Liall Arafa (MRes Medical Robotics and Image Guided Intervention 2018) is co-founder and Head of Strategic Partnerships at Granter, a tax credit consultancy on a mission to revolutionise the research and development (R&D) industry.

Specialising in agricultural R&D, Liall’s client work at Granter involves promoting a shift towards more sustainable practices in the agricultural industry and minimising the environmental footprint of the company.

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

How to systematically process a multidisciplinary and varied subject (that of medical robotics), efficiently.

I learnt how to take information provided by different course leaders in their respective departments and create connections between them in order to get a top down view of the sector, so that I could effectively traverse between topics that seem independent from traditional perspectives. This turns out to be key when looking to build and implement effective technological solutions to real world problems, such as quantifying and tracking patient rehabilitation within a software platform. I also learnt how to independently plan and implement a medium term research project.

Outside of Imperial, I was involved in jiu jitsu.

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

The course was separated into two distinct parts: a three month crash course with exams, and an eight month research project.

The course was very multidisciplinary in nature, with students having to cover a combination of robotics, medical imaging and surgical material (amongst other topics). We then had to apply our foundational knowledge to our individual research projects once the crash course and exams were completed. Coming from a computer science background, I was drawn towards projects that utilised software based approaches to solving problems.

In the end, the research project I chose was a low cost method of improving upper limb rehabilitation using computer vision methods. I found this interesting because it was medically relevant, as there are few quantifiable and systematic methods of analysing upper limb rehabilitation and recovery, and existing methods required resources that the average medical staff would not have access to. I spent time observing physiotherapists and patients in hospitals and searched for low cost and readily available technologies that could be integrated and implemented into an effective solution that could be sustainably adopted.

Ultimately, I focused on developing a proof of concept library that was able to provide medically relevant rehabilitation scores from 2D videos of patients, and could also be run on a smartphone.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

I found the other students the most inspiring. I found the level of some of my peers’ intelligence and technical ability highly impressive. I had to kick my rate of development into gear if I was to have a chance of remaining competitive with them - they provided a high bar to aim for, which improved my overall abilities!

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

The Hamlyn Symposium - where we showcased our work to an international audience of engineers, surgeons, doctors and medical technology entrepreneurs, was a pretty good time.

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

Dalby Court, the square situated between Imperial College Business School and the Electrical and Electronic Engineering building (known as EEE), is the best at night.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.

I co-founded and serve as the Head of Strategic Partnerships at the number one agricultural research and development (R&D) tax credit consultancy in the UK – Granter.

My team and I justify to HMRC as to why a company deserves tax credits for their work from a scientific perspective. The largest proportion of all agriculture claims in the last two years came through us.

We have built our own proprietary platform to enable an intuitive client experience, as well as an automated tax system to process financial data – combined, these cut 90% of the work from the client’s perspective compared to the traditional process, whilst enabling our experienced consultants to focus on core work.

How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?

The ability to capture, process and analyse multi-disciplinary data has been key given the intersection of science and finance that we operate in.

What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

Lowlights: sometimes the grind can be jarring, but one must reset, recover and get back at it.

Highlights: completing a claim for one of the largest cooperatives in the UK, who were undertaking large scale trials in an effort to reduce antibiotic usage, and tripling their operating profits.

What inspired you to drive forward work in sustainability?

From a business perspective, the agricultural sector was a clear opening as it is a vital R&D area without much support from technical experts.

Given the agriculture industry is one of the worst offenders in terms of environmental impact as a whole, we thought we could use our expertise in order to financially assist companies looking to invest in more sustainable alternatives to standard damaging processes. This is not to say that all the companies we work with are looking to improve their environmental impact, but I would say that the vast majority are making moves to do so.

From a sustainability perspective, I would say again that the industry is one of the worst offenders in terms of environmental impact - it has to change and move towards sustainable and regenerative practices in a practical way. Providing capital to companies that undertake sustainability driven R&D, is an effective and practical way of promoting that change.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about climate change and global warming?

I would say the notion that moving towards more sustainable practices will damage companies’ profits is a misconception. Actually, existing processes are often made more efficient as consumers take more interest in more sustainable products and new markets emerge.

In summary I don’t feel that there is a good excuse to not move towards more sustainable products and processes; companies should evolve and drive towards doing so as there is much growth opportunity for them. In my opinion this is great, since personal drivers make fast movers of those that either don’t care or don’t believe in the upcoming ecological and humanitarian disasters that we must avoid.

What recent developments or innovations in your sector give you hope for the future of climate action?

For me it is regenerative farming processes, urban farming, plant based alternatives and a reduced consumption of meat (not that all plant based products have superior sustainability), amongst other things.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

I wake up, practice mindfulness, walk my dog, work on existing partnerships and look to connect them with technology and companies to solve their R&D problems, train, look for new partnerships, listen to amapiano, and sleep.

What are your hopes for the future?

To establish a robust ecosystem where traditional agriculture industry, agritech and finance, all meet to allow for rapid change in the industry towards more effective and sustainable practices, where everybody can win from a capitalist point of view.

What would be your advice for current students?

Find a meditation or mindfulness-based sport or physical activity that you can practice daily.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

The Imperial alumni network includes some of the most technically advanced and gifted people on the planet. I think this could create valuable connections, which if brought together correctly, could solve many of humanity’s serious challenges.

What one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?

Imperial alumni are driven.

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
“But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.” - Hunter S. Thompson

Where can we find you?

On LinkedIn! 

Alternatively, via my company email address.