Deniz AkAn eye for a good idea

Fourth year MBBS student Deniz reached the semi-final of the 2018 WE Innovate competition with her idea for a safe and transparent barrier – called StopScratch – to protect the skin of people with eczema when they feel the urge to scratch.

WE Innovate is designed to inspire a new generation of women entrepreneurs at Imperial. It consists of a series of workshops, talks by business leaders, and one-to-one mentoring sessions to help participants develop their innovative ideas.

“One of the best things about taking part in the WE Innovate competition has been the impact it has had on my confidence. Before, I never particularly saw myself as a leader but the motivational talks we received as part of the competition and the process itself have really changed the way I think.”

Becoming an entrepreneur

My journey as an entrepreneur was really an unexpected one, particularly at first.

A friend initially encouraged me to apply for WE Innovate and when I did, I hadn’t really worked up my idea to the point where I thought it could be a viable business – and it was far from the solution that StopScratch eventually became (a spray-on biofilm for eczema patients to apply on itchy areas. The biofilm provides a barrier which their fingernails will glide off).

As someone who has had eczema all my life, I drew heavily on my own experience for the idea but it was research that I read around a biofilm to stop people ageing which proved to be the key to the solution I eventually came up with.

A boost to my confidence

One of the best things about taking part in the WE Innovate competition has been the impact it has had on my confidence.

Before, I never particularly saw myself as a leader but the motivational talks we received as part of the competition and the process itself have really changed the way I think.

 I’ve also picked up other skills like pitching an idea – which is very similar to making a presentation in another context. And being creative.

Problem solving

The whole WE Innovate experience has been pretty transformational really – I now find that I automatically go looking for solutions to problems which is really important in medicine, especially when you’re working in hospitals and encountering health problems every day.

I still see my future as a doctor but it has opened my eyes to the fact that being an entrepreneur and being a doctor can go hand in hand.

Previously I had never really considered that this was an option open to me but now I know that if I ever come up with a solution that I think could have a broader application than just the patient I am treating, I will have the confidence and the know-how to explore taking it further.

Being a woman at Imperial

I went to an all-girls school so the idea that there was an imbalance of women in STEM wasn’t something that had even entered my head at that point.

Our physics lab was pink, for example, and we had a ‘Girls rule’ poster on the wall so it came as a real surprise to me when I started at Imperial to find that it was even an issue.

I took all the sciences at A-level because they were subjects I really enjoyed and I was good at them. Being part of mixed classes at Imperial hasn’t really changed my attitude towards gender – I don’t see that it makes any difference at all to how people perform in the classroom.

I have found, however, that the more people choose to focus on differences, the bigger the differences can seem. My way round this is to not compare myself to other people and to just focus on my own progress.

That’s easier said than done but I think that being at Imperial and all the activities that I have got involved with over the last four years have really helped with that as they have given me more confidence to believe in myself and to stop worrying as much about what other people think.

Choosing Imperial

I’d heard about Imperial’s excellent reputation for science from people in the years above me at school. I also knew that it was good for research which I felt was particularly important in my chosen subject (Medicine).

Even though I left school feeling fairly empowered and confident in my abilities as a scientist, being at Imperial has really helped me to take that to the next level.

I feel like I’ve really developed in my character over the past four years and that those developments have all been really positive.

Starting at the College

Looking back at my first term, I definitely did feel a little overwhelmed. Not only because it was my first time living away from home but also because so much of it was new. I didn’t, for example, have the sort of study skills that have now become second nature to me – like time management.

I was also a bit scared about the stereotypical student life image of all social activities involving drinking. However, that’s not been my experience at all and I found that it was easy to join in with everything I wanted to do, without feeling the pressure to drink if I didn’t want to.

I’ve also found that Imperial has good support network in place and I think it’s important to find someone to talk to. For me, that was the warden within my first-year halls. That’s also what partly inspired me to return to halls after my first year as a hall senior within the live-in residential support team in Selkirk Hall.

Maintaining a healthy balance

I found that one of the best things about Imperial is that it is really easy to find things to get involved in outside of your studies to help you maintain a healthy balance. It’s also a great way to meet people with similar interests.

I am part of the Salsa and Bachata team, which is really fun. I also play basketball on a casual basis and go to the gym a lot.

Unlike when I was part of the women’s basketball team in my first year, I’ve found that I am the only woman at the casual basketball sessions. I choose not to see that as a negative because while there is the fear that the other guys won’t pass to you, I’ve actually found that it’s given me more confidence to speak up. Once you do that, it’s amazing how quickly any barriers that may have been there quickly disappear and you’re soon on an equal footing with everyone else who is there just for the fun of it like you.