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Driving Innovation in Engineering and Tech

While 2020 has so far been a year of immense challenges for every sector, it has also been a year in which innovation has been brought to the fore. The role engineering and tech will play in our future as we grapple with the wide ranging and long-lasting effects of the pandemic has been highlighted, as has the value of creativity and imagination in these fields.

At the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub we believe the solutions to today’s most complex social and economic challenges lie in the minds of the brightest engineering and technology entrepreneurs. Through our unique packages of funding, training, networking and mentoring from the nation’s leading engineers, we help to harness the power of engineering and turn ideas into reality. Whether it is in the response to the emerging challenges of COVID-19 or the building of a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone, we know that engineering has the power to deliver massive public benefit.

This year, we have witnessed engineering play a vital role in the response to the public health crisis. New hospitals have been constructed, personal protective equipment has been redesigned and distributed globally, and breathing aids have been produced rapidly and at scale. As part of a multi-disciplinary approach to a global challenge, engineers have brought creativity and invaluable expertise to projects which have greatly benefited from their ability to find solutions to complex problems.

In recognition of the role engineers are playing in response to the crisis, the Royal Academy of Engineering recognised 19 teams and individuals through its President’s Special Awards for Pandemic Service in August. Among those recognised was Professor Chris Toumazou FREng for developing a rapid, affordable COVID-19 test that provides results in just over an hour. A total of 5.8 million tests are now being deployed through the NHS. Sewers4COVID from the University of Exeter, a team led by Professor Dragan Savic, was recognised for its original approach to early detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus by analysing wastewater. The method could enable experts to quantify the presence of the virus in the population without the need for extensive and expensive individual testing.

These are just two very recent examples of the role creative innovators can play in combatting some of society’s grand challenges. At London Tech Week, we will be looking forward to celebrating the innovators keeping Britain at the forefront of science and innovation. And as proud supporters and champions of the growth of technology enterprises in the UK, we’re also delighted to be able to share some of the successes of our own members.

Taking exceptional innovations to the next level

Our 12-month Enterprise Fellowships programme supports creative and entrepreneurial engineers who have an exceptional innovation they plan to develop further. The prize includes £50,000-£60,000 in equity-free funding and an expert mentoring package and lifetime membership of a supportive community.

Yang Lu, CTO and co-founder at Vivacity Labs, credits the Enterprise Hub Fellowship programme with connecting the company with investors and helping to generate brand awareness. The company is working to revolutionise urban mobility by bringing cutting-edge AI to road infrastructure and has adapted its sensors for use in the COVID-19 response. The company is now producing detailed traffic flow analyses to help construct new transport strategies compatible with social distancing.

Developing leaders who use tech for good

Alumni from our six-month SME Leaders Programme go on to scale-up their enterprises with the confidence and leadership skills to navigate the challenges along the way. This programme supports individuals in executive roles in high-growth engineering and technology SMEs and so far this year, we’re already seeing the impact of these leaders as they use tech for good.

Raunaq Rose, CTO of Humanising Anatomy, joined the SME Leaders programme in February this year to develop skills to scale up the business. That scaling up has also involved pivoting the use of the company’s behavioural video software in response to COVID-19. The company’s team of behavioural psychologists and technologists were already looking at cyclist, pedestrian and wheelchair user behaviour in order to predict what their next move will be. They will now build on that work to better understand social distancing implications and assess how passenger behaviour is affected by the pandemic. By overlaying pre-existing CCTV infrastructure with the firm’s predictive AI software, urban planners and designers will be able to better understand how their infrastructure is being used.

Transforming bright ideas into bold businesses

Our Enterprise Hub Members receive sustained support while building innovative engineering companies. While being mentored by an unparalleled of engineers who have founded and led some of the UK’s most successful engineering businesses, they develop disruptive businesses that have a real impact on society.

Henrik Hagemann, CEO of Puraffinity, found that our SME Leaders programme helped him transition from scientific engineer to commercial lead in a startup. The company extracts the most potent contaminants from water, using advanced materials to capture impurities. With the help of the Enterprise Hub it has raised £2.8 million from leading sustainability investors to scale up its first product line and increase its team.

For Virginia Gardiner the value of the SME Leaders programme was in its network and 1-2-1 coaching, which gave her the courage to focus on the important rather than the urgent. The CEO of Loowatt leads the company in making waterless flush toilets and sanitation solutions for today’s water-scarce world. Its 21st century toilet provides the experience of a flush toilet without water, while being odourless and hygienic. It has now reached an important milestone and is working with the City of Manila in the Philippines for the rollout of toilets to their informal settlement areas.

Driving growth in startups and scaleups

In offering Enterprise Hub programmes to the brightest minds, our mission is to increase the number and quality of high growth engineering technology companies that solve some of society’s most pressing challenges. We are fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation and success among engineers in the UK, and creating more jobs and economic growth.

Launched in 2013, the Enterprise Hub draws on the expertise of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Fellowship. We are uniquely placed to connect today’s engineering leaders and innovators with the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. As we are a charity, all our programmes are offered free of charge and we take zero equity. To date, we have supported nearly 130 individuals to launch 94 companies, which have gone on to attract over £130 million in additional funding and create over 600 jobs.

While we are working to enhance the climate for engineering and technology entrepreneurs, we also hope to inspire and encourage business-minded UK-based engineers to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours. We drive innovation by investing in some of the UK’s most exciting and creative engineering ideas and businesses – and we are looking forward to connecting with and celebrating those at London Tech Week.

June 2020


June 2021