Imperial alumni are making a difference around the globe.

Words: Peter Taylor Whiffen / Photographs: Alamy

Alex Bond

Alex Bond(MRes Chemistry 2014) is CEO of food safety pioneers Fresh Check Ltd, and is currently completing his PhD in Chemical Biology at Imperial.

When we first had the idea for our start-up, Fresh Check, we did have that “How has no-one run with this before?” moment. Inspired by the Centre for Doctoral Training’s Dragons’ Den-style event, my coursemates Robert Peach, John Simpson and I brainstormed a few ideas and landed on food wastage, and specifically the question of whether you really did need to throw out products that were past their sell-by date. So we developed food markers – a dye that changes from blue to orange to indicate that the level of harmful bacteria is such that food has gone off – and our company grew from there. We are now focused on food auditing, and provide our partners with a spray based on the same colour change principle to give restaurants and food producers a warning about cleanliness.

We were selected by Imperial Innovations and then took part in the Venture Catalyst Challenge, benefiting from expertise about working with patents and commercial trialling. We’ve been so grateful to have had the opportunity to really grow and trial the concept.

And all the while I’m still doing my PhD, so I can access the lab space here. Fresh Check is now trialling larger components with international auditing companies and we hope to launch our first products properly in February.

I’m enjoying working with students in the Enterprise Lab, and I mentored some of this year’s entrants in the Venture Catalyst Challenge. I’ve taken so much from Imperial in terms of knowledge, resources and contacts, and it’s great to help ensure that fantastic innovative environment continues.

Chris Cieslak

Chris Cieslak(MSc Aeronautics 2010) is a director of BladeBug Ltd and Hacker in Residence at The Invention Rooms at Imperial’s White City Campus.

I think Imperial is unique in how it invests in innovation – not just developing ideas, but getting them out into the real world. I haven’t seen any other university with such a cutting-edge approach, and when I was given the opportunity to get involved, I leapt at it.

After 10 years in the turbine blade industry, and following the completion of my Master’s, I began developing a small robot to maintain and repair blades, particularly offshore, in a more cost-effective way. Then, with perfect timing, I got an Imperial alumni email offering a new course and free lab space for tech start-ups. I signed up and it was excellent, covering aspects of starting your own business, such as raising the cash, PR, marketing, law – all in a tech space.

It got better: I met the Hacker in Residence at Imperial’s campus in South Kensington and she suggested I could do the same at the College’s new Invention Rooms at White City – so I got in touch and here I am! I support and mentor students, and help set up rooms and labs, all of which is tremendously exciting. But I also have the bonus of the lab resources, the networks and the expertise at Imperial to develop my own prototypes and work on my own products.

It’s great to be able to give something back to the next generation of students but, in turn, I learn from them – and of course I can use these fantastic resources and the tech to take my own ideas further. My company, BladeBug, is doing bigger trials over the next year. Obviously I want to get our robotic device out to market as soon as possible but I truly believe I’m in the best possible place to expedite that.

Michelle Wong

Michelle Wong(MEng Civil and Environmental Engineering 2004) is Director of Corporate Finance at Gaw Capital Advisors Limited in Hong Kong.

Imperial has always stood out for me as being different, interesting and innovative. When you’ve got lecturers at the cutting-edge of science – people like Professor John Burland, who had helped save the Leaning Tower of Pisa – it’s clear that there is a uniqueness to much of what goes on here.

But as well as a brilliant course, it’s the fantastic alumni network that has opened doors into my career in corporate finance in the private equity industry. Through the alumni association in Hong Kong I met older graduates, one of whom had qualified five years earlier and helped get me into the finance industry, at a time when Hong Kong’s economy had been severely affected by the SARS virus and it was difficult to find a job. But he alerted me to an opening at Citigroup and helped me prepare for the interview – and I got the job. There were also a few other senior mentors who gave me advice for my career and we’ve became life-long friends. That support was invaluable to me and so, through the alumni association, I have mentored other new Imperial graduates and helped them in the same way.

The Imperial experience has been instrumental in my career – it is an advantage when working in a real estate private equity firm to have a really solid technical knowledge of how those buildings have been put together. The teamworking skills learnt from numerous projects working to tight deadlines with people from all over the world has made it easy for me to cope with the workload in banking and finance. I will always be grateful to Imperial and it has been fantastic to give back to the College.