Royal Academy of Engineering selects Britain’s most promising young tech entrepreneur

30 Sep 2015

The 23-year-old inventor of an inflatable incubator to prevent premature baby deaths in the developing world has been selected by the Royal Academy of Engineering as the UK’s most promising young entrepreneur in the engineering and technology sector.

James Roberts has been awarded the JC Gammon Award of £15,000 and money-can’t-buy mentoring and support by the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub as the winner of its Launchpad Competition - a nationwide hunt for the UK’s most talented young entrepreneurs.

At a prestigious event in London last night, four Launchpad finalists pitched their business ideas in front of a panel of judges and an audience of inspirational leaders such as Demis Hassabis, founder of artificial intelligence firm DeepMind that was acquired by Google, who was keynote speaker at the event. The winner was chosen by a combined panel of judges and audience vote.

James’ winning business, MOM Incubator, has developed a revolutionary inflatable incubator which can be quickly flat-packed down for easy storage and powered for 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.

As well as the £15,000 prize, James now joins the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub, which helps the most promising UK engineering entrepreneurs to develop their skills and realise their ideas. As a member of the Enterprise Hub, James will now receive a package of specialist mentoring, training, and access to a national network of business leaders and investors comprising over 100 volunteer mentors from the Academy’s Fellowship, whose expertise will help take the technology to the global market.

James fought off competition from three other impressive finalists including George Edwards, inventor of the wireless gas monitor and Sorin Popa, inventor of Stent-Tek, a new device to revolutionise kidney dialysis and heart surgery, and Amanda Campbell who has developed the World’s first fully compostable tent. Having impressed the judges, the three runners-up have also been invited to join the Academy’s Enterprise Hub.

David Gammon, CEO of Rockspring and the primary benefactor of the JC Gammon Award, said: “It’s incredibly important for young engineers to have the opportunities to create and exploit their ideas. If we’re to maintain a vibrant technology industry and economy here in the UK that’s based on engineering innovation, we need to inspire children from an early age and show them the exciting career paths that engineering and entrepreneurship offers. The Launchpad competition is set up to do just that, providing the very best support through the Academy’s Enterprise Hub to give them every chance of success.

“James’ innovation stood out to us because he is dealing with a real world issue that is as applicable to our own country as it is to developing nations. James is a really focused, realistic and passionate individual and has the potential to make a real step change in healthcare globally.”

Overall winner details:

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 1/30<sup>th</sup> 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.

Finalist details:

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 developing an novel medical device that, through only two needle-sized punctures, will enable a small covered tube known as a ‘stent graft’ to connect vessels in almost any part of the arm, enabling 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.

Notes for Editors

About the Enterprise Hub: The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub is a new national resource for the UK’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs. The Hub forms part of the Academy’s commitment to promoting engineering excellence by identifying and supporting the founders and leaders of tomorrow’s high-tech companies. It provides money-can’t-buy bespoke support and one-to-one mentoring from its Fellowship, which includes prominent tech entrepreneurs such as business icons Mike Lynch OBE FREng, Sir Robin Saxby FREng, Anne Glover CBE HonFREng and Ian Shott CBE FREng. 

The Launchpad judges:

Ian Shott CBE FREng: Ian is Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Committee and Managing Partner at investment and advisory firm Shott Trinova LLP. Prior to this, he was the founder and CEO of Excelsyn, which was sold to an American multinational in 2010, before which he held numerous senior executive positions at multinational life science companies across the globe.

David Gammon: David is CEO of Cambridge-based Rockspring, which focuses on developing early stage technology companies. He is a serial angel investor. David is also a non-executive at Accesso plc and Frontier Developments plc. and Group Strategy Advisor to Marshall of Cambridge (Holdings).

Roy Merritt: Roy is Founder and Partner at private equity firm Oakfield Capital Partners. He has over twenty years of experience investing in and managing growing businesses. He has worked with leading firms including Apax, Providence Equity, Amadeus Capital Partners, and was co-head of Deutsche Bank Capital's growth private equity business.

Elspeth Finch: Elspeth is UK Innovation Director for Atkins, one of the world's leading design, engineering and project management consultancies, leading the company's efforts to help solve the challenges of tomorrow. In 2013 Elspeth was awarded the Academy’s Silver Medal for her achievements.

Glenn Manoff: Glenn is a well-known business leader and youth advocate. He has held senior positions at Camelot, Telefonica, and O2. Glenn founded Think Big, a €150 million Telefonica programme that backs thousands of young social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, and promotes digital literacy as an essential 'fourth literacy' for all young people.

Ian Ritchie: Ian is Chairman of iomart plc, Computer Application Services Ltd, the Interactive Design Institute, Cogbooks and RedFox Media. He has also been active in venture capital as a director of Northern Venture Trust plc and as a member of the advisory board of Pentech Ventures from 2001. Ian was awarded a CBE in the 2003 New Years Honours list for services to enterprise and education.

Ed Daniels: Ed is Executive Vice President, Commercial and New Business Development, at Shell UK Ltd. During his time with the company, he progressed from technologist through to his recent role as Chairman of Shell UK. He has also made an outstanding contribution to the profession as Technical Vice President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers by developing their current five-year strategy definition.

About the Royal Academy of Engineering: As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society. You can find out more about the Royal Academy of Engineering here


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