Celebrating Britain’s bold young innovators

Simon Edmonds reports on the success of young entrepreneurs; AI-based autonomous vehicle software from Oxbotica; and plastics recycling from a Warwick University spin-out. Plus, a round-up of the latest news on Innovate UK funding competitions.

Ideas Mean Business competition – young innovators enjoying success six months on

The young innovators competition supported 24 young people with innovative business ideas.
The young innovators competition supported 24 young people with innovative business ideas.

It is very encouraging to report that some of the UK’s brightest young innovators are realising their potential following participation in Innovate UK’s Ideas Mean Business competition.

The competition provided 24 18-30-year-old entrepreneurs with financial support and expert advice to help get their innovative businesses off the ground. The campaign was part of an Innovate UK drive to encourage more young people to engage in innovation, no matter what their background.

Since receiving the funding and support, the young entrepreneurs have enjoyed a successful six months. They have launched products, represented the UK at the G7 summit and discovered new markets with support through the Innovate UK programme.

Take Essex-based Adam Root, founder of Inheriting Earth. He is developing a filter to prevent micro-plastics entering the water system through washing machines.

In June 2018, Adam was invited to represent the UK on a specialist youth council at the 44th G7 summit in Canada. Adam spoke about the issue of ghost fishing gear, which is fishing equipment that has been lost or abandoned in the ocean.

A report by World Animal Protection estimated that each year, 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear enters the world’s oceans.

This article first appeared in the March issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

Interface Polymers: spin-out set to transform plastics recycling

Interface Polymers Chief Scientific Officer and Founder Dr Christopher Kay in their laboratory at Loughborough University.
Interface Polymers Chief Scientific Officer and Founder Dr Christopher Kay in their laboratory at Loughborough University.

A business set up less than three years ago with the help of a start-up programme for university researchers is poised to transform a wide range of plastic products with its technology.

Warwick University spin-out Interface Polymers has developed Polarfin, a technology that modifies the surface of commonly used plastics so that mixed plastic waste can be recycled into useful products.

It works by allowing adhesion between otherwise incompatible materials and has applications in packaging, crop protection and construction.

The technology was developed at the University of Warwick by the company’s founders, Dr Christopher Kay and Professor Peter Scott. Kay, who had just completed a research PhD based on this technology, applied to Innovate UK’s innovation to commercialisation (ICURe) scheme with the aim of exploring its commercial viability.

The ICURe programme helps university research teams with commercially viable ideas to validate them in the marketplace. It is run by SETsquared Partnership and Innovate UK, and is funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.


Oxbotica: AI firm develops ‘brain’ for autonomous vehicles

Funding of £8.6m will allow AI software company Oxbotica to ramp up testing of autonomous vehicles on UK roads.

The DRIVEN project, funded through Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, will put a fleet of six autonomous vehicles, driven by Oxbotica’s software, into public trials in Oxford and London.

Oxbotica’s CEO Graeme Smith with their autonomous vehicles in Oxford
Oxbotica’s CEO Graeme Smith with their autonomous vehicles in Oxford.

The company already has vehicles on Oxford’s roads on a daily basis, with cars set to hit London’s streets imminently. Oxbotica spun out of Oxford University in 2014, developing its technology over a series of Innovate-UK-supported projects.

As a result, the company now produces two pieces of software. The first is Selenium, the ‘brain’ of an autonomous vehicle. It combines data from vehicle sensors to help the vehicle answer the questions; ‘where am I?’, ‘what’s around me?’ and ‘what do I do?’

The second is Caesium, a cloud-based fleet management system to coordinate multiple vehicles and allow them to exchange data without human interaction. The most recent DRIVEN project was carried out by partners including communications firms Nominet and Telefonica, insurance provider AXA XL, and transport and council bodies such as Transport for London and Oxfordshire County Council.


Competition news

A share of up to £2m is available for trials to build evidence on how to encourage SMEs to adopt productivity-boosting technology or management practices. Business Basics was announced in the government’s Industrial Strategy to test innovative ways of encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to adopt existing productivity-boosting technology and management practices.

This is the second round of the Business Basics Fund. We are funding two types of project in this round: trials and proof of concepts. The competition closes on Wednesday, 17 April 2019, at 12:00pm. For further information, please click here.

Simon Edmonds, director - manufacturing, materials & future of mobility, Innovate UK.
Simon Edmonds, director – Manufacturing, Materials & Future of Mobility.

Innovate UK

For more information on any of Innovate UK’s funding opportunities, please contact the customer support service:

Feedback! All feedback gratefully received. I can be found on Twitter: @SJSEdmonds