Over 200 delegates from SMEs, multinationals, universities, funding bodies, investors and supporting organisations attended Chemistry Means Business on 13 and 14 June.
The event is our flagship event for the chemistry-using industry, and brings together people working in all areas and at all levels of industry for two days of inspiring and informative talks, presentations, competitions, networking, and a glittering awards night.
The finals of our Emerging Technologies Competition occupied much of the first day. This annual innovation competition is designed to identify the most promising chemistry-based technologies and support them towards commercialisation.
The competition entrants, all entrepreneurs from academia or members of small, early-stage businesses, each presented ideas with the potential to solve real-world challenges, from new types of chemotherapy to removing environmental pollutants, and from preventing the corrosion of steel to identifying contaminated food.
"I was really impressed by the quality and diversity of the pitches", said Kevin Simmons from Aceleron, who was presenting in the Energy & Environment category.
"I was amazed at how innovative a lot of the approaches to tackling some really simple problems were. If that’s what’s out there, I think I’m very encouraged."
The event was not all about the competition however, and as a member of a year-old company with just four employees, Kevin emphasised that the real highlight of the event for him was the opportunity to make contacts. "Being a new start-up in the space of clean tech, being able to network and meet people that might end up being partners or facilitators, even just mentors, has been really good."
"I'm definitely going to come again, and I would encourage others to”, he concluded. “It’s been fantastic!"
As well as breakout sessions and networking opportunities, the event included a series of fascinating guest talks from innovators and entrepreneurs, and interactive discussions on topics such as the commercialisation of graphene and how to manage the consumer trend for demanding 'chemical-free eating'. The second day of the event included masterclasses, panel discussions, and a poster competition.
Shima Barakat, Head of Entrepreneurial Learning Programmes and Engagement at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School delivered an inspiring keynote speech on the importance of creativity and change in innovation, emphasising that 'business not as usual' – constantly thinking of different and unusual ways of tackling challenges – is key to development and problem-solving.
For many, however, the main event was the awards night held on the Tuesday evening, which recognised excellence across the full breadth of chemistry-based endeavours. The awards were presented by Maggie Philbin OBE, of Tomorrow’s World and Bang Goes the Theory fame, who now works to increase diversity in STEM companies.
First and second prizes were presented in each of the four categories of the Emerging Technologies competition: health, energy & environment, food & drink, and materials & enabling technologies. The full list of prize winners is available on our webpage.
These awards recognise talented teams and individuals across the chemistry-using industry. They are given in recognition of outstanding achievements in entrepreneurship, innovation, outreach, applied science and technical skills.
Among them was Roxanne Wright, who took home the Chemical Sciences Apprentice of the Year Award.
"I feel absolutely amazing", she said. "I’ve been at the company for three years now, and I’ve got a permanent position last year, sponsored by the company under the apprenticeship scheme, to do a chemistry degree and it’s just amazing. I feel so inspired about what’s to come. I can’t believe it – there’s so many opportunities, so many different places to go.
"I would definitely encourage more apprentices. We’ve got apprentices in the manufacturing supply chain all over the place. The possibilities are just endless and if you’re a practical person, it’s a very good way to go. It is very difficult studying and working at the same time but it’s very beneficial if you know what you want to do."
Graham Hutchings, of Cardiff University, and Peter Johnston, of Johnson Matthey, received the Industry–Academia Collaboration of the Year award for working together to design and commercialise a new non-polluting gold catalyst for the manufacture of PVC.
Peter explained the importance of the collaboration in bringing the product to market: "Graham in the academic world had done the initial discovery and proved the concept, and that was really a stepping stone for us to take this and say 'how do we turn this into something real and viable'?
"Perhaps the greatest part was that then we could put it back into academia and say to Graham 'we’ve got something that’s commercially viable and interesting, now let’s try and build on this success'. So it started in academia, it’s gone to industry, and now it’s come back as a collaboration to get to the next generation of materials."
The emphasis on the second day was on bringing together expertise from a wide variety of companies, from start-ups to multinationals, to work together on some of the challenges facing chemists working in industry.
Future proofing your business, and cross-sector collaborations were key themes of the event, and these were addressed in a number of talks and panel discussions.
Ian Shott, from the Chemistry Growth Partnership, kicked off day two with a talk about the UK's industrial strategy – he highlighted the need to work across all sectors to build a strong UK chemistry industry.
He was followed by a panel discussion looking at where chemistry is going in the next 20 years, further highlighting the need for cross-sector and interdisciplinary collaborations. Attendees were then able to get a flavour of what this could be like by exploring industrial challenges spanning across food and drink, health, energy and environment, materials and enabling technologies.
Great energy and buzz
Chemistry Means Business Project Manager Nazma Rahman was pleased with the enthusiasm and engagement of the delegates "The atmosphere was one of people really engaging with each other and making connections", she said. "There was a great energy and buzz throughout the two days."
Plans are underway for Chemistry Means Business 2018. Watch this space!