in research departments, with world-leading experts from areas such as entrepreneurship, public policy, academia, business and charity lending their skills to support the mission and make connections that accelerate founders’ journeys.

Building a startup isn’t the only way to turn research into practice — and there are lots of great examples of organisations and initiatives doing this across a range of sectors and settings. But we think there is a particular opportunity for researchers and scientists who are attracted to the scale, pace, creativity, and interdisciplinarity of early-stage innovation to accelerate their impact in new ways.

Our next mission is to ensure that every child and young person can develop and maintain good mental and emotional health. We are looking to speak with researchers from all kinds of disciplines who are passionate about this mission. If you’re interested to see how you can get involved please join one of our upcoming Meet & Greets. You’ll hear what it takes to become a founder on the programme, and find out about the opportunities to use your research knowledge to shape the innovations that are developed.

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