YEBN Alumni Interview with Sebastian Olényi – CEO of sustentio

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The Young European Biotech Network is not as young any more as the name suggests, the association has already reached the age of an adolescent: During 17 years of history a lot of interesting people that have shaped the YEBN and its projects. What are the former board members of YEBN doing now? What are there career paths? The YEBN Executive Board 2018/2019 decided that the time has come to include a crucial goal for the network’s sustainability into the associations’ aims written down in the statutes:  integrate the YEBN alumni as members into the association. The network wishes to create a YEBN alumni task force to create a platform and events that motivate the older members to stay in touch as well as promote contact and advice for current active Young European Biotech Network members. It is thus logic for us to start with an interview with one alumni who still is loyal and actively supporting the YEBN today:  Sebastian Olényi from Germany. 

Sebastian, thank you for taking the time for our first Alumni Interview. To begin, we want to let you know, that the YEBN is very thankful that you are hosting the YEBN webpage and webservices for many years now and that you give us advice from time to time. In June, you decided to create the YEBN Alumni Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1065641336973290/). The current YEBN executive board appreciates your initiative and decided to create the alumni member status. The FB group could be used for the communication of Alumni relevant issues in the future as well as the new Alumni Corner of the Newsletter that can be used to present former members, their projects and job offers interesting for the YEBN community. Why did you create this FB group? 

You are welcome. I created the FB alumni group after I have been in contact with the recent YEBN board for a strategy discussion as I realized that a lot of information and links to the alumni are gone. The proposal was that the Facebook group could “maybe help to be part of the organisational memory and to provide advice and networking among YEBN alumni.” My suggestion of the purpose of this group was that it becomes a networking place, a place to post jobs or memories, to ask for advice or to just enjoy. The closed group is open for current and former YEBN members, everyone who is or once was active for YEBN on a European level or everyone who is or was active in one of the member organisations feeling linked to YEBN. Icontacted my former colleagues from the YEBN and the current board to see what happens. 

What do you think of the creation of the Alumni status and the idea of an Alumni Task Force? What could be the aims and activities of the Alumni Task Force?

This is a very good idea – the task force should create communication platforms to connect YEBN alumni and allow to stay in contact. In addition to the Facebook group, the creation of a LinkedIn group could be possible as well as the opportunity to publish content interesting for alumni as well as job or internship offers in the newsletter and on the webpage to specifically address it to the current YEBN community. The main activity of the task force could be a yearly event, possible a satellite event of a big conference, to give YEBN alumni the opportunity to meet again personally. It could also be interesting to organise a regulars’ table in cities were YEBN alumni are located. 

Do you think Alumni would need to have a representative in the executive board, like an Alumni Officer?

People over thirty are barely active in associations, probably because professional and personal constraints do no leave so much free time for volunteering. Especially in associations dedicated to the young generation, alumni might only stay available for giving advice from time to time and not for actively organising events and services if after all they stay connected with the active generation. For alumni members, there is no need to have a vote and the executive power can stay with the young generation to strengthen their interests. However, alumni can be interested in being consulted for giving advice on important decisions even if they do not have a vote.

When did you first get to know the YEBN?

[SILENCE]…This is so long ago… It must have been shortly before the EuroBIO 2008 in Paris, France that I got to know YEBN. I was studying at ESBS (àEcole supérieure de biotechnologie : https://esbs.unistra.fr/en/) in Strasbourg at that time. I got an invitation transmitted by my university with the opportunity to join this event with the YEBN, completely sponsored. There were parliamentary-like debates about Biotech and the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Françoise Barré Sinoussi, who shared her views with passion. That was cool!

INFO: 

Sebastian even wrote a blog about the “YEBN participants at EuroBIO 2008” which was the life sciences event of the European Union Presidency at that time with around 5,000 delegates and visitors from 20 countries, 120 speakers and 500 clusters and companies. We share Sebastian’s blog about this inspiring experience http://www.olenyi.de/?p=44This event did not only influence the personal history of Sebastian with YEBN but also the popularity and history of the YEBN itself as proven by the recommendation of the editorial of Nature Biotechnology, published in December 2008 that “associations, such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and EuropaBio, should coordinate more closely with organizations like [] the YEBN that [is] actively involved in seeding and nurturing groups of young people interested in biotech issues.” ( Nat Biotechnol 26, 1313 (2008) doi:10.1038/nbt1208-1313https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt1208-1313

Why did people join the YEBN in that time? 

Cool European events and communication platforms for European Networking across borders, e.g. with the European Federation of Biotechnology there was free access for some YEBN members to the events and satellite events.

How did you finally become an active member of the YEBN? Tell us more about it.

The EuroBIO and people of YEBN that I met there were great inspiring people and so I wished to become a member. The only way to become an active member was being member of an institutional member – that is one reason why we founded the association NGB (àNouvelle Generation des Biotechnologistes) at ESBS in Strasbourg with some friends and the support of the alumni of ESBS in 2009. NGB then joined the YEBN in 2010 and I quickly became elected in the YEBN executive board as a chairman.

INFO:  Soon, NGB has 10 years membership as institutional member of the YEBN and this is the student association that continuously supported the network (àhttp://ngb-fr.org/index.php/presentation/).  

How does it feel to see the events and activities of NGB today?

I am very happy. It’s great to see that something you started is inspiring the students until today.

Let’s check what you said as a chairmen in 2010 in this video “why Young People [got] involved in Biotechnology, and the reasons [you] became interested in it, as well as the benefits Biotechnology can bring : https://ru-clip.net/video/HWtINolwneA/sebastian-ol-eacute-nyi-chairman-of-the-yebn.html

Would you say that the YEBN has inspired and affected you also until today?

Of course! Working in the YEBN improved my soft skills, I gained knowledge about teamwork, acquiring sponsoring, managing people, projects and finances. During my time, I was involved in the organisation of least two big international student congresses named “Comm4Biotech – Communicating Life Sciences and Technology” in Strasbourg and Heidelberg.

Science communication then became your profession : Today you are the CEO of the Public Relations and Communications Agency, sustentio (https://sustentio.com/en) that is located in Berlin. What are your daily tasks? 

We are a small agency, that’s why I’m the maid-of-all-work with very diverse responsibilities: from accountancy over controlling to hiring, instructing and developing people. I go to networking events for entrepreneurs, pitching and to find new clients and then take care of the key account management of clients. I am responsible for the strategic development of the company as well as its legal issues. I need to develop new products and services and apply for public tenders. In addition, I need to manage the small things like the purchases of office chairs and material. I give strategic workshops for clients. The coordination of external partners, marketing and communication are in my responsibilities. 

I’m always looking for people who are interested in science communication and marketing as interns, collaborators or employees, especially with a focus on Biotech and social media. 

Your company’s slogan says “We bring sustainability to life” – What do you think about participating in the realization of an alumni task force? Which activities could help to bring a “sustainable” YEBN alumni network to life?  

There need to be fore sure more former YEBN members to be found to create an alumni task force, as activities a regulars’ table would be nice or a satellite event of a big congress per year that could be of interest for everyone, like interdisciplinary congresses about sustainability. The idea to have a newsletter corner for Alumni is also an attractive idea to promote an exchange between the YEBN generations, create opportunities for internship and job offers.

The proposal of an alumni satellite event joint to a sustainability congress sounds effectively very interesting – the YEBN is currently working on how Biotech and Science can help to achieve the UN sustainable development goals (https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030.html).This will also be the topic of our next newsletter – as an expert for sustainability we’ll for sure contact you again soon, Sebastian. Thank you very much again for your availability and advice. See or hear you soon! 

Any (former) YEBN member interested in assisting to launch the YEBN alumni task force, contact alumni@yebn.eu. Not yet a YEBN member? Become (alumni) member (membership@yebn.eu) here. 

10 Years ago at the YEBN delegate assembly in Lisbon, Portugal with Sebastian Olényi, 2ndleft


Author : Alexandra Nothnagel 

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