Science in Industry: Interactive Workshop with EPSRC New & Sustainable PV CDT

Posted on Wed, Feb 07, 2018 by Ashley Wong

Ossila is once again proud to provide industrial support for the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council's (EPSRC)  Centre for Doctoral Training in New & Sustainable Photovoltaics (CDT-PV). 

Continuing our annual tradition of running workshops with the new cohort of 1st-year PhD students, this marked our third consecutive year collaborating with the CDT-PV in hosting a training workshop (the previous two focused on Scientific Python coding). This year, our workshop was part of the CDT-PV's training on the commercialisation of science.

CDT-PV students getting a tour of an Ossila lab
CDT-PV students during the Ossila lab tour.


To start the day off, the CDT-PV were invited to the Ossila Headquarters for a introductory session and office tour, led by Dr. James Kingsley (Managing Director of Ossila). In the main office area, James explained the role of each individual department, and how they all worked cooperatively to contribute to the bigger picture of running a successful business. Following a quick laboratory tour, James conducted an interactive presentation on Ossila's history, mission, and philosophical values. 


Dr. James Kingsley from Ossila delivering an interactive lecture session to the EPSRC CDT-PV
Dr. James Kingsley speaking to CDT-PV students during the interactive session.


After a lunch break, several employees from various departments in Ossila (R&D, Operations, Manufacturing, and Chemistry) led an interactive discussion session with the students, hoping to give them insight on what a typical product planning/design process looks like on the commercial side of science, as well as a deeper understanding of our products. To ensure that everyone would have the chance to be heard, people were split into smaller groups. Topics discussed ranged from general business matters (like feasibility and costings), to marketing-related matters - like the importance of picking intuitive-sounding names to help avoid confusing individuals from a non-scientific background (e.g. staff in purchasing departments) or non-native English speakers. To wrap things up, the CDT-PV were tasked with brainstorming ideas for products that align with the Ossila catalogue. 


EPSRC CDT-PV students during an informal discussion with Ossila employees
Dr. Chris Bracher (left) and Ms. Monika (2nd from left) during an informal discussion with some CDT-PV students.


Dr. Nick Scarratt from Ossila was involved in the day's events, and was pleased at how things went:

"These are intelligent, promising students who already have a lot of scientific knowledge. The business side of things might have been out of their comfort zone, but it was great to see them thinking commercially. Very quickly, they understood the differences between blue-skies vs. commercial science - they started thinking realistically and kept costs in mind, coming up with practical product ideas. I hope we were able to introduce them to the realities of practical product design, and the need to ensure that both cost and quality align with the market's wants & needs.


The next morning, students presented their product suggestions to board members of Ossila during a mock product pitch session. Their ideas mostly stemmed from the issues they personally faced whilst working in a lab, such as sample storage, and difficulties in handling substrates with tweezers. To ensure the challenge replicated real-life business situations, presentations were judged based on the idea, product, target market, development costs, and profit margin.


CDT-PV students pitching their mock product suggestions to Ossila
The mock product pitch session.


Prof. David Lidzey, an Academic Supervisor of the CDT-PV and Chairman of Ossila Ltd, had a few words to say about this year’s business training:

“Our aim was to get the PhD students to see how a small tech company works in practice. The first-year student cohort on the New and Sustainable Photovoltaics CDT course have just taken part in a week-long intensive business training module at the University of Cambridge, and this has equipped them with plenty of theoretical knowledge about science in industry. We wanted to build on this, and let them see first-hand how a tech company works in real life and what the actual day-to-day process of running a business looks like. These PhD students are just starting out in their academic career, so for most of them – it’s their first opportunity to interact with a scientific business in such a way. By challenging them to propose a new product for the Ossila catalogue, we wanted to show them that an idea brainstormed in a PhD research group had the potential to be commercialised.“


 EPSRC CDT-PV students with Ossila Chairman, Prof. David Lidzey
The CDT-PV's 4th cohort of 1st-year students with Ossila's Chairman, Prof. David Lidzey (right).


Ossila is a firm believer in academic-industrial collaboration opportunities like this, as they are mutually beneficial and allow us to strengthen ties with the academic community. PhD students get to learn practical applications that can aid their research, and see how science works in a business context. Conversely, we are provided with valuable user feedback to consider when improving current or developing new products. Engaging in back-and-forth discourse with students also gives us reminders of the issues faced by early-career researchers. We enjoy being challenged by agile young minds with fresh perspectives, as it keeps us on our toes!



Author: Ashley Wong

Hailing from a Psychology background, Ashley has an MSc in Organizational/Work Psychology from the Sheffield University Management School. Prior to joining Ossila, Ashley worked with two multi-national organizations, researching emotional labour in the life insurance industry. In 2017, she successfully led the process of writing & applying for a prestigious Institute of Physics Business Innovation Award, which resulted in Ossila winning its first-ever industrial award.