Dr Peter Varnai isn’t any ordinary businessman. A theoretical chemist by training, he swapped the world of academia for the world of business when he undertook the MBA programme at the Business School, graduating in 2013. He currently works as Principal of the Health and Life Sciences division at Technopolis Group, a leading international consultancy specialising in the evaluation of science, technology and innovation.
Previously a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at Cambridge, Peter took up a position as a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex in 2007. His research sought to understand how the physical structure of biomolecules relates to their function, with the aim of understanding nature’s intricate processes and designing new medicines. His research has featured in several high profile publications and he is now a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. With such an established career in science, why did he make the switch to business?
‘I wanted to explore how science could make the biggest possible impact on society through the development of creative ideas that would ultimately make a difference to people’s lives. In order to continue to push the boundaries of science, I realised I needed to learn more about business.’
What made Peter decide to enrol on the MBA programme at Imperial? ‘One of my friends had done an MBA and recommended it as an opportunity to gain the valuable knowledge and skills needed to turn ideas into reality in a short space of time. As I wanted to remain close to the world of science, I saw the Imperial MBA as the perfect fit at the cross-over between science and business.’
Peter decided to explore the field of mobile health technology and embarked on a five month project for his MBA as part of the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design programme. This work included analysing business models that would encourage primary healthcare providers to adopt new technology platforms. This project involved working directly with DigitalStitch, a spin out from Imperial, which looks at how mobile technology can be used to improve the quality of patient experience and deliver cost-efficient healthcare solutions.
Peter then worked on the challenges of Open Innovation in drug discovery as part of his MBA project with Professor Rifat Atun and a former MSc International Health Management student, Thyra de Jongh. This consultancy project looked at new business models aimed at developing innovative medicines for the diseases of the developing world. Peter and Thyra now both work at Technopolis Group and contribute to shaping future health innovation policies in Europe. What was it that attracted Peter to healthcare? ‘Health is such a fundamental part of people’s lives no matter where they live and therefore has enormous potential to foster innovation and economic growth.’
Peter has demonstrated his passion for healthcare and innovation with a number of pioneering initiatives including the ‘Smart Ageing’ project for the Irish government, where he led on a major study to assess opportunities from a broad economic and social perspective and recommended policy actions for the benefit of the ageing population. He has also worked on new ways of responsible sharing of health data for the Wellcome Trust and evaluated a global health programme for the Research Council of Norway.
How did his experience at Imperial contribute to his current success? ‘The MBA fuelled my enthusiasm for innovation and entrepreneurship and my desire to work with ambitious people to make a positive impact on society. It has also given me the confidence to hone the softer skills necessary in business – team work, negotiation and the ability to work with partners at all levels from ministers to members of your immediate team.’