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28 March, 2016 - 01:39 By Tony Quested

Born on the 4th of July and Torchbearer Disley is just Yankee Doodle Dandy!

Darrin Disley, the CEO of multi-Award winner Horizon Discovery, has started, grown, invested in or mentored at least one life science, technology, retail or social enterprise for every year of his life. 

Given that his first thoughts of enterprise only began 25 years ago following arrival in Cambridge to study for his PhD under Professor Christopher Lowe that is a dizzying rate of activity.

As well as steering the growth of Horizon Discovery into a global personalised medicines gamechanger, Dr Disley has immersed himself in the startup community and helped fashion an impressive stable of science & technology thoroughbreds. 

He has injected his own cash into a 10-year endowment of the Christopher R Lowe Carpe Diem Enterprise Fund hosted by Cambridge University and which for the past four years has offered student bursaries to study bioscience enterprise, sponsorship of student societies and non-dilutive funding and precious mentorship to so many new ventures through the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) competition.

His influence has never been more evident than in the last couple of weeks as his pedigree progeny have racked up the accolades. In the Business Weekly Awards, Horizon Discovery won the Cambridge Torchbearer prize that recognises a business deemed capable of becoming the ‘killer’ of all ‘killers.’ That meant not just having a vision for world leadership but an identifiable roadmap to realise the strategy.

Throughout the evening it seemed that all the stage was influenced by Darrin Disley. Up came Jelena Akesic to receive the inaugural Cambridge Judge Business School Woman Entrepreneur of the Year obelisk. Darrin is a personal mentor and advisory board member for the embryonic business and we understand is soon to be a significant investor in the venture.

Then up came Healx to collect the Cambridge Graduate Business of the Year trophy. Dr Disley is an advisory board member of this impressive young company dedicated to finding drugs and therapies for people with rare diseases. The company owes its start to Carpe Diem Award funding which helped persuade Cambridge greats Hermann Hauser and Jonathan Milner to back the business.

Big Data trailblazer GeoSpock and Desktop Genetics, which does what it says on the tin, were also finalists in other categories. Both got their funding start through CUE and Darrin is chairman and co-founder of GeoSpock and chairman of Desktop and lead investor of both.  

GeoSpock CEO and co-founder Steve Marsh was recently named in the Forbes ‘30 under 30’ rankings as one of Europe’s leading young tech entrepreneurs and Desktop last week received the coveted SXSW Biotech Innovation award in the US.

Another of the companies who got started via CUE funding and on whose advisory board Darrin sits – SimPrints – also made the Forbes rankings (for social enterprise) and has progressed to the global rounds of the Bill Clinton-inspired Hult Prize for social entrepreneurship. It has created a fingerprint scanner which enables community health workers in developing countries to access patient records through the touch of a finger. Both SimPrints and GeoSpock won Business Weekly Awards in March 2015.

Darrin’s LinkedIn profile sees him described as ‘Parallel entrepreneur, angel investor and enterprise champion,’ although this hardly does justice to the time he has devoted to helping young business founders. 

For the record, he has started, grown and/or invested in >30 start-up companies in healthcare, IT and technology sectors, raising $300 million of business financing and closing over $450m in business development and M & A deals.

As an advisory board member and repeat investor in Axol Bioscience, Darrin is backing what we believe to be one of the most exciting human stem cell companies. Axol is based on Nobel Prizewinning technology (Gurdon and Yamanaka for stem cell reprogramming) and the same can be said of a new venture from the Horizon camp – Avvinity Therapeutics (Kary Mullis for polymerase chain reaction).

Dr Disley is director and co-founder of the new company, which is leveraging the power of immuno-oncology to fight cancers on a vastly differentiated front. 

To complete a trio of Nobel Prizewinning connections he is a director of Cell Therapy Ltd (Sir Martin Evans for homologous recombination gene editing) a company with treatments currently in clinical trials that repair tissue damage from severe heart attacks. He advises Cambridge Ahead, Cambridge Phenomenon – helping to grow the cluster he so loves – and is a board member of the UK Bioindustry Association and Regional Council Member of the CBI; he has many other irons in the fire to bolster further the power of Horizon’s proposition as a world leader in gene editing, molecular, cell and gene therapies.

It is very much a fire of his own making as the evangelical flame inside him burns ever brighter. A Cambridge Torchbearer indeed – and a torch he intends to pass to whole new generations of entrepreneurs.

• PHOTOGRAPH: Tim Guilliams (left), Darrin Disley (second left) and Dan O’Donovan of Healx with the Graduate Business of the Year Award, presented by Hanadi Jabado of the Cambridge Judge Business School

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