From the lab to a start-up company

Elena Toh’s passion for business was sparked in a science lab.

Back in 2006, Elena (MBA 2017) started her PhD in Peptide Biochemistry at University of Melbourne’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre and had set out to find a new, low cost, pain free solution to treat the severe gum disease, periodontitis.

Over the four years of the project, Elena made a startling discovery that some peptides (small particles of protein) from cows’ milk could reduce the activity of enzymes in the bacteria that caused this gum disease.

The discovery, which was reported worldwide, has been patented to be added to toothpaste or dental mousses.

Elena said having completed a commercially viable research project she became interested in moving into the business world “or the ‘dark side’ as most scientists say”.

In 2007, Elena undertook a Graduate Certificate in Research Commercialisation at MBS. She said this experience, where she was alongside full time MBA students inspired her to go further.

“The MBA students were energetic, positive and highly ambitious and the lecturers were engaging and subject matter very interesting,” Elena said.

In 2013, she started her MBA part time and will graduate in 2017. She is going on exchange to Madrid’s IE Business School this year, which has a strong social entrepreneurship scene, and is really looking forward to the experience.

“I went into the MBA knowing that I didn’t want to continue a career in research but was open to any opportunity that presented itself,” Elena said.

“Business is no different to science, in that it is all about a solid foundation of fact-based research, critical evaluation and data analysis.

“But in business, it is also important to have the leadership skills and persuasion tools to communicate ideas, to make change happen, and to bring people along with you.”

Now, Elena is in Operations for Melbourne-based start-up Rision, a team planning, analytics and recruitment platform for candidates, employees, managers and HR professionals.

As Rision is a start-up with a small staff, Elena is performing many functions across the business. Her focus among others, is setting up company systems including a CRM and shared drives, management of employees, assisting in the development of policies, company reports and documents, and supporting the Managing Director in external relations and partnership engagement. In particular, as a start- up with a social conscience, she is focusing on the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility policy and partnering with not-for-profits and social enterprises, which share the company’s values.  

“The MBA has helped me think more strategically and in a more business minded way and I believe that businesses can have a huge impact on and a responsibility to the community,” she said. 

“I have also formed many friendships with my cohort and syndicate groups and developed networks at MBS that have helped open many doors for me.”