Imperial College London

Backing secured for brilliant invention, designed to prevent crop destruction

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Kerry O'Donnelly and Angela de Mazanos

Kerry O'Donnelly and Angela de Mazanos

Entrepreneurial PhD students Kerry O'Donnelly and Angela de Mazanos have secured investor funding worth £100k for their ingenious FungiAlert.

FungiAlert is a clever device that acts as an early detection system for Phytophthora; a soil-based pathogen, estimated to destroy up to $2-7 billion, per crop, each year.

It combines four low-cost technologies; a chemo-attractant needle to attract the spores, specific media and filters, and a detection chamber for visualisation. This is planted directly into the soil and simply changes colour to indicate risk and alert the farmer to take action.

It’s a brilliant idea that turns conventional wisdom on its head:

  • Think of us as the smoke detector of farmers; we solve the problem before it destroys everything.

    – Kerry O’Donnelly

    FungiAlert co-creator

    Before FungiAlert… it was only possible to confirm the presence of Phytophthora after plants had become infected, meaning crops were destroyed before treatment could start.
  • With FungiAlert… the health of soil and irrigation water is monitored constantly for disease-causing spores, alerting farmers to the risk of infection before disease can take hold.

“Think of us as the smoke detector of farmers” says Kerry. “We solve the problem before it destroys everything.”

Encouraging enterprise

With investor funding now secured, co-creators Kerry and Angela can optimise their prototype and undertake field trials, prior taking the device to market.

It’s a fast-growing success story, yet FungiAlert wouldn’t exist at all if it wasn’t for a Dragon’s Den style competition run by the Centre for Doctoral Training in Imperial’s Institute of Chemical Biology: “I thought it could be really interesting”, says Kerry. “Angela and I are in the same research group and we’re both passionate about crop sustainability and food production. We decided to get together and see what we could come up with.”

The duo pitched their FungiAlert idea to the panel of judges – and won the £20,000 first prize. They then went on to win the £10,000 first prize in the Venture Catalyst Challenge run by Imperial Innovations – and were runners up in the Althea-Imperial prize.

Developing real-world solutions

FungiAlert is a wonderful example of the innovation and practical thinking that is fostered at Imperial.

Kerry came to Imperial because she wanted to do “research that makes a difference”, while Angela moved to London from Spain for the “opportunities to be entrepreneurial and to apply science to solving real world problems.”

Imperial couldn’t offer such opportunities – and see them bear fruit – without support. To find out more or to help, please visit the Faculty of Natural Science’s Giving pages, where you can direct your gift to our enterprising students - or to a variety of College and Faculty initiatives.

Reporters

Imogen Ashfield

Imogen Ashfield
Advancement

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 0979
Email: @imperial.ac.uk

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Jenn Rowater

Jenn Rowater
Advancement

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6697
Email: j.rowater@imperial.ac.uk

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