Disrupt- the magazine for Innovators & Entrepreneurs
Max Munford, Osstec start-up

Welcome from the President

Since our founding in 1907, Imperial College London has sought to be not only a world-leading university, but a world-changing one. We have combined our tremendous strength in science, engineering, medicine and business with scientific discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship to create real-world impact.

At Imperial, we pride ourselves on our startup culture, nurturing the supportive and interdisciplinary environment that entrepreneurs need to thrive. That enabling environment includes the Imperial Enterprise Lab, the Institute for Deep Tech Entrepreneurship and our ecosystem of hackspaces, incubators and accelerators. Our network of business angels supports our students and staff as they turn their ideas into prototypes, their prototypes into startups, their startups into scaleups and their scaleups into world-changing businesses.

In March 2024, we launched an ambitious new strategy which will reinforce and grow our existing innovation ecosystem, including the development of the Imperial WestTech Corridor in partnership with local and national government, the NHS and the business community. We will also be launching Imperial Science Capital, a new venture fund to provide Imperial’s entrepreneurs with access to capital and proof-of-concept funding to realise the full potential of their businesses.

And through our new Imperial Global network, we will access and engage other innovation ecosystems around the world.

Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London

Headshot of Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London

Headshot of Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London

Headshot of Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London

A decade of empowerment:

WE Innovate celebrates ten years of supporting women's entrepreneurship

WE Innovate finalist presentation

A decade of empowerment:
WE Innovate celebrates ten years of supporting women's entrepreneurship

By Camille Reltien, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Manager, Imperial College London

In 2014, Imperial launched the first women’s entrepreneurship competition at a UK university with one clear objective: to address the stark inequalities faced by female founders. Ten years on, the programme has supported over 500 women who have gone on to raise more than £37.5 million for their ventures.

The gender gap

There has been little progress in the disparity between female- and male-led business in the last ten years. In 2023, the proportion of venture capital funding going to female-founded businesses in the UK is still only at two per cent, according to a report by The Women-Led HighGrowth Enterprise Taskforce.

The taskforce, chaired by founder of Starling Bank, Anne Boden, also found that up to £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled businesses at the same rate as men. These gaps represent the significant untapped economic potential of female entrepreneurs.

500 women supported

37.5 MILLION raised for their ventures

The winners of WE innovate 2023.

WE Innovate: supporting women entrepreneurs

WE Innovate, formerly known as Althea, welcomed its first cohort of 67 women ten years ago. Established thanks to the financial support of Alexsis De Raadt St James’ Althea Foundation, its main aim was to address the gap in financial, human and social capital between men and women founders. “I wanted women studying at Imperial to have unfettered access to tools, mentors and funding to quickly test their innovative ideas; a place where they could dream, build, fail and start again without judgment,” explains Alexsis. A decade later, the programme’s format has evolved but its core mission remains the same. After 25 female-led teams are selected, the WE Innovate programme runs over six months, delivering masterclasses from experts on topics like customer discovery, funding and leadership. It culminates in a pitch final showcasing five teams who are awarded part of a £30,000 prize fund.

There has been a significant increase in women participating in Imperial’s entrepreneurship activities, with over 500 females supported, 60 startups incorporated and more than £32.8 million in funding raised as a direct result of the WE Innovate programme. Participants who have not continued with their venture have taken the enhanced leadership and entrepreneurial skills they developed in the programme into the workforce.

The next decade There’s still work to do to progress women’s entrepreneurship and WE Innovate has big plans to make it happen. In the next year, the programme is focusing on leadership and mental resilience, supporting founders to get to know themselves more deeply and be better equipped for the physical and emotional labour of entrepreneurship. There are also ambitious plans to support women beyond Imperial. Alexsis sees huge potential for WE Innovate to expand its support nationally and replicate and scale the programme’s success: “It’s my hope that WE Innovate will spread to other UK universities and have the same success it’s had at Imperial.” For the first time in five years, WE Innovate is opening its doors to new sponsors keen to contribute to making the next decade as impactful as the first.

Meet the WE Innovate 2023 winner Stiliyana Minkovska, founder of Matrix

How do you evolve an initial concept into a high-potential business? We speak to Stiliyana Minkovska, founder of Matrix and winner of WE Innovate 2023, about her journey from a university student with a passion for improving women’s health to a full-time founder on the path to building an innovative femtech company.

Matrix was borne from Stiliyana’s studies, her personal experience as a woman and mother, and her drive to innovate in healthcare. She’s a qualified architect and female-centred-healthcare designer whose prolific work spans the fields of art, architecture, interiors, product design and design research (see www. stiliyanaminkovska.com)

Founder of Matrix

The conception of Matrix

Matrix was named after the Latin word for ‘mother’ and ‘uterus’. The company has created a 21st-century adaptation of the speculum. It’s an ergonomically designed, digitally enabled device that aims to transform gynaecological examinations by allowing women to collect their own medical data in a clinical setting.

Stiliyana realised that, incredibly, the speculum – a staple gynaecological instrument – has barely changed since Roman times. Applying her extensive professional knowledge and own lived experiences of prenatal care and childbirth, she set about reimagining this rudimentary gynaecological tool into one that’s fit for the future.

The evolution of Matrix

The idea for Matrix first came to Stiliyana during her Master’s in Healthcare and Design degree at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. During the course, she secured a Hackspace grant to produce an early prototype of her concept.

The project developed further when she submitted her idea to the FemTech Lab – an accelerator specialising in women’s health and wellness. She secured one of 12 places on the autumn 2022 cohort and was awarded an equity-free grant of £10,000 at the end of the programme, which she invested in obtaining a patent.

WE Innovate and beyond

Matrix has evolved into a commercial venture, bolstered by multiple startup competition successes. In 2023, Stiliyana joined the WE Innovate programme, progressing through each stage to pitch at the grand final and take home first prize.

Shortly afterwards, she had the opportunity to raise her profile as a guest speaker at the Radical Health Festival in Helsinki, which focuses on digital transformation in healthcare. Matrix has since won an Innovate UK Transformative Technologies grant and aims to create a prototype demonstrator.

Working with public funding has helped Stiliyana build her financial management skills and appreciate the importance of forecasting. “It can feel overwhelming initially, but it’s also empowering to understand it,” she says.

Stiliyana now receives business mentoring from the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service and has joined Imperial’s overseas mission to the BioJapan conference with the aim of discovering the latest tech for Matrix. Once the prototype is in place, Stiliyana plans to actively raise investment and explore further sources of grant funding. She expects to develop her design to find the ‘golden ratio’ of form to function.

Overcoming resistance, shifting tradition

Despite securing back-to-back wins, Stiliyana’s startup journey hasn’t always been smooth, as her idea has met some resistance from traditionalists. In the face of negative feedback, she takes heart from the support and awards she’s received to date, which have given her the confidence to believe in her cause. Stiliyana also reflects that the WE Innovate programme has taught her “to be led by my customers and their needs”, which validates the power of her innovation and reminds her not to undervalue its potential.

Building a business and creating a sanctuary

Healthcare innovations have a notoriously long lead-in time, requiring sustained conviction, stamina and focus to maintain momentum over several years. And with Matrix on track to enter the market in September 2025, Stiliyana will have been working on her project for more than three years by this point.

For Stiliyana, these extended time scales mixed with the detractors she’s come up against has brought the importance of being surrounded by the right people into sharp focus. Subsequently, Stiliyana has decided that her mission to transform gynaecological healthcare is one best shared. She is continuously supported by mentors from both the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service as well as Experts in Residence.

Stilyana explains that "even though I am a solo founder and often working entirely on my own, the fact that there are people who both believe in the Matrix mission and drive this forward by offering their time, commitment, knowledge and network is just game-changing.” The next chapter will be about mastering Matrix’s proposition, having a clear agenda and setting goals at each stage.

Key milestones on the horizon are finalising the design, running safety and compliance tests and, ultimately, manufacturing the first batch of the product. “It’s a rollercoaster ride,” Stiliyana reflects. “You can never have complete control over the process, so the best way to stay sane amidst uncertainty is to take one step at a time.”

She finds the metaphor of having different homes grounding: there are her roots in Bulgaria, the London home she shares with her husband and daughters, and then Matrix – the emerging ‘business home’ she’s building.

To discuss sponsorship opportunities and supporting WE Innovate contact the Head of Imperial Enterprise Lab, Sarah Ranchev-Hale.

Hire: Nine must-know principles for startups

By Carl Coddington, Team Building Expert-in-Residence at Imperial College London

The difference between success or failure for a startup can be hiring the right people for your team. The good news is that hiring is a skill anyone can learn, and mastering it is fundamental to building and scaling your business. Most companies make hiring mistakes, but if you apply these nine principles you’ll go a long way to significantly reducing the number you make.

01 Start with the end in mind

Before you hire anyone, define what success looks like for the role. Detail the outcomes you anticipate from the position. For instance, if you’re seeking to hire a sales professional, an outcome might be to achieve a 25 per cent increase in sales revenue or expand the client base by ten new accounts. For the role to be successful, knowing these desired outcomes upfront will help to determine the essential responsibilities and behaviours you seek in a candidate. This clarity will ensure you hire someone aligned with your expectations and indicates to them the meaningful and impactful contribution their work will make. When you fully understand the expectations for the role upfront, you can evaluate and guide your new hire towards tangible success.


  • List up to six role outcomes.
  • Split them into six-month and one-year objectives

02 Don’t skip the foundations

Before you hire, establish your startup’s purpose, mission, vision and values. These aren’t just fancy words to be thrown around or placed on your website and forgotten. Done properly, they’ll guide every decision you make, especially when hiring. Your goal is to find individuals who resonate with them and will champion them, which is much easier if they’re clear from the start. Also, employees who align with your foundations will be more engaged, motivated and committed. As Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” and the same applies when you want to attract and hire talent.


  • Create a ‘culture deck’ that includes your core values, and purpose, mission and vision statements.
  • Share it with first-round interview candidates, using it as a discussion point.

03 Distinguish hiring needs from wants

When I advise founders on team growth and hiring, I often ask “Why this role and why now?”. Answering this question will help you establish clarity and intent for each requirement. It’s tempting to start hiring as your budget allows but each new employee should be a strategic investment. You’ll enhance your hiring precision and decision-making if you differentiate between genuine needs and mere wants. Understanding and implementing this principle can be the difference between a thriving startup and one that struggles when misaligned priorities emerge.


  • Ask yourself why you’re hiring for a role and when you need someone in it.
  • Create a 12-month timetable for required skills

04 Always think ahead

Hire for the future, not just the present. Look for candidates who can grow as your company grows. Can they evolve, acquire new skills and take on new responsibilities as your startup expands? It’s important to set the stage for sustained growth and avoid the need to constantly reshuffle roles as your business develops.


  • Envision the role over a one- to two-year trajectory.
  • Identify growth opportunities for both skills and career development.

05 Value diversity and inclusion

A diverse and inclusive team provides a plethora of perspectives, encourages creativity and fosters innovation. It’s important to establish a workforce that reflects diverse backgrounds, experiences and thoughts. It can improve company culture, enhance product and service development, and even attract a wider customer base. If you build a diverse and inclusive environment, and ensure every voice is heard and valued, you’ll attract a wider pool of candidates.


  • Craft unbiased job postings with gender-neutral language.
  • Use anonymous application reviews to help eliminate unconscious bias.
  • Show inclusivity in interviews by encouraging candidate feedback and questions throughout the process.
A diverse and inclusive team provides a plethora of perspectives, encourages creativity and fosters innovation.
It’s important to set the stage for sustained growth

06 Hiring is a two-way process

Hiring isn’t just about you choosing the right candidate. Candidates are also choosing you – it’s a two-way process. As you evaluate potential hires, consider whether they’re a good fit for your company and if your company is a good fit for them. Focus on creating a positive candidate experience throughout the hiring process, as this will help to nurture a two-way relationship. Providing constructive feedback and clear, timely communication will help make the overall experience more positive. A positive experience cultivates trust, strengthens relationships and can position your startup as a primary employer of choice.


  • Provide candidates with feedback within 24 to 48 hours of their interview.
  • Treat each candidate with respect and appreciation, regardless of the outcome of the interview.

07 Structure your interview process

Interviews can veer off course due to our biases and instinctive judgments, which can lead to inconsistent results. To avoid this and make better hiring decisions, use a structured interview process. To reduce bias and ensure a fairer assessment, create a set of standardised interview questions tailored to each role. Consistency in your questions will also enhance your interviewing skills. Next, use an interview scorecard to help capture and compare candidate responses. This will significantly improve candidate evaluation.


  • Create an interview pack including interview questions and a scorecard.
  • Assign questions to specific stages of the interview to reduce repetition.

08 Prioritise mindset over skill set

As startups continuously evolve, adaptability is crucial. While skills are undoubtedly vital, it’s essential to evaluate a candidate’s mindset. Candidates with resilience, curiosity and a growth mindset are more likely to develop alongside your company. They will be able to navigate and proactively adapt to changes and new challenges. When you endeavour to understand a candidate’s mindset during the hiring process and hire accordingly, your team will be better equipped for today’s tasks and tomorrow’s challenges. When you consider skill set and mindset together, you increase the chances of a more sustainable business.


  • When interviewing, use behavioural and situational questions to elicit responses to different circumstances.
  • For a deeper understanding, find out the ‘why’ behind a candidate’s initial answer to gain more context.

09 The hiring process doesn’t end once the offer is accepted

Congratulations! Your chosen candidate has accepted the job offer but the hiring process isn’t over yet. It does, however, signal the beginning of the transition from candidate to employee. Effective onboarding is key to ensuring every new hire is a success. A good onboarding process should make the new hire feel welcomed, aligned with role expectations and equipped with the tools and information they require. It should be a positive and engaging experience that fosters a sense of belonging, accelerates the learning curve and sets the foundation for long-term success.


  • Write an onboarding checklist.
  • Create a plan for each employee’s first 30, 60 and 90 days

Hiring goes beyond just filling roles; it shapes your company’s future. To ensure your startup has a prosperous journey, apply these nine principles to recruit the right talent for your business. As with any skill, practice makes perfect, and soon enough you’ll master both the art and science of hiring.

To find out more about our Experts-in-Residence at Imperial Enterprise lab and to discover your next steps, visit our website.

A legacy of
innovation and

Dr Paul Atheron sitting in leather chair

Celebrating the life of Dr Paul Atherton:
a legacy of innovation and mentorship at Imperial College London and beyond

Dr Paul Atherton’s entrepreneurial journey, spanning more than three decades, left an indelible mark on the startup landscape. In addition to his remarkable success, he dedicated his later years to mentoring and guiding the next generation of entrepreneurs. D/srupt celebrates Paul’s extraordinary life and his pivotal role in fostering entrepreneurship at Imperial College London and beyond

The accidental entrepreneur

Paul’s entrepreneurial journey began by accident. While studying at Imperial in 1978, he and his co-founders were building optical interferometers for large telescopes; something people had been trying to do for 100 years without success. But with persistence and hard work, they created the technology to do it.

Now they could study the night sky more effectively, doing things in hours that would previously have taken days. And the technology was popular, with academics from many prestigious research groups wanting to use the instruments. Paul and his co-founders would spend Saturdays building them and then taking refreshment in the Queen’s Arms pub behind the Royal Albert Hall. “It was the watering hole for the physics department,” he remembers. That’s when they decided to start a company: Queensgate Instruments. £5 an hour. “That seemed like a lot of money to an impoverished student in 1978!” he says. Paul had planned to pursue an academic career, but that all changed when he got a call from NASA who wanted to use the Queensgate technology.

Selling the business

Paul and his co-founders ran the company for another 15 years, turning it into a fibre optic business along the way. “We knew optical fibre would be important in the future,” he explains, even if they didn’t quite know how. “We came up with a device that could be used in telecoms and that revolution came along in the mid-‘90s.” A few years later, he came back from the US with a $50 million dollar supply contract. They found a factory, hired employees and within a year, three major telecom companies were competing to buy Queensgate Instruments. They sold the business in 2000.

Paul will continue to be a north star guiding how we help, support and encourage entrepreneurship across the College.
Ben Mumby-Croft, Director of Entrepreneurship, Imperial College London

Giving back to the next generation

After selling the company, Paul set out to assist the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. He shared his expertise and insight generously as an investor and was a long-time supporter of several illustrious universities, including Imperial, where he supported teaching, research and entrepreneurship. Paul went on to found, develop and support numerous other companies and institutions in leadership roles, including Chairman of C2 V (micro gas chromatographs); Founder and Chairman of Midaz Lasers; an angel investor in NaturalMotion; Chair of Sussex Place Ventures – the London Business School Venture Fund; Founder and Executive Chairman of Nexeon Limited (lithium ion battery materials for energy storage); and Chair of Phase Focus Limited.

In 2022, Paul was one of the first investors in Infinitesima, a venture revolutionising semiconductor chips with the latest 3D Metron systems. Paul helped to create their vision, supporting with his expertise both technically and commercially. Paul was a non-executive director of Imperial Innovations from 2004 to 2014, helping to raise several hundred million pounds for investment in UK technology startups.

His most recent financing venture was in the startup FungiAlert, now known as FA Bio an Imperial spinout focusing on analysing the soil microbiome for sustainable farming based on the work of PhD students. It has recently raised £5.3 million in its latest funding round. In driving the growth and scale of various startup and spinout businesses, Paul directly influenced the creation of more than 300 jobs, raised over £130 million in venture funding and engineered four exits at a combined valuation in excess of $800 million. 

Victoria Nicholl, Head of Incubation Services in the Enterprise team at the College, paid tribute to Paul’s contribution to life at Imperial: “Paul was such an exciting person to work with. He relished the challenges that arose from creating a world-class entrepreneurial mentoring service, delighted in the success of Imperial’s entrepreneurs, and hugely enjoyed meeting and working with other mentors. He was generous with his time, insight and connections. A conversation with Paul somehow always managed to be a laugh and a masterclass in strategic thinking, with kindness and good business sense at its core.”

Dr Paul Atherton sat at a desk
For me, life is about leaving the world a better place for my children and grandchildren and everyone in it. If I can do that through my activities, that would be wonderful.
Dr Paul Atherton

Mentoring at Imperial

Paul used his experience to support the culture of entrepreneurship at the College, fostering the next generation of Imperial entrepreneurs. In 2017, he became the Founding Director of Imperial College London’s flagship Venture Mentoring Service (IVMS). Under Paul’s leadership, IVMS attracted more than 100 serial entrepreneurs, C-suite executives and industry experts to take on volunteer mentor roles, helping over 130 ventures, who have raised more than £90 million in funding. Participating ventures have moved on to prestigious accelerators to further fuel their impact. A variety of products have already launched and positively impacted hundreds of thousands of people. We can expect this to expand to millions in the future.

In 2021, Paul became joint winner of Imperial’s inaugural Alumni Entrepreneur Award in recognition of his career as a serial entrepreneur and contribution to Imperial’s culture of enterprise as the Founding Director of IMVS. Dominique Kleyn, Chair of IVMS and Co-founder of Orthonika, paid tribute to Paul: “IVMS owes much to Paul’s vision and leadership. His long experience of the work of Imperial and superb understanding of technology commercialisation has given us a firm foundation for future success in our role as venture mentors for staff and students.

Paul’s enthusiasm and warm personality made a great impression on those who were lucky enough to cross his path and he will be sadly missed.” Ben Mumby-Croft, Director of Entrepreneurship at Imperial, also worked closely with Paul: “Paul was a tireless advocate for unconflicted, team-based mentoring for founders across the College. Paul’s spirit lives on in the entrepreneurial culture and networks he helped establish at Imperial. High standards yes, but always delivered with generosity, respect and kindness of spirit – not to mention a mischievous twinkle in the eye and that smile! Paul inspired me and will continue to be a north star guiding how we help, support and encourage entrepreneurship across the College.”

Lasting legacy

In Paul’s own words: “If I was an academic researcher, I’d be building technology to go on satellites – that would make the world better in a different way. But the startups I’ve founded are helping with things like climate change (Nexeon), cancer (Phase Focus), feeding the world sustainably (FA Bio)Delica) That’s what drives me. “For me, life is about leaving the world a better place for my children and grandchildren and everyone in it. If I can do that through my activities, that would be wonderful.

To find out how you can support Entrepreneurship at Imperial contact Director of Entrepreneurship, Ben Mumby-Croft.



Groupshot of the OSSTEC founders


Musculoskeletal illness is a significant health problem facing the world’s ageing population. OSSTEC’s bone-imitating, 3D-printed implants stimulate bone to heal and grow, helping to keep patients healthy, active and enjoying life. CEO, Maxwell Munford, tells us about OSSTEC’s journey so far.

The problem

Mobility is a key issue for today’s ageing population, with one in three people suffering from musculoskeletal illness. In orthopaedics, there is a growing need for patients to be treated with earlier intervention surgery and day-case surgery. We know that treating patients sooner and faster is better for their health, recovery and the cost of their care.

Yet, many of the 1.3 million patients treated globally every year remain unsatisfied, including those under the age of 65 who continue to experience a 35 per cent risk of failure. Moreover, most procedures are not suitable for day-case surgery.

The solution

OSSTEC is uniquely able to 3D print metal implants which behave far more like natural human bone than existing devices. We are using this technology to create our first implants, which are inserted via a less invasive procedure that is proven to improve patient outcomes. OSSTEC has developed two core technology pillars over the past decade at Imperial College London.

These world-firsts are: 1. Porous implants that stimulate bone to heal and grow over time, meaning the implants stay fixed in the bone and last longer without cement. 2. 3D-printed articulating implants, with simpler manufacturing and reduced costs compared to existing devices. These technologies are incredibly powerful because they can be applied across orthopaedics, in the knee, shoulder, hip, spine and more.

Where did the idea originate?

OSSTEC’s underlying research began at the intersection of two disciplines: 3D-printed biomimetic metal structures and less invasive knee replacement procedures. The research connected surgeon Mr Alex Liddle, who deeply understands the common failure modes of existing orthopaedic devices, with engineers Professor Jonathan Jeffers and Dr Maxwell Munford, who understand the properties of bone and 3D-printed metal. Our fundamental technology has been developed over the past 10 years at the forefront of metal 3D printing, but it was the intersection of surgeon’s problems with engineering solutions that spawned OSSTEC.

We know that treating patients sooner and faster is better for their health, recovery and the cost of their care

How did the team meet?

OSSTEC’s core team, comprising surgeons, engineers and previous founders, met at Imperial. The culture and ecosystem at Imperial, with leaders in engineering, medicine and business all under one roof, is truly unique and inspiring. And it goes far beyond studying and research. The enterprising spirit that has been cultivated here is palpable and inspires us daily, from corridor chats with other founders and researchers to events focusing on innovation.

Imperial is a place where you can build a company to tackle the world’s biggest problems from the ground up, starting at the forefront of research and working with leaders in an environment built for you to thrive. During my PhD, I was privileged to be supervised by Professor Jonathan Jeffers (JJ) and Mr Alex Liddle. Working with JJ and Alex was always inspiring because they exposed me to such broad learnings, including research publications and grants, engineering successes and failures in orthopaedic innovations, clinical trials and patient care, and previous venture experience.

A key part of Imperial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is the Enterprise Lab. I met Dominique Kleyn, our Chair, through the Enterprise Lab’s Imperial Venture Mentoring Service (IVMS). Through this programme, early-stage founders can pitch for and receive mentoring from business leaders who have actually ‘been there and done it’. It’s an amazing programme and I encourage anyone passionate about building a venture to join the IVMS. OSSTEC has now grown to an amazing team of eight. I was fortunate to study alongside some members at Imperial while others have joined from engineering and the regulatory industry.

Several parts of my PhD research entwined with other students’ projects which gave me the opportunity to collaborate with some amazing people. Today these people are part of the team and driving OSSTEC forward. It’s a privilege to work alongside them all.

Do you have any advisers?

Our advisers include our Chair, Dominique Kleyn, whom I met through IVMS, Imperial alumni-turned-exited-founders and our investors. Again, the unique position of Imperial being a hub of excellence in engineering, medicine and entrepreneurship all under one roof means that all the right people needed to start a company are here together.

What support have you had during your journey?

As OSSTEC began to take shape during my PhD, I was part of many other programmes including the Venture Catalyst Challenge, the MedTech SuperConnector and the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Fellowships. All these programmes helped me gain the skills needed to build and grow OSSTEC’s team, vision and strategy.

The Enterprise Fellowship was particularly helpful, with crucial course content and a cohort I have always been able to rely on for steadfast advice. More recently, OSSTEC has joined the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Shott Scale Up Accelerator to support us as we launch in the US market. I’m very grateful for this support and excited for this next step of the journey.

Most importantly, my partner and family have been a huge part of the journey so far and are incredibly supportive of me and OSSTEC. They are my number one advisers and I can’t do what I do without them.

What stage is the venture at and what are your plans for the future?

We’ll perform our first clinical procedures with knee replacement implants, generate our first revenues and make the first hires for our US team in the coming year. Our UK clinical trial will generate patient data and clinical evidence for our technology and first product. Beyond this, we plan to expand our offering by applying our technology across orthopaedics for other joints. The powerful thing about OSSTEC has always been that our technologies are platforms for further innovation. After our current funding round and early revenues, our future includes growing our R&D and clinical team in the UK, expanding our clinical trials and growing our presence with surgeons and sales in the US.

The only knee system that is stiffness-matched to bone with OSSTEC'S patented 3D Printed Technology

What stage is the venture at and what are your plans for the future?

We’ll perform our first clinical procedures with knee replacement implants, generate our first revenues and make the first hires for our US team in the coming year. Our UK clinical trial will generate patient data and clinical evidence for our technology and first product. Beyond this, we plan to expand our offering by applying our technology across orthopaedics for other joints.

The powerful thing about OSSTEC has always been that our technologies are platforms for further innovation. After our current funding round and early revenues, our future includes growing our R&D and clinical team in the UK, expanding our clinical trials and growing our presence with surgeons and sales in the US.

Are you currently fundraising?

We launched our current investment round at the President’s Reception during Imperial’s San Francisco Startup Showcase. This is a £5 million funding round to gain regulatory approval to launch our implants for our first sales and early in-human procedures. The proceeds from this round will prepare us for our commercial launch and clinical trial. Imperial’s San Francisco Startup Showcase, organised by Imperial Enterprise Lab, was the ideal opportunity for OSSTEC.

It supported us to get to the West Coast, gave us insight into a different venture ecosystem and, crucially, facilitated networking events and meetings with investors, venture capitalists and surgeons with whom we are now working. During the trip, I met goliath Silicon Valley founders and CEOs and expanded OSSTEC’s partners. OSSTEC’s future is on both sides of the Atlantic, here in the UK and in the US. The alignment of OSSTEC’s business model with the US market meant we were able to leverage the trip for huge benefit in our current investment round and with commercialisation partners more broadly.

Since our last investment round in Q1 2023, we have grown our team, integrated world-leading surgeons into the business, met formal regulatory milestones, established a portfolio of seven patents, run surgical trials in London and New York, and begun building a presence in the US – it’s been a busy 12 months!

What’s been your biggest success so far?

For us, 2023 was a mammoth year. We closed our first funding round, integrated leading surgeons from the UK and US, grew the team to eight, refined our value proposition and began to grow our commercial presence in the US. We had many highs and lows but closing the round and seeing our whole team alongside all our investors and partners at our round-closing party was a special moment. My biggest success would be how much I’ve learned over the last 18 months about fundraising, strategy, building a team, surgery, networking, markets and myself.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

There are too many to list here but I can summarise by saying that a major challenge is building a company and team that has the cultural and strategic resilience to weather external risks. We do our best to understand all the risks we anticipate but we never know if we have captured all our unknowns. Moreover, some risks will be external and outside our control. We can’t swing the balance or affect their outcomes but must simply set processes and plans in place to be flexible and robust to any outcome.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Learn as much as you can! From mentors, teammates, books, courses, accelerators… anything, because you definitely don’t have most of the answers you need. Most importantly, buckle up for a long and bumpy ride. No one ever really talks about – or wants to hear about – the gritty side of early-stage startups but it will be stressful and demanding (much more so than your studies or research) and it will probably fail! You need to be happy with this and the amazing growth and learning opportunities that come with whatever lies ahead.

In many university based startups, intellectual property is extremely important and this can lead startups to be secretive about what they discuss with people. In most cases, there will be real benefit to sharing your ideas and getting external input on your venture – so don’t be scared to share your plans and direction with people who can support you, even before filing IP. If your whole business rests on filing your first patent to such an extent that you can’t chat to someone about it, then you don’t have much to start with.

To enable the learning and mentoring needed in the startup world, it’s crucial for founders to give back in any way possible and share their experiences with other aspiring trailblazers by maintaining links to community groups, speaking at events and mentoring. Imperial fosters many opportunities to do this, so all founders should get involved. The Imperial Entrepreneur’s Pledge offers an amazing one-of-a-kind route to give back and I encourage all founders to join the growing movement of people who have already taken the pledge.

Start your journey with OSSTEC by getting in touch.

The pretotype

Alberto Savoia presenting to a packed room of students

The pretotype pioneer

In today’s fast-changing world, innovation isn’t optional – it’s essential for survival. Meet Alberto Savoia, the ‘pretotyping’ guru who argues that to dominate the market, innovators must transcend basic innovation and aim to be apex innovators. Drawing from his diverse career, including a stint as the Innovation Agitator at Google, Alberto spoke with Ben Mumby-Croft, Director of Entrepreneurship at Imperial College London, giving practical advice on how to uncover ‘the right it’ and execute it flawlessly.

So, Alberto, you were Innovation Agitator at Google which sounds like a really cool job title. What did that encompass and what did you do on a day-to-day basis?

Back in the early days at Google, my official title was Engineering Director. I was there when Google was still finding its footing in the tech world. But then I took a break to try my hand at a startup venture. When I returned, the landscape had changed. Google was growing fast and with that growth came a new challenge: innovation. It might sound strange but success can sometimes stifle innovation. Everyone wanted to work on the big, established products like Gmail or Google Search. Nobody wanted to risk their reputation on something new and untested. I get it – being associated with a big success looks better than being tied to a flop. So, Google decided to tackle the issue head on. They formed a task force to focus specifically on innovation. I wasn’t too keen on joining at first – task forces are often lots of talk, not much action – but I figured I’d give it a shot. I was genuinely interested in figuring out why innovation was stalling. What I found was eye-opening. Fear of failure was holding people back. Most new projects at Google failed – a whopping 80 per cent of them. That’s a scary statistic. So, I decided to do something about it. I created ‘pretotyping’. It’s a way to test if a new idea will fly before you invest a ton of time and money into it. It started as an internal tool at Google, but it quickly gained traction outside the company. Suddenly, I found myself teaching pretotyping at Stanford and working with companies all over the place. My accidental innovation had taken on a life of its own

Pretotyping is an interesting term. What’s a pretotype and how’s it different to a prototype?

Pretotyping might sound like just another fancy term, but it has its purpose. Think of it like when a doctor tells you you’re sick – you’re probably going to want more details, right? The same goes for prototyping. It’s too broad, like a one-size-fitsall solution. Lots of people spend ages building a prototype, only to discover that nobody’s interested in buying it. That’s where pretotyping comes in. Pretotyping is a faster way to find out if people are into your idea. Instead of diving straight into building something, you take a step back and ask: “Hey, would anyone even want this?” It’s about testing the waters before you dive in

With pretotyping, you learn first, then build. It’s about having eager customers lined up before you even start production.

In your book The Right It, you talk about the ‘Law of Market Failure’. What do you mean by that?

The Law of Market Failure is a double whammy. Firstly, it’s a cold, hard fact that most new products flop in the market. Whether it’s a new restaurant or a startup, the odds are stacked against success. But here’s the kicker: even if you’re really good at what you do, failure can still smack you in the face. Take giants like Google or Amazon – they’ve got all the talent and resources in the world, yet they still have plenty of products that crash and burn. So, what’s the takeaway? Well, it’s pretty simple: when you’re dreaming up a new idea, you have to start by assuming it’ll fail. It’s not pessimism; it’s just being realistic. And instead of seeking confirmation that your idea is great, you’ve got to actively look for ways it could go wrong. Sure, it stings a bit to challenge your own brilliance but trust me – it hurts a whole lot less than pouring years of effort into something only to watch it flop. That’s the essence of the Law of Market Failure: assume your idea will tank and then do everything you can to prove yourself wrong. That’s where pretotyping comes in handy – it gives you a way to test your idea without going all in.

You talk a lot about the idea of ‘skin in the game’. What does this mean and why is it important?

Skin in the game is a concept popularised by Nassim Taleb and it’s all about commitment. As an entrepreneur, putting skin in the game might mean quitting a stable job or taking out a loan to invest in your idea. But before you go all in, you want to see if there’s some skin in the game from the market too. For me, skin in the game comes in various forms. The best indicator that people genuinely want to buy something is when they’re willing to part with their hard-earned cash, say, through pre-orders. I mean, who hands over $1,000 without serious interest? But it’s not just about money. Even small commitments, such as giving their time or a valid email address, show some level of interest. These might seem minor, but they still count as skin in the game because they demonstrate a willingness to engage with your idea. So, when you’re testing the waters with a new product or venture, look for signs of skin in the game from your potential customers. It’s a good way to gauge real interest and avoid diving in headfirst without knowing if anyone’s actually interested.

Your most recent book is The Right It. What is ‘the right it’? How do you know when your idea’s got it?

This concept came to me after seeing too many fuzzy ideas floating around without a solid definition of what makes them good or bad. I mean, nobody wakes up thinking “I’m going to build something that totally tanks in the market”, right? So, I wanted a clearer way to define success. For me, ‘the right it’ is all about precision. It’s an idea for a new product or service that, if executed competently, will succeed in the market. Simple as that. There’s also its evil twin, ‘the wrong it’. This is an idea that, even if executed perfectly, will still flop. I ditched the whole ‘good idea, bad idea’ thing because it’s too subjective. Instead, I tied success directly to execution. If it works, it’s ‘the right it’; if not, it’s ‘the wrong it’. And that’s where pretotyping comes in handy. It helps you figure out the likelihood of an idea being ‘the right it’ by expressing it as a probability of success. I’ve got a five-bucket system to gauge probability, ranging from very unlikely to very likely. It’s not about being overly precise – just getting a rough idea of where your idea stands. If you’re a product manager or innovator, knowing whether your idea will fly in the market is crucial. Pretotyping helps you answer that question with some level of certainty, making sure you’re investing your time and resources in the right place

Isn’t this approach basically the lean startup methodology? What’s your view on the similarities and differences?

My approach, pretotyping, is complementary to the lean startup and the work of Steve Blank and Eric Ries. The difference is that pretotyping is designed to be applied before an entrepreneur starts thinking in terms of an actual product, let alone a startup organisation to develop and deliver it to market. Sure, the principles may seem similar – testing ideas, learning from feedback, iterating – but the devil’s in the detail. It’s about going back to basics and focusing on the first principles of idea validation. Pretotyping is all about minimising risk from day one. Lean startup talks about building, then learning. But why waste time and resources building something if you’re not even sure anyone wants it? With pretotyping, you learn first, then build. It’s about having eager customers lined up before you even start production. And let’s talk about minimum viable products. Sometimes, you don’t even need to build one. Pretotyping lets you test the waters with simple prototypes or simulations, gauging demand before investing heavily in development.

"The key to becoming an apex innovator lies in experimentation."

What about the question of ethics? How should innovators think about and incorporate ethics when using ‘the right it’ to test new ideas?

When it comes to ethics in innovation and testing new ideas, transparency is key. Pretotyping methods can be executed ethically by clearly communicating to participants that they’re part of an early-stage experiment. This ensures there’s no baitand-switch scenario. At a higher level, there’s an ethical question of balancing the potential benefits of an idea against the risks involved in testing it. Sometimes, it’s justifiable to conduct experiments, even if they involve some level of risk, if the potential benefits are significant. But the ultimate ethical imperative is to avoid wasting resources on products that nobody needs. Pretotyping helps prevent this by ensuring that engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs focus their efforts on ideas that have genuine potential to make a positive impact. Transparency is key throughout the process. Whether it’s collecting pre-orders for a product that’s still in development or conducting experiments, being upfront about the nature of the test and the possible outcomes is essential for building trust with participants.

Given all the recent interest in large language models (LLMs) and generative AI tools and platforms, have you seen any interesting use cases of AI by innovators looking to build ‘the right it’?

In the realm of entrepreneurship education, there’s been a lot of buzz about the potential of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. I’ve personally explored its capabilities and found it impressive. Some of my clients and students have used it creatively in their projects, like one student who used it to pretotype a manga comic idea in just two days, despite not knowing how to draw. Generative AI platforms like ChatGPT have diverse applications. They can help create websites for product launches, generate marketing slogans and company names, and even mock up product designs for those lacking design skills. From a creative standpoint, these tools offer exciting possibilities for bringing ideas to life and conducting pretotype tests to gauge their viability. I’ve also experimented with ChatGPT, asking it questions about my work and even how to pretotype unusual ideas like beer for dogs, and it provided surprisingly insightful responses. It serves as a helpful prompt to explore ideas from different angles and overcome the initial challenges of getting started on a project. Overall, generative AI tools like ChatGPT act as invaluable assistants, offering a wealth of creative possibilities at an affordable cost.

You spend most of your time now helping companies to become apex innovators – what do you mean by this term?

Apex innovators are the top-performing companies, often in the top one or two per cent, distinguished by their exceptional growth and performance. These companies, like trillion-dollar giants, achieve and maintain their status by continuously innovating. To sustain growth rates of four or five per cent, even after making billions, they need to launch new products across various categories. The key to becoming an apex innovator lies in experimentation. These companies conduct numerous experiments to identify ideas that truly move the needle. They aren’t interested in modest successes; they’re after game-changing ideas. Pretotyping plays a crucial role in this process. It allows them to test a multitude of ideas quickly and efficiently to uncover those with the potential for massive returns. In my How to Bet Like Bezos video series, I outline the strategy of taking bets with a ten per cent chance of yielding a 100x return, a mindset embraced by apex innovators. Among today’s companies and entrepreneurs, Elon Musk impresses me the most with his commitment to innovation and willingness to take significant risks, exemplifying a true skin-inthe-game approach. Other notable apex innovators include Amazon, Google and Apple. Amazon, in particular, stands out for its relentless experimentation, running thousands of experiments every year. While Apple’s innovation process is shrouded in secrecy, it’s evident that they, too, invest heavily in pretotyping internally. Overall, becoming an apex innovator requires a relentless focus on experimentation and pretotyping. It’s about testing numerous ideas to uncover the rare ones that have the potential to be 100x ideas and realising that the first idea is unlikely to be the one that transforms the industry.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I’m not diving into a lot of new business content because I feel like I’ve covered most of that ground already. It’s like mastering the basics of physics or calculus; once you’ve got that down, you’re set. I’ve put out a ton of material, like my Math of Success series, and I think there’s still a lot for people to discover in that. So, for now, I’m working on my next book, The Right You. It’s a shift from The Right It, focusing on how to be successful, not just in business, but also in life. Many people find success in business but still aren’t happy, so I want to explore how to align success with fulfilment in life.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give a first-time innovator at the start of their entrepreneurial journey? Focus on the problem you want to solve. Fall in love with the problem itself, whether it’s reducing food waste or another issue. But when it comes to solutions, flirt with various ideas. Don’t get too attached to any one solution. Instead, generate many possible solutions and then evaluate them. Pick a few promising ones and validate them through pretotyping. It’s about being open to different approaches while staying committed to solving the problem.

Looking to start your incubation or prototyping journey? Get in touch!

Fund your startup

By Victoria Nicholl, Head of Incubation Services at Imperial College London

While it’s true that many Imperial startups raise external funding, not all do. But because it’s such a visible form of fundraising, it’s easy to think it’s something you ‘need’ to do, rather than just one of a range of options. Here we explore a variety of ways to fund your startup – and they all work whether you need to raise external money or not. While not all the funding approaches listed here will be right for you and your startup, they’re all worth knowing about and will help you raise capital sensibly, on favourable terms for your company.


Bootstrapping is when you run your company as leanly as possible – from working on your company in your spare time while in a part-time or full-time job at another company, to using your savings to fund you while you work on your company. It means questioning the best use of any money you spend. It’s great practice, whether you’re aiming to be a freelancer or build a global business that impacts billions, as founders who know how to make their money stretch increase their chances of keeping their companies alive.


Revenue is money you earn from selling a product or service. Remember that perfect is the enemy of done, so if you can get your minimum viable product into market, you can get invaluable customer feedback. Make sure you’ve properly mapped out how your finances work. You want profit margins of 40 to 50 per cent – it may sound like a lot but it’s not being greedy; it’s ensuring you have enough profit to operate and invest back into the business


Many great startups have benefited from people giving their time and expertise for free. Keep an eye out for students who want work experience and people who believe in your product who are happy to give some time for free. It’s important that you’re deeply respectful of this, while also ensuring the help is actually helping. All volunteers need some sort of management, which can be a great learning curve for founders but can also take significant time, especially with students on internships. So carefully consider volunteers on their merits and your capacity. If they’re not helping, politely let that help go and, as soon as you have the money, start paying people.

In-kind support and discounted services

Cash isn’t the only way to fund your startup. Free access to a co-working space like the Imperial Enterprise Lab, for example, can save you a huge amount of money. And discounts on products or services can make the money you have stretch further. Check out the Imperial Enterprise Lab Resources web pages to see the additional support available to Imperial founders.


Your company can benefit from several funding competitions – both at Imperial and in the wider world – that offer equity-free cash prizes for the winners. These are especially good for early-stage startups and usually come with some sort of free coaching, mentoring or training. From the Venture Catalyst Challenge to WE Innovate, explore Imperial’s competitions at www.imperial.ac.uk/ entrepreneurship.

Friends and family funding

This is when you do a small fundraising round where friends and family buy into your business. You need to be especially careful with this approach and ensure they know the risks attached, as they could lose all their money if things don’t go according to plan. But when done correctly, it can be a hugely effective way of raising cash for your startup.

Grant funding

Grants are awarded without taking equity from your startup and often help with the research and development side of the business. They come with strict criteria and are usually highly competitive. It’s well worth talking to founders who have secured grants to find out how they did it, and the pros and cons of this funding approach.

Sharing resources with other startups

It’s important to collaborate with other founders wherever possible. The Imperial White City Incubator is a great example of this, and allows founders to share equipment and knowledge. But you don’t need to share a physical space to do this, so reach out remotely and network away!

Illistration of three people old symbols of business

Incubators and accelerators

Y Combinator and IndieBio are examples of companies that will give you money and in-kind resources in exchange for equity. It’s important to do your due diligence on them before you get involved, though, by speaking with founders who have used them and looking at their track record. It’s important to consider exactly what you need as a startup and weigh up whether the value and money they provide are the best use of your precious equity


This may sound counterintuitive but taking out a business loan can be a great way to fund your startup. While you have to start paying it back immediately, and pay interest, it’s actually a lot cheaper than selling part of your company to an investor.

Non-equity crowdfunding

Platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have nonequity crowdfunding at their core and are a brilliant way to find your earliest brand champions. They allow you to raise funds by having customers agree to purchase your products or services in advance, giving you access to the total money collected from advanced sales.

Equity crowdfunding

Platforms such as Crowdcube and Seedrs allow you to raise money from a lot of people, while they manage the process and shares on behalf of the investors. These types of platforms make investing in startups more accessible for non-high-net-worth individuals and, as a founder, they’re a great way for you to increase awareness in your brand

Research and development tax relief

Make sure you keep track of tax incentives. If your startup meets the required criteria, you can claim back tax, which makes your company’s money go further

Angel and venture capital (equity funding)

Make sure you choose any investors carefully and do your due diligence on them because, once you’ve taken their investment, you’ve sold part of your company and you’re unlikely to ever get it back. You need investors who will add value, so be clear on the terms and conditions being set. Ideally, you want experienced entrepreneurs or advisers to look through any term sheets sent – people who can help you understand the implications of what you’re considering signing! Ultimately, investors are buying part of your company with the aim of making significant profit, and you’ll be ceding some of the control you have, so it’s important you’re comfortable with all your equity funding decisions before any deals are done.

SEIS and EIS tax incentive schemes

The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) offer tax incentives to individuals who want to reduce their risk when investing in companies that are not listed on any recognised stock exchange. If your startup is eligible then early investors will almost certainly expect you to be part of these schemes.

Find out more about funding your startup on our website.

FA Bio


FA BIO founders stood in fields.


FA Bio is revolutionising sustainable agriculture with the discovery of superior microbes for game-changing bioproducts that can replace chemical inputs. Its patented SporSenZ technology collects samples and data from agricultural fields that are then analysed to identify the most promising microbes for development into agricultural bioproducts.

Angela de Manzanos Guinot and Kerry O’Donnelly Weaver founded FA Bio (previously FungiAlert) in 2015 while completing their PhDs at Imperial, to develop tools to provide early detection of soil pathogens to support sustainable agriculture and revolutionise disease management practices. Following the successful development and commercialisation of its SporSenZ technology, FA Bio pivoted its mission to identify sustainable farming solutions by discovering agricultural bioproducts.

The Imperial start-up has just closed a £5.3 million investment round to further develop and commercialise its soil microbe mapping technology. Angela commented that “this latest round of investment can accelerate our R&D work and development of bioproducts for the agriculture sector helping us to achieve our vision of revolutionising sustainable agriculture”. The funding round was led by British venture capital fund Clean Growth Fund and Dutch venture capital fund Pymwymic, who were joined by Ship2B Ventures, existing shareholders in the company and new private investors.

Based at Rothamsted Research Centre in Harpenden, a world-leading research facility that focuses on agricultural science, FA Bio studies soils from around the world to build its microbial library associated with different crops, climates and diseases. It then uses DNA sequencing methods, bioinformatics, microbial bioassays and glasshouse studies to find microbial active ingredients that have the potential to become new bioproducts, such as biofungicides and biofertilisers. As female entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry, Angela and Kerry are passionate about inspiring women to break the bias and act for equality. FA Bio is focused on collectively making a positive difference to forge women’s equality and help build a world that’s more diverse, fair and inclusive, creating an environment where everyone can thrive.

Based at Rothamsted Research Centre in Harpenden, a world-leading research facility that focuses on agricultural science, FA Bio studies soils from around the world to build its microbial library associated with different crops, climates and diseases. It then uses DNA sequencing methods, bioinformatics, microbial bioassays and glasshouse studies to find microbial active ingredients that have the potential to become new bioproducts, such as biofungicides and biofertilisers.

As female entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry, Angela and Kerry are passionate about inspiring women to break the bias and act for equality. FA Bio is focused on collectively making a positive difference to forge women’s equality and help build a world that’s more diverse, fair and inclusive, creating an environment where everyone can thrive.

Start your journey with FA BIO by getting in touch.

AI Unleashed:
Navigating the new frontier of Artificial Intelligence

President Hugh Brady delivering event at the IX Launch.

AI Unleashed: navigating the new frontier of Artificial Intelligence

Researchers and entrepreneurs at Imperial are working to spread the benefits of artificial intelligence and ensure AI systems are built for the good of society.

Say artificial intelligence to most people and they immediately think of systems such as ChatGPT or Midjourney that can build text or create images seemingly out of thin air. But AI has so much more to offer. Instead of simply copying activities that many people can do themselves, the most innovative AI systems take human skills to the next level or carry out tasks that are entirely beyond our reach.

Some of the spinouts and startups that have emerged from Imperial’s innovation ecosystem recently are just a taste of what’s possible. And you don’t need to be an AI expert to spot the trends. In medicine, AI systems have the potential to apply the experience of the most skilled physicians, analysing scans and other material to produce faster and more effective diagnoses. They also make it possible to automate testing, bringing it out of the hospital and into the home, allowing patients to undergo medical evaluation in comfort.

In industry, AI systems can find significant patterns in mountains of data, cutting through background noise to find new designs or system configurations that engineers working alone might only find by trial and error, if at all. The same goes for new or more efficient chemical processes and the discovery of new drugs. AI also opens up fresh possibilities for interacting with machines – from more agile and effective robots and new ways of controlling devices, to transport systems that are inherently safer for people.

AI across disciplines

While some of these spinout companies are new, they’ve emerged from decades of research at Imperial into the areas of computing, data science and machine learning, as well as the application of AI systems in disciplines such as healthcare, chemistry, materials and the life sciences.

Recognising that collaboration between these academic communities will only become more important in future, Imperial established I-X to foster interdisciplinary work in AI. “The idea is to bring together the people working on the foundations of AI with those working on its application in a truly interdisciplinary environment,” says Professor Sophia Yaliraki, one of I-X’s three co-directors. I-X connects more than 200 researchers from 19 different Imperial departments and has a physical location at the Translation and Innovation Hub on the White City Campus. Several faculty members have moved into this AI in Science Centre and 30 post-doctoral research fellows have been recruited to work on interdisciplinary projects, thanks to funding from Schmidt Sciences.

These post-doctoral fellows include Dr Alice Malivert, a plant biologist who is developing AI tools that can identify signs of drought stress in leaves, and Dr Gema Vera Gonzalez, who is using AI and computer vision to automate certain tasks in neuroscience.

Working with industry

“I-X is outward-looking. It wants to work with industry from the outset and innovate in every way possible,” Professor Yaliraki says. One way these relationships are being built is through I-X Business Partners – a corporate membership programme for companies specialising in AI. The first two members are Flawless AI, which makes AI lip-synching tools for filmmakers and studios, and Fetch. ai, whose open platform provides tools to build innovative AI apps and services.

“The idea is to work in creative ways with our industrial partners, for example, by co-creating projects in our Master’s programme or inviting them to embed people from their companies at I-X so they can learn from our expertise.” I-X is also working with established companies that want to learn how they can take advantage of the fast-moving world of AI and incorporate it into their existing businesses. “We’re talking to them about PhD studentships and other projects, along with the possibility of embedding staff at I-X,” Professor Yaliraki says. On the international stage, Imperial is a founding member of the AI Alliance.

Launched by IBM and Meta, this community of researchers, technology developers and adopters aims to accelerate progress in AI and address issues of safety, security and trust by supporting open innovation approaches to the technology. “At Imperial, we believe that community engagement is essential for making AI trusted, responsible and transparent, as well as auditable,” said Professor Bob Shorten, Head of the Dyson School of Engineering. “We look forward to engaging with the AI Alliance community to help realise these objectives.”

Ethical considerations are addressed throughout Imperial’s work on AI and are an important theme at I-X."

Entrepreneurs and founders

Finally, I-X is encouraging academics and students to create spinouts and startups. Being located at the I-Hub, close to Imperial’s White City Incubator, Scale Space and the Imperial College Business School, makes this fertile ground. “Just being part of this community will help people think about starting a company and take the first steps,” says Professor Yaliraki. An important vehicle for encouraging entrepreneurship is the AI SuperConnector – an accelerator project led by Imperial that will help early-career researchers in AI turn their work into startup companies. It will provide broad training in innovation and entrepreneurship, while addressing the unique challenges inherent in this fast-moving area of science. “The AI SuperConnector will transform today’s researchers at the forefront of AI discovery into tomorrow’s startup and scaleup leaders,” said Dr Simon Hepworth, Director of Imperial Enterprise. “These researchers will already be experts in state-of-the-art AI and its application to societal challenges but, thanks to the AI SuperConnector, they’ll become conversant in commercialisation and comfortable in ecosystems that span multiple business sectors.”

Generation AI

In addition to research, I-X is active in teaching, with plans to launch a new Master’s programme in interdisciplinary AI in October. “This will also have a big entrepreneurial component, so it’s for people who really want to have an impact,” says Professor Yaliraki. Meanwhile, Imperial has pioneered support for doctoral training in AI, hosting a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) centre for Doctoral Training in AI for Healthcare since 2019. The latest iteration of this project will train a new generation of PhD-level researchers, including clinical PhD fellows and allied healthcare professionals. The aim is for them to develop AI systems that address healthcare challenges with a focus on patient needs and societal values.

Similarly, the College is a partner in the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Safe and Trusted AI. The centre offers a unique four-year PhD programme focused on the use of symbolic AI techniques to ensure the safety and trustworthiness of AI systems. These ethical considerations are addressed throughout Imperial’s work on AI and are an important theme at I-X. “We’re embedding this in our degree programmes and in everything we do, so the people who come to co-create with us learn from this,” says Professor Yaliraki.

These partnerships extend to the public sector, so policymaking can be better informed about the benefits and pitfalls of AI. “We’ll be hosting civil servants who want to spend some time with us and develop their expertise,” Professor Yaliraki says. “The aim is to help them keep up to date with the state of the art in AI, so they can make well-informed decisions.” I-X is also proving to be a remarkably diverse initiative. “We have been extremely successful in hiring a diverse pool of people, whether that’s in gender or ethnicity, and that’s good to see given the traditional lack of diversity in AI,” says Professor Yaliraki. “It’s important. If these are going to be the tools that will transform society, we want as many different people as possible to be involved.”

Start your experience with IX by visiting the website.

Build social capital

By Ben Mumby-Croft, Director of Entrepreneurship at Imperial College London

In the entrepreneurial journey, especially at the early stages, founders often focus on financial capital, namely the funds required to get their business off the ground. However, there’s another form of capital equally crucial yet less tangible – social capital.

Social capital refers to the network of relationships among people who live and work in a particular community or society, enabling that society to function effectively. It comes from the trust, cooperation and collaboration among individuals and groups. Unlike financial capital, social capital is about the quality of interactions and connections, not simply the sum of money raised. In a startup context, social capital is the collective value of all social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other – like returning a call, answering an email or making that crucial introduction. For early-stage founders, it involves relationships with customers, investors, mentors, peers and even competitors.

Illistration of two women giving a 'High-five' through the computer screen

Why social capital matters

  1. It amplifies access to resources: Social capital opens doors to valuable resources, be it advice, funding or potential customers. A robust network can provide information and insights that are not publicly available, giving founders a competitive edge.
  2. It builds trust and reputation: In the early stages, when a product or service is yet to establish itself in the market, the trust and reputation associated with the founder can play a pivotal role. Positive social capital helps in building this trust.
  3. It facilitates partnerships and collaborations: Strong relationships can lead to collaborations and partnerships that otherwise might not be possible. These partnerships can be crucial for scaling the business, entering new markets or developing new products.
  4. It enhances team dynamics: Positive social capital not only extends externally but also internally within a startup. A founder who cultivates good relationships fosters a positive work environment, enhancing team morale and productivity.
  5. It sustains long-term success: Building positive social capital contributes to the long-term success of a business. It’s an investment that pays dividends in the form of sustained growth, resilience and adaptability.

"For early-stage founders, building positive social capital is critical – especially in the very earliest stages of an idea or venture when financial capital is in short supply."

Illistration of four people waving at each other

Top tips for creating positive social capital

  1. Be authentic and genuine: Authenticity breeds trust. Always be genuine in your interactions. People are more likely to support and advocate for those they find sincere and trustworthy.
  2. Offer value before asking for it: In building relationships, focus on what you can offer, not just what you can get. Whether it’s sharing expertise, providing referrals or supporting others' projects, contributing without immediate expectation of return can build goodwill and trust.
  3. Engage regularly and meaningfully: Regular engagement with your network keeps relationships warm. This can be as simple as a check-in email, sharing relevant articles or commenting on their professional updates.
  4. Network widely AND deeply: While it’s important to have a broad network, it’s equally crucial to have deeper connections with key individuals. Invest time in nurturing these relationships.
  5. Seek feedback and act on it: Actively seek feedback from your network on various aspects of your business. It shows that you value their opinions and are committed to improvement. Acting on this feedback further strengthens these relationships.
  6. Participate in community and industry events: Being active in your industry or business community can help you meet new people and strengthen existing relationships. Attend events, conferences and seminars relevant to your field.
  7. Use social media wisely: Social media platforms are powerful tools for building and maintaining relationships. Share your journey, engage with the content of others and create a community around your brand.

"Unlike financial capital, social capital is about the quality of interactions and connections, not simply the sum of money raised."

For early-stage founders, building positive social capital is critical – especially in the very earliest stages of an idea or venture when financial capital is in short supply.

By authentically engaging with others, offering value and actively participating in your community and industry, you can create an engaged network that is intrinsically minded to respond to requests for guidance, help or crucial introductions.

Yes, raising financial capital is ultimately key to launching and growing anything but focusing on social capital, and the propensity of your social network to positively respond to you in the absence of any financial incentive, is the crucial first step.

Need support in building your social capital? Get in touch with Imperial Enterprise lab.



Peachies nappies product and packaging


Every minute, more than 300,000 disposable nappies are incinerated or sent to landfill, or end up polluting the environment. Peachies has redesigned the disposable nappy, empowering parents to make smarter choices for both the environment and their babies.

The problem

In Western countries, children use between 5,000 and 7,000 nappies by the time they’re potty trained. That’s a lot. Conventional disposable nappies are made from a variety of fossil-fuel-derived plastics and absorbency gels. They’re predominantly sent to landfill after use, where they can take up to 500 years to break down, leaching untreated human waste and chemical contaminants into the soil, and methane and CO2 gases into the atmosphere. In short, they’re an environmental nightmare.

The solution

We want to reduce the number of nappies a child needs on their journey to and through potty training. In collaboration with Joseph Folkes of the Dyson School of Design Engineering, we’ve improved conventional nappy design using innovative and eco-friendly materials to deliver unrivalled absorbency and next-level liquid capacity (70% more, in fact!).

A better-performing nappy means fewer changes in a day, week, month or year and less waste to landfill. The absorbent core of our nappies is made from plant-based polylactic acid (PLA) and sodium polyacrylate (SAP). Our SAP is plastic-based but we use a 20% more efficient material so we’re using less per nappy, reducing the nappy’s overall weight without sacrificing absorption capacity.

The fluff pulp in the core is chlorine free and comes from 100% sustainably managed forests. And there are no artificial fragrances, phthalates, parabens, lotions, dyes, latex or volatile organic compounds, so far fewer nasty leachates. The European Union’s climate innovation organisation (Climate KIC) has verified that Peachies saves up to 93 tonnes of CO2 eq emissions every year per 1,000 babies.

Where did the idea originate?

The idea came from thinking about how to positively impact the lives of women. Our desire to support women stems from our experiences with our own mothers – working mums who had to navigate building their careers while managing family life. Now, we’re surrounded by friends, family and colleagues who are thinking about having or raising children.

We knew that if entrepreneurship was ever going to be a career path for us, we would have to find an idea that was purpose-driven, close to our hearts and one we could get excited about every single day. We didn’t expect the answer to be nappies, but it turns out the challenge of building a consumer brand, with all its associated operational complexity and inherent connection to customers, suits us perfectly.

How did the team meet?

Pure serendipity! We had a chance meeting outside the Imperial College Business School during Orientation Week and a few weeks later we were selected by the Enterprise Lab leadership team to run Imperial College Business School’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Club (I&E Club) as President and Vice-President.

We worked together remotely for six months for the I&E Club before meeting in person, but by that time we already knew we loved working together. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Enterprise Lab for quite literally changing our lives.

Do you have any advisers?

Our closest advisers have largely been with us from the beginning. We joined the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service after graduating and have appreciated the support of Omar Butt and Stella Hartley. They’ve empowered us to think strongly about how to carve out a unique proposition and voice for Peachies.

In addition, we’re fortunate to have entrepreneurs and former executives from organisations such as Huggies, Farrow & Ball and Woom in our investor community. We knew from the start it would be important to bring on advisers who understood our vision and filled our knowledge gaps. We’re grateful for their unwavering encouragement.

Where are you now and where do you plan to go?

We have our first six months of sales under our belt. The next phase for us is to build our brand awareness and double down on making the customer experience with Peachies – from both product and service perspectives – best in class. We’ll also be investing in our team because we know that Peachies will only be as successful as the team behind it.

We want anyone who joins Peachies to be looking to build a career with us and, in return, we’ll guarantee a rewarding, inclusive and fun work environment. We’re currently raising a seed round of £1.5 million. We have big plans for the next 18 months including getting Peachies into the hands of more people, extending our product range and hiring top talent to help us achieve our goals.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

How much time do you have? In all seriousness, startup life is truly a grind. It’s thrilling but also not for the faint of heart. The highs are high and the lows low. Finding the emotional resilience to constantly firefight and bounce back every day is a steep learning curve.

For better or worse, no two days are the same, you’re your own boss and you have an opportunity to positively impact peoples’ lives. Few careers offer you that. Honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way; it’s those factors that make founding a company so hard and simultaneously offer the most opportunities to learn.

Morgan Mixon, Co-founder and Rima Suppan,  Co-founder

What support have you had from Imperial?

Imperial provided us with creative space to explore ideas and understand how to take the first steps in forming a business. We were encouraged to think big and fearlessly, which is hard when you’re starting out. You’re always worried that your idea isn’t good enough or that someone is already doing it better than you. We gained special permission for Rima to join the MBA Entrepreneurial Journey module so we could pursue Peachies (then known as Cleannest) together.

The Venture Catalyst Challenge lit a fire under us. It was the first validation of our idea. It enabled us to dedicate time amid a hectic academic schedule to dig into the proposition further, research the concept and speak to advisers who knew what it took to build a business, and it gave us experience in presenting our idea. We also got a front row seat to the other amazing projects floating around Imperial at that time. We saw projects that were much further along than others and that gave us a template for what our next steps could look like. We still recall as inspiration some of the pitches we saw at the Demo Day.

The old adage is true - if you can see it, you can believe that you also can achieve it. Our first funding grant was won at a pitch competition sponsored by the Gandhi Centre for Inclusive Innovation. It was a huge boost and the first time we thought the idea could have a life beyond our studies. The Imperial Venture Mentoring Service came later in our journey. We always laugh that Peachies is a bit of a different beast when it comes to companies founded at Imperial. We’re not STEM students and we’re not developing a medical device that’s going to change the future of cancer treatment.

Consumer companies are few and far between at Imperial and it can feel more difficult in the Imperial community to attract attention from the network as a consumer brand. But our mentors, Stella and Omar, gravitated to us immediately and saw our vision. They’ve applied their experience in brand building and healthcare to our sector and brought with them lateral reasoning that has enabled us to think outside the box in areas such as distribution channels.

What’s been your biggest success so far?

Launching Peachies in 2023, after two years of product development, was certainly a huge achievement. But as we kick off 2024, we’re proud of the customer love we’re seeing for our product and brand, and the incredible team we’ve been able to recruit (we’re now four) as we’ve invested so much time, energy and love into this startup.

We recognise that as founders in an industry like ours, with massive incumbent brands that are ubiquitous in the social consciousness, there’s a big hill to climb (that’s perhaps the understatement of the year). We can’t take on the likes of Procter & Gamble without an exceptional product and brand. And we certainly won’t win unless we stay humble as founders, spot our weaknesses and bring together a team that knows more than we do.

What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?

Network, network, network. You never know who someone knows or what nugget of information they may have. Talk about your idea to everyone. Early feedback is gold dust. Don’t be scared because there’s no guarantee anyone can execute your idea better than you. Forget the haters. Develop thick skin fast.

Not everyone will like you or your idea but that usually signals that you’re actually onto something. Pride holds you back. Be proud of what you do and the risks you’re taking, but don’t let ego get in the way of achieving it. There’s a difference. Be persistent. You need a lot of patience, courage and dedication to build something. Learn to appreciate the rollercoaster ride; it’s a constant up and down.

Find a co-founder to go through the highs and lows with – ideally someone you trust and really enjoy working with who complements your skill set. To anyone out there thinking of an idea, Imperial is an incredible place to pursue it. Talk to anyone and everyone about it. You’ll be amazed how quickly things can come together

Interested In finding out more about Peachies? Get in touch!

Imperial's bold move:

Cultivating climate entrepreneurs through cutting-edge MSc Cleantech Innovation degree

Stock image of a rain forrest canopy

Imperial’s bold move: Cultivating climate entrepreneurs through cutting-edge MSc Cleantech Innovation degree

In a world grappling with the escalating impacts of global warming, Imperial has taken a pioneering step in launching its MSc Cleantech Innovation degree. The new MSc comes at a critical juncture, as the effects of global warming intensify and the window of opportunity to stop climate change rapidly closes. Crafted as a response to the crucial need for innovative solutions, the course aims to nurture the next generation of climate entrepreneurs, bringing diverse talents together to tackle climate change head on.

Embracing diversity for revolutionary solutions

Imperial’s MSc Cleantech Innovation degree is not just a Master’s programme; it’s a collective effort to fuse broad skills and diverse backgrounds in a quest to create groundbreaking cleantech solutions.

Whether in energy, materials, manufacturing, water, transport or food, the course fosters collaboration among aspiring climate innovators. “I know we have the potential to bring together the best scientific expertise with practical, pragmatic and beautiful design engineering. This course should offer students access to experts across faculties, as well as real-world innovation experience in the world of cleantech,” says Professor Mary Ryan, Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise)

A holistic approach: bridging science, design and business

Delivered jointly by Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering and Grantham Institute, the 12-month, full-time course immerses students in Imperial’s thriving climate innovation community. It offers a unique blend of climate science, design engineering and business expertise, preparing students for the complex, interdisciplinary nature of cleantech innovation.

At the heart of the course is a year-long, prototyping-intensive innovation project focused on specific cleantech areas. Dr Elena Dieckmann, co-director of the course, emphasises its collaborative nature: “Bringing together students from diverse disciplines, this collaborative effort serves as a launchpad for startups to take their ideas to market with a tangible proof-of-concept.”

Why now? The imperative of timely action

The urgency is palpable and Imperial responds to the call. “I’m delighted to see Imperial responding to the global environmental challenges we see around us by spearheading a solutions-oriented approach to one of our most intractable global challenges,” says Professor Ryan. Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Innovation at the Grantham Institute and Director of Undaunted, echoes the sentiment, stating: “What’s needed are practical innovations that can make a real difference urgently and at a scale never achieved before.”

From ideas to impact

Imperial’s track record in climate innovation is solid, with alumni success stories serving as beacons of inspiration. Ventures like Notpla, Multus, Carbon Cell, Fibe and Pulpatronics showcase the impact of Imperial’s ecosystem. From tackling plastic pollution to revolutionising textiles with sustainable fibres, these alumni have turned passion into purpose with the support of Imperial’s resources and initiatives.

A greener future starts here

Imperial’s MSc Cleantech Innovation degree is not just an academic pursuit; it’s a commitment to shaping a sustainable future. As the effects of climate change intensify, this course stands as a beacon of hope, ready to empower a new wave of innovators to make a real impact in the global fight against climate change.

Find out more about Imperial's sustainability journey:

Meet Imperial’s climate innovators

A hand holding an ice cube

Notpla: a biodegradable revolution

“Studying at Imperial gave me the tools to turn my passion for sustainability into a business focused on solving the global plastic pollution crisis. The multidisciplinary nature of Imperial is ideal if you’re keen to become a climate innovator or tech entrepreneur.”

Pierre Paslier’s time at Imperial College not only nurtured his passion for sustainability but also provided the innovative environment needed to build a groundbreaking business. Paslier and co-founder Rodrigo Garcia launched Notpla in 2014 while postgraduate students. The venture received crucial support from the Imperial Enterprise Lab and Imperial White City Incubator, further bolstered by their participation in Undaunted’s climate accelerator programme. Notpla’s innovative seaweed-based biodegradable alternative to plastic earned them the prestigious £1 million Earthshot Prize in 2022

Test tubes under a UV light

Multus: pioneering sustainable cultivated meat

“Imperial has been very supportive of us during our venture building – from initial ideation of what to build and understanding our potential climate impact, to helping us access various resources and partnerships by being located in the heart of the White City campus.”

Imperial’s collaborative environment played a pivotal role in the journey of Reka Tron, Co-founder of Multus. Joined by fellow students from Life Sciences and Bioengineering, Reka and her team successfully raised £7.9 million in January 2023.

The funding is directed towards advancing research and development on growth media for cultivated meat, marking a significant step towards sustainable and cruelty-free alternatives.

Hand hold a clump of fibers

Fibe: transforming potato waste into sustainable fibres

"Inspired by the climate entrepreneurs from Imperial College, I decided to study at the Dyson School of Design Engineering. At the heart of the education is a deep-rooted promotion of sustainability; the analytical philosophy coupled with the encouraged independence enables students to develop genuinely meaningful innovations.”

David Prior Hope co-founded Fibe, a company that turns potato waste into sustainable fibres for textiles. Borne from a deep commitment to sustainability, Fibe’s material boasts impressive environmental credentials. Compared with cotton, it uses 99.7 per cent less water and no additional land – and produces 82 per cent less CO2. David and his team are currently part of The Greenhouse Cohort 5, embodying Imperial’s dedication to purposeful innovation.

RFID tags on sustainable paper

Pulpatronics: revolutionising RFID tags with sustainable paper

“The Imperial environment provided us with the platform to develop cutting-edge research into sustainable innovations that could drive real-world impact. The volume and quality of resources and support we’ve received, covering all aspects of starting a cleantech spinout, has been astonishing.”

Chloe So, Co-founder of Pulpatronics, credits Imperial’s innovative environment with providing a launchpad for developing sustainable alternatives to climate change challenges. Pulpatronics is at the forefront of developing revolutionary paper-based alternatives to traditional radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. Chloe and her co-founders, part of The Greenhouse Cohort 5, are making strides in reducing waste and environmental impact while ensuring an efficient and seamless supply chain.

Hand throwing a cube of carbon in the air.

Carbon Cell: tackling polystyrene waste

“Studying at Imperial connected me to a broad network of designers, engineers and researchers working to combat climate change, and prepared me to tackle the types of messy, interdisciplinary and complex problems facing our society and planet.”

Liz Lee, Co-founder of Carbon Cell, found her stride in Imperial’s expansive community of like-minded students from different disciplines. The Carbon Cell venture focuses on eliminating polystyrene waste through creating carbon negative biodegradable replacement for polymerbased foams. Currently part of Cohort 5 of Undaunted’s The Greenhouse climate accelerator, Liz’s journey exemplifies Imperial’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurs with a mission to create meaningful change



Anahita Laverack,  Co-founder (MEng  Aeronautical  Engineering 2022) Ciaran Dowds, Co-founder  (MEng Electrical  and Electronics  Engineering 2022


The gathering of ocean data for projects such as offshore wind farms is currently limited and expensive. Oshen’s autonomous micro-vessels harness wind and solar power to navigate and maintain position at sea, ensuring a steady stream of reliable data.

The problem

Oceans are often called the lungs of our planet, yet their importance in regulating our climate is still little understood. In recent years, the unprecedented increase in sea surface temperature has brought visibility to the issue, but we still don’t collect enough data on our oceans to predict these changes accurately.

The lack of cost-effective access to ocean data is also slowing the pace of offshore wind farm development and construction. Before work can begin, baseline acoustic surveys must be conducted to ensure marine mammal populations are captured and any negative impacts are recorded. This is currently being done by manned ships, which is expensive and time consuming. There are 178 marine protected areas (MPAs) in English waters and the recent UN treaty for the oceans proposes converting 30 per cent of international waters into MPAs. MPAs are designed to protect the marine life inside them – for example, from fishing – but monitoring via data collection is needed for enforcement.

Weather forecasting is also hugely reliant on ocean data, since drought indicators, hurricanes and major storms which can cause flooding start in oceans. These predictions are used in a wide variety of industries such as shipping, agriculture and insurance. And with the planet’s weather becoming increasingly unpredictable, access to accurate and early weather data is key to serving these industries

The solution

Oshen makes fully autonomous, wind-driven, robotic vessels for remote ocean sensing. They collect meteorological, visual and acoustic data and, at just 1.2 metres in length, resemble a miniature sailboat. The small size keeps unit costs low and allows the vessels to be deployed en masse, providing a sensor network for continuous monitoring of waves and weather across our oceans.

The persistent and broad spatial coverage of our micro-vessels provides a quick and comprehensive picture with little human input. We’ve already received feedback from offshore wind development survey operators that our data could help reduce environmental survey time and costs

Where did the idea originate?

Anahita has spent a lot of time at sea and is a qualified sailing instructor. She’s an expert on autonomous ocean micro-vessels and her Master’s thesis developed a route optimisation algorithm for a transatlantic autonomous sailboat.

Searching for accurate real-time data to feed into the algorithm, she realised that such data simply didn’t exist. She went to countless conferences, for industries including shipping, fishing, oceanography and defence, to speak with people about where to get this information and they all said the same thing: “We’d like that data too but it’s just not out there.” She realised the autonomous ocean robots she was building could fill crucial data gaps and paired up with Ciaran, who was completing his Master’s at Imperial in robotics and control.

How did the team meet?

We met at the start of first year on a rock-climbing trip through the Imperial Mountaineering Club. We started dating towards the end of first year and have now been together for about five years. Aside from Oshen, we’ve done a month-long rock-climbing expedition to Oman, funded by the Imperial Exploration Board, and have lived together on a sailboat for a year and a half

Oceans are often called the lungs of our planet, yet their importance in regulating our climate is still little understood
Oshen founds standing on a boat

Oceans are often called the lungs of our planet, yet their importance in regulating our climate is still little understood

Where are you now and where do you plan to be?

We’re about to start using a neural net with data from a small fleet of tiny autonomous weather stations 100 kilometres offshore from big cities to generate better local forecasts. We’ve also had interest from the offshore sector to use our vessels as alternatives to moored buoys, as they’re cheaper and don’t require any deployment equipment.

Over the next six months, our big focus is getting our micro-vessels to complete 30-day autonomous passages at sea. Eventually, we aim to have them collecting data from a uniform grid across many oceans. Our micro-vessels will also be able to detect illegal fishing using onboard cameras and track populations of marine mammals with acoustic monitoring.

What support have you had from Imperial?

We took part in the Venture Catalyst Challenge in 2022, making it to the final and winning the £10,000 Social Impact prize. The programme gave us a crash course in all things startup, helped normalise the idea of starting a company and introduced us to 25 other ambitious startups. We’ve also received support through the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service. Our mentors gave us a lot of help deciding the important things to focus on in the early stages.

What’s been your biggest success so far?

There are too many to choose from! Making the micro-vessels work at sea. Getting a £400,000 letter of intent signed. Hacking our way around expensive sea trial testing by purchasing a secondhand sailboat and living on it, which also saved us in rent.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Making the micro-vessels work at sea. Building robots is hard; making autonomous robots that can survive the ocean, are low cost enough to deploy en masse and use minimal power to operate indefinitely from a tiny solar panel has been a huge challenge.

What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?

Become friends with other founders; having a group of ambitious people around you who are also trying to build a company is super inspiring and helpful. And build something as soon as possible. Showing you can actually get stuff done is an important signal to other people and helps unlock more opportunities than anything else. Instead of spending time designing a really good autonomous boat at the start, we just built and launched a really rough prototype. Footage of our little boat semi-sailing in a straight line helped us convince people we were building a legitimate startup and weren’t just a bunch of students with an idea.

Start your journey with Oshen by getting in touch:

Write a great programme application

By Camille Reltien and Euan Bell, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Managers at Imperial College London

Imperial is renowned for its flagship entrepreneurship programmes which together offer more than £130,000 annually for Imperial founders to get their ventures off the ground – the largest prize fund of any UK university.

Previous participants have gone on to raise more than £100 million in funding, been named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and have even won the £1 million Earthshot Prize! So, if you’re thinking about applying, this is your sign that you probably, DEFINITELY, should. The Venture Catalyst Challenge and WE Innovate programmes, run by Imperial Enterprise Lab, require teams to submit an application for review by a judging panel. Selection is extremely competitive, with only 25 spots available on each programme and more than 200 applications received each year. And, yes, the judging panel has to read every single application. That means it’s essential to prepare an application that stands out! Here are some tips to ensure your application wows (even if it’s the 246th application we've read):

1. What’s the problem?

People love solutions. We’re obsessed with fixing things and giving others advice (remind you of your latest conversation with your bestie?). So, it’s no surprise that after one sentence on the problem, applicants often launch into an ode to their product, which is not what we’re looking for in this section.

Great applicants are passionate about the issue they’re solving and have an in-depth understanding of the current state of play. Give us the full low-down.

Give us all the stats and all the detail and let us feel the frustration of having this problem. A great problem statement tells us you understand what you’re trying to solve and, in entrepreneurship, that’s half the battle. OK, so maybe not half – the battle is more complex than that, but that’s one for another article.

2. Explain the solution clearly

Remember, it’s likely the judges won’t be experts We already know you’re super smart and an expert in your field. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be where you are. Anyone marking your application form, however, is likely from another discipline. So, don’t try to impress us with words like ‘prophase centrosome migration’. Pretend you’re on morning TV and need to explain what you do to the general public (that’s us, we’re experts in entrepreneurship, not genetics).

If we don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve, it’s a lot harder to get excited about what you’re proposing. Top tip: Struggling to dumb it down? Try drawing it or representing it visually and uploading it in your supporting evidence. We’ll never forget a team working on battery software who drew us a diagram that suddenly made their project come to life

3. Supporting evidence is supportive

The application form has a link where you can upload any accompanying documentation. “But what kind of documentation?!” we hear you shout. The best kind of document is one that’s accessible, so ensure the link works and that any permissions needed are correctly set. The worst thing as a judge is getting excited about a solution and wanting to find out more, only to be stopped by a digital wall. Don’t overdo it. Pick one thing that’s impactful or really illustrates what your project does.

Images and videos are powerful yet simple tools to explain a complicated solution. The judges should immediately be able to understand the content on a link and why it’s relevant. Don’t make us work harder than necessary; we’re already reviewing more than 200 applications and we’re getting hangry. (Edible bribes are, unfortunately, not accepted.) Finally, remember this is supportive. The key details should be in your written answer but documentation can illustrate what you’re writing about.

4. Curious about customer conversations

To get the most out of the programmes, we really need you to have already spoken with some customers. We recommend a minimum of 20 if you’re going direct to customer and 3 to 5 if you’re selling to businesses. And by ‘talk to customers’, we do mean talk: verbally, directly and in an actual conversation.

Often applicants will hold up a survey of 300 people as sufficient demonstration of customer research and, while it’s a brilliant start, it’s not enough. Sorry. So, have those proper nterviews and make sure you read The Mom Test first (come and borrow a copy from the Enterprise Lab Library if you don’t have one to hand). Tell us in your application how many people you’ve spoken with and what you learned from the discussions. How did they impact the development of your venture?

Imperial founders have gone on to:

Raise more than £100 million in funding

Named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list

Won the one million Earthsot Prize

5. Traction

Does anyone care about what you’re doing? How do you know? Do you have a waitlist of people wanting to use your product? Have you got a letter of interest, a pilot, an offer of a loan of equipment, a solid intro to a great contact, some funding from somewhere or someone, a mention in the news or someone influential in the field on your advisory board? This is your chance to explain all the amazing work you’ve done so far, so tell us about it

6. Know your intellectual property (IP) situation

Wit and IP don’t really mix, so don’t expect any humour in this paragraph. However, do expect a link and a suggestion to do more reading and research to familiarise yourself with IP in general and at the College specifically. The IP Resources page on the Imperial Enterprise Lab website is a good places to start. For tailored support, you can also meet with an IP expert through the Enterprise Lab’s Experts-in-Residence programme.

7. CEO, CFO, no no no

We love to hear about your team, but not particularly about your job titles. Focus on explaining what everyone’s expertise is and how they come together to make you the ideal combination of humans to solve the problem you’re working on. If you’re a solo founder or if there’s expertise you’re missing on the team, tell us about your advisory board or who you’re planning to recruit to compensate for the gaps

8. Tell us why you want to participate

Programmes are an intense experience and we’re looking for participants who are really committed to coming on the adventure with their cohort. As we mentioned earlier in this article, they’re also really, really competitive.

So, when you’re completing your application, think hard about why you want to get into the programme. Just because this section doesn’t talk about traction or customer research, don’t overlook it or assume it’s less important. We’re looking for 25 great teams on each programme and this is a key way for us to judge whether you deserve to be included.

9. Bullet points are welcome because:

  • This isn’t an A-level English exam.
  • We like things to be succinct
  • We like things to be clear.

We usually have more than 200 applications to read. If you want to stand out, keep your answers clear and snappy to hold the reader’s attention.

10. Take your time

The form is pretty hefty and takes a while to get through. We recommend you look at our PDF that lists the questions you’ll need to answer and then try drafting your answers. You can find this on all of the Enterprise Lab programmes webpages. Applications are open for several weeks so, unless you like living on the edge, there’s no good reason to wait until 23.58 on deadline day to submit. We often get panicked emails in the middle of the night (when we won’t be answering). We don’t want to be another thing on your ‘What Stresses Me Most’ list, so be kind to yourself and give yourself a gentle lead-up to deadline day.

Keep an eye on the Imperial Enterprise Lab website for programme applications opening throughout the year. We look forward to reading your application!

In the meantime, book an Idea Surgery to get advice from the team on how to progress your idea and get it programme ready.

The Alumni Entrepreneur Award:
Recognising bold and innovative founders

Ron Atzmon,  founder of AU10TIX

The Alumni Entrepreneur Award:
Recognising bold and innovative founders

Now in its fifth year, the Alumni Awards business and society.

The Alumni Entrepreneur Award recognises innovative and creative founders who demonstrate commercial success, growth and impact. Previous winners include Dr Paul Atherton, who co-founded his first company, Queensgate Instruments, while studying at Imperial in 1978 and went on to become founding director of the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service.

This year’s winners were chosen not only for their commercial success, but because they have demonstrated exceptional drive and leadership, and are inspiring others in their industries.

Ron Atzmon (MBA 2002), founder of AU10TIX

Born in Israel to an entrepreneurial family, Ron Atzmon founded AU10TIX in 2008. Today, the identity verification system is used by companies such as Google, PayPal and Uber, and is valued at more than US$300 million.

After completing his BA in business administration in 1999, Ron went into sales, project management and investment banking. These fields gave him a taste for corporate success and fuelled a rapid improvement in his commercial and professional skills. During the dot-com bubble, he worked in investment banking, started two companies and enjoyed surfing the crest of the technological wave that was occurring. But the 2008 stock market crash was a devastating blow for Ron’s social media analytics company and he began looking for his next challenge

The birth of AU10TIX

As Ron was cleaning up his businesses following the crash, his dad stumbled across an idea. He’d read an article in The New York Times about banks getting fined for not doing proper KYC (know your customer) checks. One of the issues that the banks faced was the authentication of documentation. It sparked an idea that was to change the technology landscape forever. At the time, AU10TIX was a small R&D unit of 15 people. They were developing a passport authentication tool for parent company ICTS International which provided airport security and immigration services. What if they could create a digitised identity verification programme that was capable of servicing the banks in a fast and scalable way? The initial proof of concept was rather clunky: “It was a solution – a piece of software you had to stitch to a computer that was dependent on scanners – but it was like spaghetti… not really organised. I had to work out what I could do with it,” said Ron. But selling a solution is complicated – much more so than a product – so they transformed the software from a solution to a product. They then pitched it to a local Israeli bank which needed a documentation authentication tool for foreign nationals opening accounts in Israel. And the rest is history. Their idea formed the birth of AU10TIX – a product that verifies ID document types in more than 190 countries across a range of languages. The suite is designed to evolve and adapt to future needs, ensuring businesses are well prepared to address emerging challenges in the ever-changing landscape of identity verification. Even though the product was widely adopted, it still took Ron almost four years to feel like he’d made it. After selling AU10TIX into the Israeli bank, he went to the UK market and partnered with Experian, who helped take it to other banks. They really liked the product but it needed to be integrated. This was complicated due to the technology, so the deals never eventuated.

A lucky break

Serendipitously, Ron bumped into a friend who was working in fintech on a beach in Tel Aviv. He told Ron of his challenge in onboarding customers and how he wanted to automate the entire process. AU10TIX hadn’t been particularly successful selling into the banks and Ron’s family was losing patience as they continued to fund his business. “We had a bit of an argument because I wanted to rewrite the product so it could work as a back-end service, not a front-end one, killing some capabilities and building new ones. My dad didn’t agree with that; he felt I was downgrading it. But I was just rewriting it in a different way to deliver what the market was looking for.” Eventually, Ron convinced his dad and the engineering team of the strategy, and he and the team went back to the drawing board. They were able to take the core product and repackage it for the rapidly changing technology market. Their first meeting was with PayPal, who liked the concept and started to test it, evaluating where it could fit into their global process. Their first deal, which took nine months, was with Payoneer; the second was with Wonga and then a year later Google Wallet came on board. Today, AU10TIX is hugely profitable, boasting LinkedIn and Airbnb as customers, as well as many other household brands. The company has never had to raise funds; they bootstrapped the business, became profitable in 2017 and sold shares worth $80 million in 2019.

Continuous self-improvement

Even now, Ron still grapples with self-doubt. By his own admission, he has a continuous self-reflective narrative in his head questioning whether he’s getting it right or not. “I look at the market as a mathematical equation, with multiple unknowns. So, with each unknown, you ask ‘How will it affect the equation?’” Giving back is an important part of AU10TIX’s objectives. The company has been refurbishing computers and giving them to underprivileged children in Israel. In the US, they also provide identity verification services free of charge to All for Good, a volunteer marketplace. Ron gains immense satisfaction from working on these kinds of initiatives and supporting others, as well as identifying good talent.

Challenging ideas at Imperial

While studying his MBA at Imperial, Ron made friends for life and was able to test his entrepreneurial skills and abilities. He wasn’t afraid to be a feisty trailblazer, igniting friendly debates with lecturers and thriving on the intellectual stimulation and opportunity to push boundaries. He found himself drawn to the entrepreneurship speciality, where he met some interesting startup founders. “I intended to challenge my brain and challenge others. I might have taken things up a notch, but it was great fun. I wouldn’t change anything.” A friend described him as ‘marmite’: people either like him or they don’t. But Ron doesn’t mind that, and he looks back on his time at Imperial very fondly.

The entrepreneurial touch

Ron is grateful to be where he is today and thrilled to receive the Alumni Entrepreneur Award from Imperial. His advice to others wanting to follow in his footsteps is: “You need to be a dreamer. Optimistic. You get hammered to the floor, but you have to think ‘tomorrow’s another day’, get up and fight back. Some entrepreneurs lose touch with reality and that’s where they crash.” AU10TIX certainly isn’t short of accolades. The Imperial award will sit alongside his other accomplishments, including the 2023 FinTech Breakthrough Award and the 2022 Globee® Cybersecurity Silver Award.

Looking to the future

Ron’s accomplishments are plentiful. But like any ambitious entrepreneur, this tech game changer isn’t resting on his laurels. As for the future? Ron says, “AU10TIX will be a bigger player, but I’m not sure if it will come under this brand. I’ll scale it and just see what happens. I know where the industry’s going. Identity is becoming a bigger piece of our lives and the industry is going into consolidation. It’s a question of who will eat who?”

WE Walk Founders

Dr Jean Marc Feghali (MEng Civil Engineering 2018, PhD Civil and Environmental Engineering 2022) & Gökhan Meriçliler (MSc Business Analytics 2022), co-founders of WeWALK

For Dr Jean Marc Feghali and Gökhan Meriçliler, WeWALK, their social-impact startup, is not just about business. It’s first and foremost about people. Both grew up in families where disabilities were present. Jean Marc and his younger brother suffer from leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare eye disorder, while Gökhan’s sister had a mental disability.

Gökhan studied Mining Engineering at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. In 2006, while a student, he joined the Young Guru Academy (YGA), a tech-driven social innovation NGO. “I first realised my lifelong ambition of using technology as a force for good for society when I joined YGA,” Gökhan says. “I took a gap year during my course and visited disadvantaged schools with YGA to introduce STEM programmes.” The goal of YGA is simple: to inspire children and young adults to become conscientious and competent leaders. The organisation has a particular focus on developing technologies for underrepresented groups, inspiring its volunteers to work for meaningful causes. It gave Gökhan the opportunity to start working in this field in 2007. WeWALK began in Turkey as a YGA project where Gökhan and the early team members, including co-founder Kürşat Ceylan – who has been blind since birth – started working on assistive technology solutions.

The team partnered with Vestel, an electronics manufacturer and early investor, to overcome some initial manufacturing challenges and WeWALK was borne of those endeavours. WeWALK is a smart cane and smartphone app. The smart cane provides users with obstacle detection and, when connected to the WeWALK app, it transforms into a novel multimodal navigation system designed especially for people with impaired eyesight. Globally, there are 253 million visually impaired people, so it has the potential to change many lives. The team had the opportunity to meet the former British ambassador to Turkey, Sir Richard Moore, whose wife, Maggie, is visually impaired. Gökhan says, “They connected us to Zeynep Öztekbaş from the Turkish Department of Business and Trade, as well as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and encouraged us to establish WeWALK as a social-impact business in the UK. So, six years ago, my wife, Nurgül, and I moved to London.”

Passion for transport

Meanwhile, Jean Marc was completing his Master’s degree at Imperial. While at university, he started using a cane to help himself get around. With a passion for transport, he spoke with his supervisor, Professor Arnab Majumdar, about wanting to be a transport engineer. “Specifically, I wanted to put forward my own project on visually impaired mobility on the London Underground, rather than a project defined by Imperial. He took me on board, which was a big risk, and we did the project,” he says. “We measured the light levels in a tube station and then recreated these in the lab. We then got visually impaired people to walk in these environments.” The research was awarded the Walter Redlich Prize for academic excellence and Jean Marc was encouraged to pursue a PhD, providing further opportunities to extend his research. At the start of his PhD, Jean Marc attended a hackathon event with his research group in London. “In preparation for the event, we were doing research on technologies for visually impaired people. One of the things that was always on my mind was why no one had looked at the cane,” he says. It was at the event that Jean Marc met the WeWALK team.

Partnering for long-term success

In November 2018, Jean Marc joined WeWALK as Head of Research and Development. Professor Washington Yotto Ochieng, Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and former Head of Imperial’s Centre for Transport Studies, was an early supporter, deepening the ties between the College and the company. Since 2019, the business has helped thousands of users in 59 countries and grown to 18 team members. It raised £600,000 of seed investment in 2020 and £2 million of pre-Series A funding in 2022. In addition to its existing investors, institutional investors such as Nesta Impact Investments, KHP Ventures and APY Ventures have joined WeWALK’s journey. These efforts have led to WeWALK’s recognition as a TIME Best Invention, an Amazon Startup of the Year and an Edison Gold Award winner. As WeWALK develops its product range, it’s working with Microsoft and Imperial on the adoption of AI algorithms, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People on user testing and ergonomics. “As we work towards creating the next big thing, we want to be very, very careful. So many companies just push stuff out without checking it properly. We wanted to involve our community in every step, co-designing with our users to ensure we deliver a product that truly enhances their lives.”

The award

“It’s truly motivating that an institution we’ve dedicated many years of our lives to recognises us in this way. It symbolises years of development and partnerships, reflecting our unwavering commitment to our visually impaired community. It’s a testament to the transformative power of technology for good.”

Writing is a medium of communication that represents language through the inscription of signs and symbols.

In most languages, writing is a complement to speech or spoken language. Writing is not a language but a form of technology. Within a language system, writing relies on many of the same structures as speech, such as vocabulary, grammar and semantics, with the added dependency of a system of signs or symbols, usually in the form of a formal alphabet. The result of writing is generally called text, and the recipient of text is called a reader. Motivations for writing include publication, storytelling, correspondence and diary. Writing has been instrumental in keeping history, dissemination of knowledge through the media and the formation of legal systems.

Writing is a medium of communication that represents language through the inscription of signs and symbols.

In most languages, writing is a complement to speech or spoken language. Writing is not a language but a form of technology. Within a language system, writing relies on many of the same structures as speech, such as vocabulary, grammar and semantics, with the added dependency of a system of signs or symbols, usually in the form of a formal alphabet. The result of writing is generally called text, and the recipient of text is called a reader. Motivations for writing include publication, storytelling, correspondence and diary. Writing has been instrumental in keeping history, dissemination of knowledge through the media and the formation of legal systems.

What to find out more about the Alumni Awards? Get in touch:

Build a great leadership team

By Heather King, Technology Expert and IVMS Mentor at Imperial College London

Planning to go it alone as a team of academic founders in your business? Think again!

A great leadership team can be more important for building a successful business than a great product idea. Startups are hard work; no one knows everything and having the right skill sets in a business is key. So how do you build a great leadership team?

Why do you need a leadership team?

As a founder, you need to consider your skill set and experience, and where you want to focus your time and energy. To successfully build a business and develop great products, technical skills are key; however, so are corporate, commercial, strategic and management ones. Hopefully, you have a great idea and can develop a strong product, but are you sure there’s a good product–market fit with clear product demand in an underserved market? How are your management skills? Can you motivate and lead colleagues and hire new staff? Are you competent and confident holding discussions with third parties such as lawyers, accountants, commercial partners and investors? At the same time, you can’t lose focus on the critical task of product development. As Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, said, “If you don’t innovate, you die.”

When do you need to hire?

It depends on what skills you need and what skill gaps exist in the current team; however, it’s often a mistake to wait until the skills are needed. Building the leadership team should be a considered, proactive process if you’re keen to avoid a business that’s inadvertently formed with poor corporate structure; one that potentially selects the wrong products for the wrong markets or has investment agreements that make future fundraising unnecessarily difficult.

What company requirements do you need to consider?

Your company will need a board of directors. Becoming a director of a company comes with inherent ‘fiduciary duties’ which are defined under company law and reflect the obligations of a director to act in good faith and in the best interests of the company. Corporate governance is the way a board of directors ensures an organisation is run fairly and transparently and is accountable to all its stakeholders. Little or poor consideration of these issues can have serious consequences.

"A great leadership team can be more important for building a successful business than a great product idea."
Heather King

What roles do you need to hire?

Good corporate governance recognises that no individual should have sole decision-making power and a company should have a separate chair and CEO. You may also have a chief scientific officer/chief technology officer (CSO/ CTO) to lead the product development process, along with a finance director (FD) to oversee the financial management and fundraising, although good external accountants may be able to cover the FD role initially. Additionally, it’s recommended that the board should include non-executive directors (NEDs) who provide independent oversight and are not involved in the management of the company.

What should I look for in leadership team members?

When hiring your leadership team, you should look for high-energy, optimistic individuals who share your passion for the technology being developed. A team of diverse backgrounds, ages, genders and experience brings a vital broader perspective – it’s surprising how many companies targeting a particular sector have no representatives from that sector. Gone are the days of boards being ‘eyes on and hands off’; you need committed individuals who add value and have great values! Remember, their contribution can be the key difference between business success and failure.

Headshot of Heather King

Heather leads and supports boards and senior management in the life science sector.

She has 35 years’ experience in drug development, medical devices, digital health and service companies ranging from large multinationals and medium-sized UK listed companies to numerous early stage and startup companies.

Her roles have included chair, chief executive officer (CEO), non-executive director (NED), adviser and mentor, and she’s currently the Entrepreneur in Residence at the Institute of Cancer Research. As one of Imperial’s first technology experts and a member of Imperial Venture Mentoring Services, Heather has seen first-hand the challenges academic founders face and the importance of having the right leadership team in place.

Discover more resources for your Entrepreneurship journey on the Imperial Enterprise Lab website.

Thank you for reading the sixth issue of D/srupt magazine, celebrating our community of innovators and entrepreneurs at Imperial College London.

It’s been an exciting time for entrepreneurship at the College. The launch of the new Imperial institutional strategy, titled Science for Humanity, focused on maximising the university’s potential as a force for good, which means not just understanding the world but changing it.

The strategy sets out plans to grow and develop our innovation ecosystem with exciting initiatives including the Imperial West Tech Corridor and the Science Capital Imperial venture fund. President of Imperial College London, Professor Hugh Brady talks more about the new strategy below.

In more exciting news regarding our innovation ecosystem, Imperial Enterprise Lab and The Greenhouse were both named in the top 100 entrepreneurship hubs in Europe by the Financial Times in March 2024. This year we also celebrate 10 years of Imperial’s flagship women's entrepreneurship programme, WE Innovate.

Over the past decade, the programme has supported over 500 women who have gone on to raise over £37.5 million in external funding for their ventures. However, women-led ventures still receive just 2% of venture capital funding in the UK, so there’s still much more work to do. You can read more about WE Innovate and our plans for the next decade on page 08. We look forward to seeing the growth and development of this world-leading innovation ecosystem!

Jennifer Mills, Editor of D/srupt,

Digital version created by Owen Cheshire
Brought to you by Imperial Enterprise Lab

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