A student who has developed a revolutionary way to tackle drugs counterfeiting has won Imperial's flagship competition for women entrepreneurs.
Saujanya Vruddhula, an undergraduate student from the Department of Life Sciences, took home £15,000 prize for her startup, Oggic, which aims to stop counterfeit drugs entering the market using blockchain technology.
With the support of the Enterprise Lab, I’ve created a business which could save both lives and vast amounts of money for industry Saujanya Vruddhula WE Innovate winner
Founded in 2014 thanks to Alexsis de Raadt St James and The Althea Foundation, the programme consists of a series of workshops, talks by business leaders, and one-to-one mentoring sessions to help participants develop their innovative ideas.
Building a business
Pitching at the WE Innovate final, Saujanya explained: “Drugs counterfeiting costs the industry around $150 billion a year. More importantly, they are responsible for between 300,000 and 500,000 deaths annually.”
This is due, in part, to the lack of coordination in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and the difficulty in tracing the drugs, she explained. While there are usually ID tags, QR codes and barcodes printed on drugs packaging. However this doesn’t stop people with nefarious intent tampering with what’s inside.
Saujanya’s solution is to print tiny QR codes directly onto drugs themselves. The manufacturer of the drug can register them on the blockchain, which is incorruptible, tamperproof, and transparent. This would allow everyone in the supply chain to keep track of the location and status of the drugs in real time, and verify their authenticity. They’re also developing an associated app for patients.
Speaking about her success, Saujanya said: “WE Innovate has been by far the best thing I’ve done at Imperial. I joined the programme with no real idea of what I wanted my business to be. With the support of the Enterprise Lab, I’ve created a business which could save both lives and vast amounts of money for industry.”
Saujanya hopes to launch her product in the next six months with the help of the WE Innovate funding.
Working towards change
The WE Innovate final was judged by a panel of experts, including Denise Scots-Knight - CEO and co-founder of Mereo, Sue Douthwaite – Managing Director for Santander Business Banking, Kate Newhouse – CEO of Blenheim Chalcot, and Nadja Swarovski – Member of the Swarovski Executive Board and Chair of the Swarovski Foundation.
The panel also awarded two runner up prizes. Charlotte McIntyre received £10,000 for AI Thyroid, which is designing artificial intelligence software to improve the diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Rebecca Steele and Rhiannon Leyden Preece took home £5,000 for Hermone, an at-home hormone testing kit for perimenopausal women.
Professor Maggie Dallman, Associate Provost (Academic Partnerships) said: “The long-standing gender inequality in both STEM subjects and business is well known, and as a scientist it has been my passion to encourage other women to realise their potential and work towards change.”
“Since the launch of the competition in 2014, I have enjoyed seeing our community of female student entrepreneurs grow. By providing a platform to develop innovative ideas into enterprising projects, the WE Innovate Programme gives our talented female students both the skills and confidence to develop into successful entrepreneurs.”
Nadja Swarovski said: “The Swarovski Foundation is delighted to support the WE Innovate prize. Enabling women to fulfil their potential is not only good for business, it also has a positive impact on society. We congratulate Imperial College London on this dynamic and empowering initiative, and we commend all the talented young women who have participated in this year’s programme - it is a pleasure to support them in this journey of innovation and leadership.”
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