Refugee-turned-entrepreneur honoured by University of Leicester

An entrepreneur who found sanctuary in the East Midlands after fleeing a brutal overseas regime has been honoured by the University of Leicester.

Dr Nik Kotecha OBE DL came to Leicester as a child refugee with his family in 1972 to escape Idi Amin’s reign of terror in Uganda, with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few suitcases.

From those humble beginnings, Dr Kotecha built up a hugely successful career, founding Morningside Pharmaceuticals, and then becoming a major philanthropist as founder of the Randal Charitable Foundation, making international contribution to pharmaceuticals, life sciences and innovation.

Today (Thursday 20 July), the University of Leicester formally recognised Dr Kotecha’s contribution to society, by awarding him an Honorary Doctorate of Science during a graduation ceremony, held at De Montfort Hall.

Speaking after the ceremony, Dr Kotecha, who grew up in Leicester, before basing his international pharmaceuticals business in Loughborough, said: “I’m truly honoured and humbled to receive this honorary degree from the University of Leicester.

“As a young man and throughout my academic and entrepreneurial journey, I’ve long been an admirer of the University’s commitment to supporting and developing young people.

“I hope my story helps inspire the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to work hard and follow their dreams of making a positive difference to the world.

“My advice to all graduating students is: as you step out into the world armed with your degrees, please remember that you possess a power, to positively shape our world.

“You have the potential to ignite change, to challenge conventional wisdom, and to make a lasting positive impact on the lives of others. The world needs your ideas, your innovation, and your passion to tackle the pressing issues of our time.”

After arriving in the UK, Dr Kotecha worked hard during his school years in Leicester to achieve a Leicestershire council grant, which enabled him to start his further education in Newcastle.

He later went on to study for a PhD under the supervision of Professor Steven Ley FRS at Imperial College London, and further doctorate work at the University of Cambridge. His areas of research included drug discovery of molecules to treat type II diabetes and infection, which led to work into big pharma.

Inspired by his childhood experiences, Dr Kotecha later established generic medicines manufacturer and supplier, Morningside Pharmaceuticals, with a mission to provide high quality affordable and accessible medicines to the world. This mission led to the business becoming one of the leading UK suppliers of a wide range of medical supplies to International Aid Organisations, having exported to more than 120 countries globally since inception.  

Dr Kotecha would lead the company for more than 30 years and to great international success, before divesting of the business in 2022. During his stewardship of the Top 100 Leicestershire company, the business invested heavily in research and development, which led to the launch of many innovations to help patients take their medicine.

Dr Kotecha has previously supported the establishment of the university’s Leicester Medical School. He has also worked closely with the university to help nurture innovation through its Innovation Hub; and more widely in the Midlands through his work as Chair of the Leicester & Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership’s (LLEP) Innovation Board.

In February 2023 he received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the LeicestershireLive Innovation Awards in recognition of this commitment.

In 2017 Dr Kotecha and his wife Moni founded the Randal Charitable Foundation with the aim to directly save a million lives and significantly improve the quality of life for those in need in the UK and around the world. As well as providing grants, one of many projects supported by the Foundation is driving national policy change to reduce the reoffending rate amongst ex- prisoners by helping them find employment. 

A further project led to a step-change of over £1billion in funding from the UK Government in support for those affected by addiction, whilst another is spotlighting the challenge of loneliness and isolation in our society.

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Professor Nishan Canagarajah, said: “Nik has reaped exceptional achievements academically, in business and through his contributions of charity and philanthropy.

“For over 30 years he has utilised his passion for drug discovery, international trade and providing quality, affordable healthcare to forge a highly successful career, where he has drawn on this experience be a strong voice and ambassador for business, charitable organisations and establishing a charity that saves and improves lives.

“Nik is an impressive role model to our graduates and the wider University community.”