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Andrew Skinn, Director of Baker Ruskinn

What are your main responsibilities?

As a director of Baker Ruskinn, I help lead the field in developing technologies that deliver affordable, real-time information about cell behaviour in abnormal physiology.

I have also been involved in a range of other innovations, including an instant test for microbial hygiene which was sold to Biotrace International, a 3M company. It’s also worth mentioning that, like most innovators, I can never walk away from any problem I identify – which often means juggling multiple ideas at any one time.

How did you get into the industry?

After graduating in Business Studies from the University of Leeds in 1983, I joined a biotech company and was promoted to sales & marketing director within a couple of years. However, I was always determined to be my own boss, so I set up Ruskinn in 1993. There, we developed what would later be known as the Bug Box – an anaerobic workstation for culturing microorganisms.

What did you do before this job?

As the owner of Ruskinn, my focus was building up strong relationships with universities and research institutes as I wanted to deliver the best tools for the research they were looking to undertake. By the early 2000s, Ruskinn equipment was assisting pioneering research in leading academic institutions such as Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. Today, more than 1,500 of our workstations are in use all over the world, supporting research into cell and molecular biology including regenerative medicine and stem-cell research. Over 2,000 journals reference Ruskinn workstations’ presence and the part they played in significant medical breakthroughs. So before this ‘job’, I was building the foundations for Ruskinn to succeed and sold the business to Baker in 2011.

What do you do in a typical day?

The world is always ‘On’ and to some extent so am I, I don’t sleep until I clear my head of daily tasks and ideas. The diversity of my role both geographically and through the variety of daily challenges keeps me busy; thankfully the internet evolved at the same time I founded Ruskinn. The digital revolution has meant I can work everywhere and free from routine… my office is often an aircraft seat, a laptop and my phone! Innovative ideas never come according to a schedule!

What’s your most memorable or proudest work moment?

I am extremely proud that the Baker Ruskinn technology has helped to revolutionise our understanding of oxygen’s very significant role as a master regulator of cell behaviour and its influence on the way cells respond to cancer and cardiovascular disease, for example. Our equipment has underpinned the work of eminent scientists such as Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe, head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oxford, recipient of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine, well-known for his work on cellular reactions to hypoxia. I met Sir Peter at a convention in 1998 when he was adpating the Bug Box for his research and to see his results over the years is phenomenal.

What’s the best part of your job?

In the field of mimicked physiological culture, I feel I’ve truly made a difference. Mimicking mammalian physiology lets you see cell interactions very differently from what you’d observe in an open-bench environment. I believe this is the future of cell culture and I’m proud that we are delivering the best tools for the job.

What’s the worst part of your job?

We work closely with a lot of research institutes to help them complete their funding applications and when you become so close to a cause you believe in, it’s hard when the funding request is rejected. It’s also hard to hear of researchers who still believe the open bench method is the future, when there is so much evidence to the contrary.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in the industry?

When I was young, I was told “You’ll never work in science” and I’ve worked hard to prove them wrong. My advice to anyone starting out in the industry would be to challenge the norm, follow your instinct and never give up. Also, the world is a big and wondrous place, get out there and see as much of it as you can.

How do you like to unwind?

Travelling is a huge passion of mine and I recently travelled around the world, literally, from South Africa to Thailand, to Canada and then back to the UK. I also own a log cabin business in North Yorkshire so relaxing in the hot tub with a glass of champagne with my family around me is definitely one way to unwind.

What career would you like if you weren’t doing this?

My original plan was to work for the Foreign office, I wanted to work managing British overseas aid projects playing an active role in helping the less fortunate, I guess I get the same philanthropic pleasure in knowing that in a small way, technology I have innovated is helping medical discovery.