Lessons From A Decade Of Bridging The People Gap

It’s been over ten years since New Zealand’s (NZ) national student organization was founded, a big milestone and a time for reflection. Chiasma strives to foster links between science students, academia and industry.

Back in 2004, New Zealand’s science industry looked dramatically different from today’s more collaborative and integrated biotech ecosystem. Universities were institutional ivory towers where business-anything was a betrayal of academic purity. Students were disconnected from each other across different universities and the wider world due to a lack of infrastructure to bring them together. There was also a distinct gap in soft-skills training for young scientists.

That all changed when, three PhD students from The University of Auckland created Chiasma – a fully for-student by-student entity that would engender a bottom-up invigoration of the entire ecosystem.

Chiasma has taken specific actions to foster the connection between students from different universities by establishing the flag ship event called Synapse.

Since its inception, Chiasma has facilitated networking platforms for students, academics and business professionals, educated the former on how their research can contribute to furthering a knowledge-based economy, and inspired New Zealand's leaders of tomorrow.

Number of attendees at Synapse over the past five years, which has seen a steady organic growth.

Number of attendees at Synapse over the past five years, which has seen a steady organic growth.

On the business side, Chiasma has majorly contributed to the shift in paradigm of science commercialisation in New Zealand. For example Callaghan Innovation - the government entity whose mission is to accelerate innovation commercialisation - has recently joined Chiasma as a major sponsor. The transformational impact of Chiasma, the so-called "Chiasma Effect", can also be seen in the professional career path of alumni. Over the years, Chiasma has spawned an array of Fulbright scholars, MBA graduates from the likes of Stanford, Harvard and Wharton, PhDs from top institutions, business leaders, and entrepreneurs out to change the world.

Dr Priv Bradoo , Chiasma’s cofounder, completed an MBA at HBS. From there she pursued a career at BCG and Google-backed Singularity University, and led business development for clean-tech start-ups. She is now the cofounder and CEO of BlueOak, an award-winning start-up aimed at alleviating the huge ecological and social impact of electronic-waste.

“THE MORE YOU GET INVOLVED WITH CHIASMA, THE MORE YOU GET OUT OF IT. NETWORK, INTERACT WITH YOUR PEERS IN CHIASMA – THEY WILL BE IN AMAZING PLACES ACROSS THE GLOBE IN 5 TO 10 YEARS’ TIME – THINK OUTSIDE YOUR DEGREE AND OF THE CHANGES YOU CAN MAKE.”

Chiasma alumnus, Ipshita Mandal.

Following success in Auckland, Chiasma was encouraged to spread the Chiasma Effect across the rest of NZ. So began the nationwide roll-out project in 2013. Now university students in Wellington – NZ’s capital, and Dunedin – a research hub, can access Chiasma programs. Global Biotech Revolution and the GapSummit itself have their own roots in Chiasma, founded by Dr Ipshita Mandal who led Chiasma prior to her PhD at the University of Cambridge. In essence, GBR has turbo-charged the “Chiasma Effect” and taken it global.

Looking Forward to the Next Decade

NZ today boasts the highest political transparency in the world. It’s ranked number one for its educational quality by The World Bank and produces a very high per capita research volume. So what’s the missing link for this still primary industry-driven nation in becoming a prosperous knowledge-driven economy? It all comes down to the people. We need more young, educated knowledge professionals that understand the importance of extracting commercial value from first-class scientific research, and generations that are born-global from day one.

People are at the heart of solving the grand challenges – the gaps – the global biotech industry faces. Chiasma has long been on-board this journey, while the GBR journey has only recently begun. In the end, however, it’s pretty simple: We make the connections, and you make the difference.

During the past decade Chiasma has gathered valuable experience in building and developing a nationwide student network and enhanced brilliant individuals by supporting them with the right tools for their own businesses. Chiasma would be delighted to share the experience with other national student organisations in the South East Asia region and is open to collaborations with like-minded students.