November 15, 2017, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

Starting out with a start-up

This week we hear from Daljit Cheema, Founder & CEO of Pharmaseal Ltd about his experience of hosting Antonia, a University of Nottingham postgraduate student.

Postgraduate Placements Nottingham (PPN) has a reputation for facilitating mutually beneficial placement arrangements between start-up businesses and the University of Nottingham’s talented postgraduates, so it was an obvious decision for us to approach them when we found ourselves in need of market research and analysis support at a critical stage of our development.

Pharmaseal Ltd was born in 2016 with the mission to create a digital platform that enables our customers to increase control of their clinical trials and accelerate product development. We’re currently developing our first product to be launched in mid-2018 and needed to strategically segment our target customer-base which will comprise of approximately 3000 global biopharmaceutical companies. In practice this would require the postgraduate placement student to conduct research of the UK and US pharmaceutical markets, build potential customer databases for each region, and document their successful market research methodologies to ensure organisational resilience.

Given the business-critical nature of this project it was important to us to find the right candidate and, as such, I was very pleased with the structure of the interview and selection process which helped me to suspend unconscious bias during the process. Candidates were asked to prepare a short presentation which gave them an opportunity to showcase their research skills and understanding of the market. Secondarily, there was a question and answer element to the interview which helped reveal other skills.

The successful candidate Antonia Wong, an MSc Marketing student, had a natural charisma which helped give her the edge over the other candidates, as well fluent Spanish language skills which gave us the opportunity to research an additional and substantive global market which we had not anticipated having the opportunity to explore. After such a positive experience of the candidate selection process I was unsurprised to find that Antonia was a great fit with our existing team, asked a lot of great questions but didn’t need hand-holding, and had a mature approach to the project. She was confident in her research methods and just got to work. In particular, she developed her understanding of the industry quickly because she was proactive in setting up meetings with key people to grow her knowledge of the business. I could trust her to work remotely in whatever way suited her and we touched base about once a week to catch up on progress.

It would be honest to acknowledge that the project didn’t develop exactly as we had initially envisaged, but this was by no means a negative, simply reflecting the business development realities revealed by Antonia’s research, and the fact that we wanted to use her specialist translation skills as much as possible during her time with us. Ultimately Antonia’s work allowed us to extend our market research to the US region, provided us with translated business materials, and create a valuable database of potential future customers. It was valuable work which wouldn’t have been possible for us, as a start-up business, to carry out in detail without her skilled help.

The benefits of the Postgraduate Placements Nottingham (PPN) programme to new, start-up businesses have really been highlighted to me during this project and I will certainly aim to host another University of Nottingham postgraduate student next time we have a specific project that needs a specialist, detailed focus. At the same time, it was rewarding to be able to offer a student the chance to gain industry experience and apply their theoretical knowledge and skills in a commercial setting.

“It meant a lot to me when Antonia gave us post-placement feedback saying, “My postgraduate placement gave me the opportunity to develop my skills in market research in a friendly environment that valued my contributions and nurtured new talent.”

Whether you are a placement student or a potential host organisation I would strongly recommend the PPN programme as a placement scheme which is well-managed, highly flexible, and considerate of both host and student interests.

This project has received £2,000 of funding from the England European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) are the Managing Authorities for European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund funding through the Growth Programme, funds established by the European Union to help local areas stimulate their economic development. By investing in projects the funds will help to support innovation, businesses, skills and employment to improve local growth and create jobs. For more information visit


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