Diversity & Inclusion

Women in IP case study

Dr Asel Sartbaeva – Co-founder and CEO of EnsiliTech

Dr Asel Sartbaeva, a Chemistry researcher at Bath University and now also a co-founder and CEO of EnsiliTech, has spent the past decade inventing and working on a technique known as ensilication. Its purpose is to prevent vaccines from ‘spoiling’, even if they’ve been out of the fridge for extended periods of time. Her technique involves encasing a vaccine’s active components in a silica shell (simple sand), which keeps the structure intact whether the formulation is stored at room temperature or heated to 100°C. Vaccines are notoriously difficult to transport especially to remote or dangerous places and this novel technology has the potential to save many vaccines from spoiling so that they can be delivered safely to even the most remote locations and as such save many lives.

Dr Sartbaeva is a successful academic, with numerous publications, awards, multiple grants, and PhD students, and she has been working on silica-based materials for about 20 years. While developing ensilication, Dr Sartbaeva was prompted to spin-out a company to commercialise the technology. In 2020, after winning the Emerging Technologies Competition from RSC, and in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Sartbaeva decided to spin-out. “Pandemic has revealed how hard it is to transport and store vaccines in many countries. When I saw that some countries couldn’t receive life-saving vaccines due to lack of cold chain equipment, I decided that it’s time for ensilication to remove this dependence on fridges and freezers, so I started the spin-out process”.

Dr Sartbaeva has taken part in several programmes aimed at helping academics to bring their technology out of the lab to the real world. The team joined Spin Up Science Ventures, a venture accelerator dedicated to supporting early-stage academic breakthroughs, and in 2022 spun out of the University of Bath. They then went on to secure £300k of grant funding from the Innovate UK ICURe programme. In December 2022, they finalized the oversubscribed pre-seed round of investment, which was led by Dr. Johnathan Matlock, CEO of Science Angel Syndicate (SAS). They raised £1.2M, with SAS and QantX (a Bristol-based VC) as the largest investors.

Dr Sartbaeva is a recipient of the Enterprise Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering. This one-year fellowship includes financial support to help the recipients during the spin-out process and fundraising for the company development, as well as teaching modules for running a successful company, including fundraising, financial, marketing and leadership. “Having the support of Spin Up Science and Enterprise Fellowship has really opened up my eyes and helped me in transitioning from being an academic to an entrepreneur. I think the skill set in both is very similar – leadership, solving problems, thinking outside the box etc. However, navigating the business world could be quite scary, because of different language used and attitudes that it’s a “gentlemen’s club”. It’s changing gradually and schemes such as Enterprise Fellowship definitely help to level the playing field.”

Dr Sartbaeva comments:

Patenting ensilication technology has been a critical step towards securing patient access to life saving medicines and vaccines, particularly in low or middle-income countries. I have been working with Isobel Finnie, Partner at HLK, who has been supporting me and my team through the process of obtaining valuable patent protection underpinning the process of delivering this much needed innovation. Having the IP protection was crucial for securing the investments that let us establish the company.

Date Published: 26 April 2023

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