Success and innovation at Chemistry Means Business
Chemistry Means Business, a showcase of success and innovation in the sector across the UK and Europe, took place at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster on 15 October, complete with sweeping views of the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.
The focus of the event was our Emerging Technologies Competition final, in which 39 candidates – from a mixture of start-ups, SMEs and university research spin-outs – pitched their ideas to panels of experts in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style competition.
Ideas had to fit into one of four categories, Food and Drink, Materials and Enabling Technology, Energy and the Environment and Health.
This year’s winners were:
- HexagonFab, a spin-off from the University of Cambridge
- Smartwound, from the University of Bath
- AquAffirm Ltd
- Oxford Biotrans
- Micropore Technologies
- University of Birmingham
- Oxford nanoSystems Ltd
- Aqualution Systems Ltd
The winners in depth
Materials and Enabling Technologies
Winner: HexagonFab Ltd, a spin-out from the University of Cambridge whose technology is a ‘sensor platform for fast and sensitive biomarker detection’.
It's been my first pitch actually, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's been a great day. The level of competition has been really high, so we're delighted to be one of the winners.
Runner up: Micropore Technologies, from Redcar, for their ‘fully scalable equipment for manufacture of precision particles and microcapsules’.
I think for us the opportunity that it brings to Micropore is the fact that it brings to us the mentoring and the contacts with industrial peers. Rather than necessarily the money per se. That's helpful of course. But this is about taking a well-established story out into a global market place where we're already selling 75% of our product overseas.
Winner: University of Bath, Smartwound – an infection-detecting wound dressing.
I think we have a very simple concept, but very cost-effective, and I think when you realise it could really make a difference to real people in the real world, in terms of diagnosing infection quickly and easily. It's simple and cheap – and maybe a little bit clever!
Runner up: University of Birmingham, UK – polycarbonate resin inks for 3D-printing of shape-changing resorbable medical devices.
I think it's hopefully going to help us to start to move towards translating from the lab to the clinic. I think that's a huge thing for us to be able to do. We need an investment to take a step to where we need to get to. To actually get the product to people.
Energy and Environment
Winner: AquAffirm – a portable arsenic sensor for water testing
It’s an amazing feeling [to win]. And I think it’s going to prove very important for us in terms of providing additional validity and accreditation toward what we’re doing – developing new sensors to address the very important problem of arsenic in drinking water.
Runner up: Oxford nanoSystems Ltd, for ‘nanoHEX: keeping cool without heating the planet’.
We've decided we will put [the prize money] towards our placement students and our interns... When I first graduated I really struggled to find work because I didn't have any experience. So to be able to give interesting internship placements to students, and to be able help them – even if we can’t personally host them ourselves… Helping a fellow scientist is something that we're really happy about and proud to be doing.
Food and Drink
Winner: Oxford Biotrans, for their product Nootkatone, which produces the flavour and scent of grapefruit.
It's somewhat unexpected because I was thinking this is an award for technologies that are just beginning to come out of the lab, where actually we've been on that journey for five years now. So in a sense it's really nice to get the recognition for the work we've put in, and also the recognition that "emerging", as a technology, is sometimes something that takes time.
Runner up: Aqualution, for their approach to Optimising health, welfare and productivity on dairy farms.
We know our technology is good. We have existing markets in certain areas. But we've been really struggling to work out how to get this one to market, because the dairy market is actually quite hard to get into. It's all delivered to individual farms, sold to individual farms, by big distributors, which is not our business model elsewhere... Hopefully what we'll get out of [winning] is working out how we can actually now get this to customers.
A fantastic springboard
Head of industry Aurora Antemir said: "The Emerging Technologies Competition is a celebration of chemistry’s contribution to our rapidly changing world – and a terrific showcase for some of the SMEs working at the cutting edge of science.
"Winning is no mean feat, with an extremely competitive field in each category. Our winners have demonstrated tremendous skill and an ability to find solutions to problems that will change the way we will all live our lives in years to come."
Each winner will receive tailored business support from the competition’s multinational partner companies, as well as business training and media support – in addition to a cash prize of £10,000.
Previous winners have gone on to raise a combined £31m in investment and grant funding, collectively doubled employee numbers and attracted licence deals and significant international expansion. Some have gone on to be acquired, with winners securing trade sales of £28million, while previous 'One to Watch' winner, Ziylo, was recently acquired in a £623million deal.
Aurora continued: "Chemistry Means Business brings SMEs, start-ups and academic entrepreneurs together with the major and multinational companies that can take their ideas and innovations to the next level.
"This competition has proven to be a fantastic springboard for entrepreneurial ideas and have helped countless SMEs make the leap from lab to market – so we’re looking forward to seeing what our winners, and indeed all those shortlisted, will achieve in future."
A great deal of the competition’s success is owed to its partners, chemistry-using multinationals who share a passion for innovation and collaboration. They provide support to winners in a number of ways, including strategy reviews, product testing, and introducing them to new networks.
Networking, building contacts
Aside from the competition, the event as a whole was an opportunity for those working across the chemicals-using industry to come together, network, exchange ideas and hear from some world-class speakers.
"One of the best things about this has been the opportunity to network", said Antony Murphy, Chief Technical Officer at Causeway Sensors, one of the finalists. "Before we came here we had set up six meetings with people in the industry and we’re getting lots of insights on how to do our technology better."
A glimpse of the future
The event opened with a welcome from Royal Society of Chemistry deputy chief executive Helen Pain, who spoke about the important of cultivating partnerships and bringing together people from different specialisms and backgrounds. “Science is a global endeavour, for which international collaboration is essential”, she said.
Helen was followed by Sophie Hackford, whose job title is ‘Futurist’, and who gave a fascinating keynote speech on three emerging types of technology: gene sequencing, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.
She spoke about how gene sequencing could be used in future to more quickly stem pandemics such as Ebola, and addressed the ethical dilemmas associated with development of artificial intelligence (AI). For example she described a scenario where data collected on us could be used to create a ‘digital double’ – an AI who embodies all our preferences and habits, and who could do business on our behalf, for example haggling for products, selecting books to read, or even going on dates. This raises questions like "Who owns your AI?" and "Does it have rights?"
Inclusion, diversity, and Brexit
Two panel discussions, at the beginning and end of the day, provided an opportunity to explore key issues affecting not just the chemical sciences industry, but everyone.
The first panel was entitled "Working to harness diversity for innovation" and the second "Innovation after Brexit". Both panels comprised speakers who are leaders in their fields, and who answered questions from the audience such as "What should I say to my customers in Spain who are asking why they should continue to do business with me after Brexit?"
A glittering awards night, comprising a drinks reception and a three-course sit-down dinner, brought the day to a close. The night was hosted by our president Dame Carol Robinson, and comedian and presenter Robin Ince.
During the course of the evening the eight winners of the Emerging Technologies Competition were announced. The seven winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry Industry Prizes & Awards were also presented with their medals and certificates. Find out details of all our prizes and awards winners in our announcement piece.
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