Three cutting edge technology spinouts tipped for global success by the Royal Academy of Engineering

05 May 2016

A fabric electrode that will allow wearable technology to be incorporated into everyday clothing, a novel device that enables kidney dialysis without invasive and costly surgery, and a revolutionary turbine set to cut the cost of offshore power by up to 30%, today came a step closer to reaching the market after winning backing from the Royal Academy of Engineering’s ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs’ Award.

The award seeks to identify the most promising electro-technology entrepreneurs in the UK and help them spin out their innovations from university into successful commercial ventures. This year, the award will see three inventors join the Academy’s Enterprise Hub, gaining access to world-class mentoring, tailored training and high-potential investment opportunities.

Sorin Popa – the founder of  Stent Tek who developed a novel device to allow kidney dialysis and even coronary bypasses to be performed without invasive surgery – was named the overall winner of the Award. Sorin, aged 26, will receive a £10,000 personal prize and £30,000 to help further develop the technology and bring it to market. As a member of the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub, he will also be provided with a mentor from the Academy’s prestigious Fellowship, training in how to run a successful business, and access to an exclusive network. With this support, his technology is expected to reach market by 2018 and early projections indicate that it could save the NHS an estimated £45 million a year.

Ana Avaliani, Head of Enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The Enterprise Hub is focused on identifying and supporting cutting-edge technology innovations from UK universities with real commercial potential, and social impact. Sorin’s technology is a perfect example of this, offering a better alternative to invasive surgery for millions of people with kidney and artery disease. Now, through our one-to-one mentoring, training and network of investors, the Enterprise Hub will help support Sorin on the next stage of his journey: bringing this technology to hospitals around the world.”

The two other innovators recognised for this year’s ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award are also expected to make waves in global markets. Dr Kai Yang, 35, from the University of Southampton has pioneered a fabric-based electrode that will allow healthcare sensors to be incorporated into everyday clothing fabrics. This will enable easier remote monitoring and rehabilitation of patients suffering from conditions such as stroke, giving them more independence.

James Carroll, aged 30, of the University of Strathclyde has been recognised by the Academy for the development of a revolutionary X Rotor Wind Turbine which combines proven wind-power technologies in such a way as to reduce the cost of maintenance and power generation by almost a third, dramatically lowering barriers to renewable power.

Professor Richard Brook OBE FREng, Chairman of the ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs’ Award selection panel, said: “This year’s awardees are testament to the world-class innovations in electro-technology being developed at universities up and down the country. They were selected because we believe they have the potential to bring significant benefit to society, as well as having a good chance of achieving commercial success. Through the award, and membership of the Academy’s Enterprise Hub, these entrepreneurs will be able to bring their technologies and exploitation plans another step closer to fruition.”

Overall winner of the ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs’ Award:  Sorin Popa, Stent Tek - Revolutionising kidney dialysis and heart surgery

Over 27,000 UK citizens and 2.5 million people worldwide have kidney conditions that mean their blood needs to be regularly externally filtered by 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 a 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 more reliably receive 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 market by 2018, where in the UK alone it could eventually save the NHS an estimated £45 million a year.

ERA Foundation Finalists joining the Enterprise Hub: 

James Carroll, University of Strathclyde, X Rotor Wind Turbine - Making offshore wind cost-effective

Global pressure to get more of our energy from renewable sources is higher than ever, but a major barrier to widespread use of offshore renewable energy is the cost of generation and maintenance. It is estimated that offshore wind is approximately 30% more costly than onshore wind and 40% more costly than gas generation.

Following three years working in the wind industry in Germany and Denmark, James Carroll started a PhD looking into the cost of wind energy at the University of Strathclyde. Through this, James worked with Professor Bill Leithead on an offshore wind energy concept that aims to reduce the cost of generating energy from offshore wind turbines and subsequently make offshore wind more viable.

Through this partnership, James, Professor Leithead and a team of researchers at the University of Strathclyde, have been working to develop the X Rotor Wind Turbine. The turbine combines proven wind energy technologies in a manner that has never been done before, in order to save costs in manufacturing and maintenance of offshore wind turbines. The X-Rotor offshore wind turbine can reduce the cost of energy by approximately 30% in comparison to current offshore wind turbines.

Over the next two years, the X-rotor development team will be focusing on proof of concept for the X Rotor Turbine and securing a patent. If development partners can then be identified, the team aims to have the product to market in the following five years and to eventually secure a 20% share of the new turbine market, which is estimated to be 30GW (3,750 8MW turbines) between 2021 and 2023.

Dr Kai Yang, University of Southampton - Fabric electrode for wearable applications

The electrode is a fundamental element used in many medical and healthcare devices, such as TENS pain relief treatments and electrical stimulation treatments used in stroke rehabilitation. However, traditional electrodes (made from hydrogel) are not ideal for wearable applications as they are sticky, have a limited lifetime, need to be kept in a sealed bag to stop moisture evaporation, and are incompatible with clothing.

Dr Kai Yang has developed an everyday fabric-based electrode for wearable medical and healthcare devices that overcomes these problems. The fabric electrode can be applied on the skin directly without using any gel. The electrode is fabricated on everyday fabric to form a range of clothing items, such as an arm band or sleeve, for various applications. It is comfortable to wear, easy to use, washable and unobtrusive.

The fabric electrode is a platform technology and can be used in Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) for stroke rehabilitation, TENS for pain relief (e.g. arthritis, back pain, neck pain), and health monitoring (e.g. ECG, EEG, EMG). Kai plans to bring the fabric electrode to market in 2017.

Kai, as a Principal Investigator, has secured £1.1M research funding from the Medical Research Council for a multi-disciplinary team to develop a wearable FES training system for home based stroke rehabilitation using the fabric electrode together with the advanced control and sensor technologies. The FES training system will enable stroke survivors to conduct rehabilitation activities without the need of a carer or therapist. Kai plans to bring the fabric based wearable FES training system to market in 2019.


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