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Britain’s top four 16-25 year-old engineering entrepreneurs are announced

10 September 2015

The Royal Academy of Engineering has selected the UK’s top young engineering entrepreneurs for its launchpad competition, which offers world class mentoring from industry leaders.

James Roberts shows Sir James Dyson his inflatable incubator

A biodegradable tent, an inflatable incubator for premature babies, a magnetic gas monitor, and a medical device that could revolutionise kidney dialysis have been selected by the Royal Academy of Engineering as four of the most promising future British engineering and technology innovations developed by 16-25 year-old entrepreneurs.

Technology visionaries Amanda Campbell, 23, George Edwards, 19, James Roberts, 23 and Sorin Popa, 25, have all been invited to join the Academy’s Enterprise Hub after competing in the nationwide Launchpad Competition aimed at 16-25-year-old engineering entrepreneurs. They will receive mentoring from major business figures including leading angel investor David Gammon to transform their ideas into leading technology businesses and help drive industrial growth across Britain.

The Enterprise Hub provides its Members with training, mentoring, and access to a network of business connections and angel investors including over 100 volunteer mentors from the Academy’s Fellowship.

The four young entrepreneurs were chosen as finalists by a panel of technology and business leaders, including Elspeth Finch, Innovation Director for the multinational engineering, architecture and design giant Atkins, and Ian Shott, a serial entrepreneur who has also held senior positions at several multi-national biotech giants including AstraZeneca.

The overall Launchpad Competition winner will be selected at a prestigious event on 29 September where the finalists will each pitch their businesses to an invited audience including investors, Fellows of the Academy and other engineering entrepreneurs. In addition to membership of the Enterprise Hub, the winner will receive the JC Gammon Award – a trophy and £15,000.

The four finalists’ innovations include a compostable tent that could save festival organisers millions in clean-up costs and landfill taxes, technology that could allow patients worldwide to receive kidney dialysis without invasive surgery, a monitoring device for gas bottles that connects to an app and could put an end to the high levels of wastage caused by storing excess bottles,  and an inflatable and low-cost incubator for premature babies which can be powered by a car battery and that collapses for easier transport in developing nations. David Gammon, CEO of Rockspring and the primary benefactor of the JC Gammon Award, said:

“Young people today are realising that choosing to be self-employed or an entrepreneur can be a great move. Through the Launchpad Competition we support 16-25 year-olds - entrepreneurs of this age often struggle to get started, even though they can be the ones with the best ideas. More often than not, they are not fortunate enough to have a network to support them as this is something that comes from many years of employment, as well as experience, which by definition young people have not had the time to develop. This is where the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub can provide unrivalled support.” Ian Shott CBE FREng,Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“This year’s finalists are testament to the fantastic ideas that the younger generation is capable of generating. Our panel has seen ground-breaking ideas from 16-25-year-olds with the potential to save lives, transform the leisure and tourism industry, aid the developing world and lower our carbon footprint. We believe that these innovations have mass-market potential and we aim to utilise the Academy’s world-class mentors and business networks to help bring them to market and make them future UK  success stories.”

Launchpad Competition  Finalists joining the Enterprise Hub:

Revolutionising kidney dialysis and heart surgery - Sorin Popa, 25
Over 27,000 UK citizens and 2.5 million people worldwide have kidney conditions, which require their blood to be routinely externally filtered by regularly hooking their circulatory system up to a dialysis machine. Currently, this requires patients to undergo invasive surgery to prepare their blood vessels by forming a connection between an artery and a vein in their arm (known as a fistula or vascular access site). However, fistulas frequently clog up and fail, which can endanger patient lives and require expensive repair operations.

Stent Tek is a British company pioneering a new way to use a small covered tube known as a ‘stent graft’ to connect the vessels in almost any part of the arm, through needle-sized punctures, which could enable patients to receive lifelong kidney dialysis without requiring surgery.

The pioneering company has already won a £166,000 ‘Smart Award’ from Innovate UK and a £1 million grant to develop the technology in partnership with Imperial College London. Furthermore, surgeons could eventually also employ Stent Tek’s innovation as an alternative to open-heart surgery for coronary bypass operations. For the dialysis application alone, there is an estimated $1 billion global market in terms of the number of annual medical procedures the technology could address.

Sorin Popa, CEO of Stent Tek, aims to bring the technology to the market by 2018 where it could eventually save the NHS an estimated £45 million a year.

Transforming Festivals with biodegradable tents – Amanda Campbell, 23
A minimum of 100,000 tents go to landfill sites each year in the UK alone, generating over 200 tonnes of waste each summer. This is predominantly due to the fact that a staggering one in five tents is left behind by UK festival-goers. These are numbers that look set to increase with the festival industry growing rapidly year on year worldwide. This results in an expensive clean-up bill for festival organisers and a heavy environmental cost. It is this environmental concern that prompted Architecture student Amanda Campbell to found Comp-A-Tent.

Amanda has created the world’s first fully compostable, plant-based tent, which biodegrades within 120 days. It was created by manipulating cellulose fibres and bioplastics to produce the elongation properties that enable tents to keep their shape.

The tent is engineered to be rain-resistant, lightweight and comfortable, with material costs being as little as one tenth of the potential sales price.

After use it can be broken down and disposed of alongside commercial food waste, creating the possibility that entire camp sites could be quickly and easily cleared, saving festival organisers millions in transport costs and landfill taxes, but also significantly reducing the carbon footprint of festival events.

However, the scope of Comp-A-Tent extends beyond the festival industry; the technology could be applied to a variety of temporary structures, from biodegradable hammocks to furniture for weekend art installations and food festivals.

Driving energy efficiency with wireless gas monitoring - George Edwards, 19
An estimated 60 million gas bottles are used in Europe’s leisure industry for everything from barbecues to yachts, 900 million bottles are used per annum across India, and 96% of Brazilians use bottled gas for everyday cooking. Yet, with no way for consumers to remotely monitor gas usage there is enormous annual wastage and excess bottles can often be stored for years, leading to corrosion and leaks.

George Edwards came up with a novel solution to this issue for a school coursework project when his teacher, a keen caravan owner, explained the persistent problem of gas monitoring. George quickly realised there was nothing on the market to solve this problem, and developed a magnetic strip which can be attached to any gas bottle and transmits real-time data on gas consumption to a smartphone app. The app can also predict how much gas will be required for specific journeys, and even remotely notify users if they have left the gas on by mistake.

Praised as a “game-changing product” by the Technical Director of Caravan Club, it has already won an order for 450,000 units from one of the world’s biggest supermarket chains and received backing from Virgin tycoon Richard Branson.

The innovation also captures location-specific data about consumer gas usage via the smartphone app, enabling major gas suppliers to send text notifications directing consumers to nearby stores when they are running low on gas.

And it could have major applications in the developing world where LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is widely-used as a safer, cleaner alternative to biomass; supply-chain corruption means many consumers receive cylinders that are not full, and Gas-Sense could help detect this.
George’s company, Gas-Sense, is now tipped for major growth and is already working with Linde Group, the world’s largest industrial gases company.

Preventing premature baby deaths in the developing world - James Roberts, 23
1 million children die each year due to being born prematurely and it is estimated that 75% of these deaths could be solved with simple treatments such as incubation. This is partly because the high cost of making and powering traditional incubators, and the difficulty in transporting them to remote or wartorn regions, means that many parts of the developing world have no access to the technology.

While studying product design and technology at Loughborough University, James Roberts was deeply affected by a Panorama documentary about the Syrian war which revealed that premature babies were dying unnecessarily in refugee camps due to a lack of basic incubators, which are widely available in the West. He was inspired to find a way of developing low-cost incubators that could be swiftly and easily transported across warzones and underdeveloped regions, and stored easily.

James has invented a revolutionary inflatable incubator which can be quickly flat-packed down for easy storage and powered for 24 hours from a car battery. The tiny incubator could be sold for 1/30th  of the price of traditional incubators, opening it up to a mass market across the developing world. The technology recently won the prestigious James Dyson Award.

Having been invited by UKTI to speak at an event in Japan alongside senior engineers from well-known corporates, and with trips in the pipeline to locations around the world, James’s company MOM Incubator is already aiming to be a global success.
Further details of the launchpad competition can found here.


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