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Gap Summit

Selfie with Sir Isaac Newton’s famous apple tree, sleeping at Trinity Hall where Stephen Hawking once bunked, and Hogwarts-style dinner at Trinity College Dining Halls are a few of many highlights I had while I attended the 2016 Gap Summit hosted at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

This post is about a few lessons I learnt at the Summit that I have constantly been thinking and talking about since I got back. Most of these lessons are not completely foreign to me. If anything they re-emphasize things someone once told me. But hearing them from global leaders and repeated by people from various nations of the world really have drove them home.

Taking risks

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of comfort and excitement that so many entrepreneurs felt about taking on risk. Some laughed when asked how they were so confident in taking the risk of starting their own ventures. Replies ranged from “What do you mean risk? I just saw it as something exciting! People say they have a lot to lose but really most things you can come back to if you want” to “I knew it might not work out but that is also good. Failure makes your CV better – it helps you stand out.” To be honest, both of those thoughts had not crossed my mind. I hate to use a cliché but it really is about seeing risk as a glass half-full.


Merger and acquisition rates in the biotech industry are rapidly growing. Sophie Bonnet, Head of Roche Partnering, emphasised the importance of partnership projects, saying collaborative projects have double the probability of success compared to those without. I think we can all take a leaf out of Big Pharma’s books. It is beneficial in the development of ourselves and our ventures to be comfortable with collaboration, think long-term about how others can add value to your growth and know how to make others your partners instead of competitors.

Mentorship and Advice

Lisa Altmann-Richer, the Gap Summit president, opened the Summit by stating the famous words of Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further it is only through standing on the shoulders of giants.” It is important to recognize that what we can achieve today is only possible from building on the hard work and experiences of those before us.  This is not just about appreciation, but also understanding the value of mentorship and advice. This was emphasized many times during the Gap Summit. Although it is easy to become eager and make all your decisions on your own, it is important to seek advice and guidance from people who are more experienced. Professor Alan Barrel from Judge Business School described mentors as “absolutely invaluable” especially for business development. Reginald Seeto, Head of Partnering and Strategy at MedImmune, said he talked to 300 people before he made the decision to leave McKinsey & Company Consulting.


Ipshita Mandal, President of Global Biotech Revolution, made a wise statement reminding us  that the public are not stupid, just experts in other things. It is easy to get caught up in our own areas of expertise and assume that when others don’t understand it is their problem. Focusing on your style and methods of communication to have open dialogue with those outside of your industry is key in developing your work further. It is important to see this as a two-way street where you are not just communicating and telling people what they don’t know but that you allow others to show you what you don’t know. Insights from those outside of your areas is beneficial because they may point out important things from an angle or perspective that you are not familiar with.

I met leaders and peers from close to 50 countries at the Gap Summit who have become valuable connections. I learnt so many other lessons I can’t really put into words but will definitely work hard to put into practice. Most importantly, I left proud that I represented New Zealand at such a reputable international forum.  

I would like to thank Chiasma for their generous contribution to my travel costs, which supported me to attend this inspirational event.