Lord Drayson was the entrepreneur behind vaccine manufacturer PowderJect. He floated the business on the LSE in 1997 and sold it to Chiron for £550m in 2003 – making an estimated personal fortune of £40m in the process. He made the move into politics five years ago.
He met James Caan at an event at No 10 back in January. “We were there promoting science and innovation,” he told Real Business. “James turned to me and said, ‘It’s a shame there isn’t a BAFTA-style ceremony for businesses in this sector’. It all started from there.
“This is the first time the government has supported an event like this. The iAwards recognise not just the startups or the big bluechips but the entire spectrum of Britain’s science and innovation innovation champions.”
Lord Drayson said one company really stood out for him on the night: British biotech firm Horizon, which scooped the iAward of the Year gong. Horizon has, in effect, created a cancer patient in a test-tube, which should help to identify personalised cancer treatment, reduce R&D costs, and increase patient survival.
“Entrepreneurs have two really tough jobs right now,” commented Lord Drayson. “The first is to survive. The second is to position themselves for growth when the upturn comes. Where the government can help is with the provision of finance. At the moment, six per cent of companies provide 50 per cent of the jobs in this country. Those figures desperately need to change – we must give entrepreneurs more help to get their businesses off the ground.”
The government is launching a special £1bn innovation fund next month – £150m of which will come from the government purse, while the rest will be stumped up by the private sector. “Previously, we’ve had a parliamentary funding limit of £10m per company but that has been removed,” added Lord Drayson.
The science minister described his role in politics as an “interlude”. “I have an engineering PhD,” he said. “I’m a science entrepreneur. And these awards have certainly inspired me to start up another business!”