Katrine Nørrelund never wanted a career in academia. So in 2005, after finishing her PhD in medical microbiology at the University of Aarhus, she immediately started looking for work outside the university walls.
“I love doing research. But I wanted a job, where days are more varied, where I am out visiting clients one day, suppliers the next and spending time in the lab on the third,” says Katrine Nørrelund, product manager at Food Diagnostics in the city of Grenaa.
In 2005, Grenaa launched a project aimed at helping small and medium-sized companies hire academics. Food Diagnostics, a small firm with 9 employees specialised in food safety solutions, was one of them.
They decided to take a chance and hire Katrine Nørrelund as the first employee they’d ever had with a PhD.
“Until we hired Katrine, we didn’t have the academic knowledge necessary to offer our clients the guidance they need in order to use our products,” says Tonny Nielsen, founder and CEO of Food Diagnostics.
“The credibility, employees with academic backgrounds offer our company in the eyes of our clients is invaluable. It’s something our competitors do not have,” says Tonny Nielsen, who has hired another three employees with university degrees.
Katrine Nørrelund believes one of her strongest assets working for a private company is her extensive lab training.
“It makes it easy for me to understand the challenges clients face, when they use our highly specialized products. When people call to ask for help with a specific analysis, I can quickly guide them,” she says Katrine Nørrelund.
She also uses her scientific knowledge on seminars, explaining the technology behind Food Diagnostics’ products to clients and partners.
The competitive advantage, Food Diagnostics has acquired since hiring employees with scientific backgrounds, has resulted in markedly increased sales, says Tonny Nielsen.
There are some skills, however, that Katrine Nørrelund has needed to acquire.
“I’ve upgraded my business and sales skills, which has been fun actually. I like visiting and talking to clients and suppliers, and I like that my days are never the same,” she says.
Katrine Nørrelund doesn’t miss the research environment. As more and more research is carried out as collaborations between universities and private businesses, she sees a greater need for companies to have employees in-house to facilitate these projects.
“We currently work on a joint research application with the Technical University of Denmark. I don’t think we, as a company, could do this without a fundamental understanding of how scientific research is carried out,” she says.