Success stories

Find out how the Emerging Technologies Competition winners have benefited from entering the competition, how they have transformed their business ideas and what they've got planned for the future.

Mode Labs

Compact field-deployable sensor for real-time environmental monitoring of water pollution.


Company overview

Recent stories about sewage emissions and waste going into rivers have highlighted some troubling issues in the water industry. Less attention is given to the hard-working people in the background doing what they can to solve these problems.  One of the biggest hindrances to finding effective solutions is being able to accurately locate and identify the problems in the first place. Current sensors on the market are big, bulky instruments that require mains power, and these sensors cannot be distributed over bodies of water or on points across the water system.

That is where Mode Labs, a spin out of the University of Oxford, comes in. Building upon research first developed by Professor Jason Smith from the Department of Materials and Professor Claire Vallance from the Department of Chemistry, Mode Labs CTO, Dean James, completed his PhD developing a chemical sensing technology. Over the last six years, the founders of Mode Labs have been turning this research, together with their academic founders at the university, into low cost, portable and easily deployable sensors for the water sector. The existing prototype is the size of a small carry-on suitcase.  result is a small, box sized instrument that runs on battery power and can detect a whole array of important chemical pollution parameters. However, the technology can easily be miniaturised to a shoebox-sized device. The device can run for months at a time without any maintenance, enabling them to get a handle on where the problems are occurring and what can be done to fix them. Now, they are working with customers to make these devices as easy to deploy as possible.

Our programme manager, Emily Vipond from the RSC, caught up with Dean to see what Mode Labs has been up to since winning the 2023 Emerging Technologies Competition in the Environment category.

What have you been up to since winning the competition?
‘We've been building towards a second prototype deployment with the award we got from the RSC,’ Dean says. ‘We are expanding our team with four or five new hires as we move into our new labs and offices.’

Mode Labs is gearing up for the future. The new team will be working on a design ready for manufacture, before scaling up towards selling their instruments. This work will be supported by upcoming trials with customers who will be deploying sensors for months at a time to carry out testing and generate feedback. Dean tells me, ‘We’re taking our prototypes, launching them for trials and working with customers to understand what they need next. The next stage is productization. We have these prototypes, and we will need them to be as simple to deploy and as rugged as possible. That’s probably our work for the next year or two.’ 

‘This is a platform that can detect a whole host of things. The idea is to broaden our scope – looking at emerging contaminants like PFOS and PFAS, and where we can help in other sectors, such as agriculture and farming. This is a huge problem worldwide, so we will be looking to approach new markets such as Europe and America.’

What made you apply to the Emerging Technologies Competition?
'I’ve been in the chemistry field for almost two decades now, and the RSC has always been a central figure aiding with both my education and my professional development. The Emerging Technologies Competition was the perfect tie-in at the perfect time.'

What did you like best about taking part in the Emerging Technologies Competition?
 ‘The event itself was a great way of meeting lots of companies at a similar stage. Whilst a lot of my networking tends to be in the water sector, it was refreshing to speak with companies from other sectors that are having similar problems and have different approaches because of that.’ Dean explains further: ‘The quality of presentations at the event was fantastic and, despite being lucky enough to win, it helped us step up our game and we’ve taken a few tips from the presentations we've seen’.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to apply to the 2024 Emerging Technologies Competition?
Dean’s advice is: ‘be careful not to use jargon. You're the specialist and you've been talking about it so much that things might seem normal and very understandable to you. But remember that the judges come from a whole variety of backgrounds, as does your audience. Try and be as clear as you can.’ He adds, ‘as scientists, we always get very excited by the technology, but it’s the application to the market that’s important. Make sure that you understand your market and that you explain your market very clearly.’
 

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University of Nottingham

Nottingham Vortex: scalable process platform to accelerate discovery to production.


Company overview

A collaborative research group spanning chemistry through engineering from the University of Nottingham have developed a vortex reactor technology.
The team are passionate about helping transform the way chemicals are made more sustainably, particularly using light and electricity to replace frequently toxic and wasteful reagents with continuous manufacturing called flow chemistry. 

The aim of their technology is that the new reactors will make photochemistry and electrochemistry easier in flow chemistry, allowing them to work with companies to put this technology into the marketplace.

Their continuous-flow Vortex Reactor provides access to Photo-/Electro- and Thermal chemistries in single or linked reactors. The Reactor decouples residence time from mixing efficiency delivering high-productivity, simple operation and scale-up. The Reactor is capable of Gram-to-10 Kilo Scale production of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and fine chemicals in a small-footprint reactor. This will allow them to work with manufacturing companies with what would be plug in and play for flow chemistry.
Our programme manager – Emily Vipond from the RSC caught up with the University of Nottingham’s Professor Michael (Mike) George to find out what they had been up to since winning the 2023 Emerging Technologies Competition in the Enabling Technologies category.

What have you been up to since winning the competition?
Since winning the competition, the University of Nottingham group have been looking to work with LED manufacturers; they are closely linking now, with the pharmaceutical sector and many end users to license their technology. They are taking it from proof-of-concept scale to being commercially available. Mike says, ‘the advice from the judges in choosing your partners carefully going forward on this has been really valuable’.
Alongside these conversations, Mike and the team are developing the technology further to give enhanced performance in the areas of photo, electro, and thermal chemistry. 
What made you apply to the Emerging Technologies Competition?

University of Nottingham had applied in 2022, Mike says ‘perhaps we focused on the technology too much, the judges initial feedback was extremely helpful then’. They took the feedback on board and re-applied highlighting the huge advances they had made not only with their technology but their business plan too.  Mike goes on to say ‘It was a unique opportunity to promote our reactor technology and secure core seed funding to accelerate our commercialisation. 

What did you like best about taking part in the Emerging Technologies Competition?

Mike says ‘it was a really humbling experience to win. With so many terrific companies, there was a great spirit of innovation and infectious enthusiasm.’ He goes onto to say the publicity pre and post event has opened many opportunities. Concluding ‘when you win the prize its not just the prize, it’s validation of the technology that makes the experience really valuable’.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to apply to the 2024 Emerging Technologies Competition?
Mike’s advice ‘be clear on your USP, why would you make the difference, be bold but realistic and have evidence. Remember that it is a business competition and not focused just on the technology. Just go for it!’
 

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NIQS

Quantum optical sensors for non-invasive, accurate and continuous glucose monitoring.


Company overview

NIQS Tech (Leeds) Limited is a spin-out from Leeds University, and was founded from the leading research groups of Prof. Gin Jose and Dr Almut Beige. NIQS’ sole focus is developing a truly non-invasive, continuous, and accurate glucose sensor.

NIQS developed their technology after seeing the limitations with the current solutions in the market, such as finger prick (blood) tests and the continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) that people wear on their upper arms. These current practices are supposed to help people living with diabetes maintain close glycemic control. However, the drawbacks associated with these practices tend to deter people from making frequent glucose measurements, which is core to good diabetes management. Ultimately, this increases the risk of nasty complications or other negative impacts on a person’s health, and increases the burden on healthcare providers.

NIQS’ optical-based sensor enables a more proactive and user-friendly approach to diabetes management; one that does not require needles to draw blood samples or any other invasive measurement process. Accessible and user-friendly solutions that encourage frequent glucose measurements will support better management practices, which will reduce the likelihood of complications and reduce the impact of diabetes on individuals and healthcare providers, such as the NHS. Our programme manager, Emily Vipond from the RSC, caught up with NIQS’s co-founder, Nicholas Furtak-Wells, to find out what they have been up to since winning the 2023 Emerging Technologies Competition in the Health category.

What have you been up to since winning the competition?
NIQS are currently developing and improving their technology, and Nicholas says ‘our starting point was a large setup which utilised big, bulky laboratory-grade equipment and occupied an entire optics table. Our recent efforts have significantly reduced our form factor down to a handheld-sized device with a 5x increase in the signal-to-noise ratio. This device enabled the team to move into ex-vivo (outside the living body) testing using porcine (pig) skin, as the dorsal site of pig ears represents the area of porcine tissue with the highest similarity to human skin. These studies demonstrated a 95.3% measurement accuracy across a broad range of glucose concentrations (0-450mg/dL), which is sufficient for commercialisation and already far exceeds the accuracy of the first commercially available continuous glucose monitors.

The quality and accuracy of this data gave great confidence to our clinical advisory board who are supporting NIQS’ efforts to move into human studies. Our focus now is finalising the necessary paperwork so the team can begin generating clinical data through in-vivo (within the living body) studies in a real-life environment, which we anticipated to conduct towards the end of Q1 2024. 

NIQS’ efforts have been supported in combination by grant funding from Innovate UK grant and equity investment from SFC Capital and an value-add angel investor. The team are aiming to raise further investment following the results from their testing in mid to late 2024.
On looking at the future goals of the company, Nicholas says, ‘raising that money will mean we can progress down both the technology readiness level and the manufacturing readiness level, and accelerate our time to market.’ He goes on to explain, ‘the funding will enable us to conduct larger scale clinical studies to support our progress down our chosen regulatory pathway. This will enable us to engage with the regulatory bodies to understand what evidence from our clinical data they need to see in order for us to move to the next stage and ultimately secure regulatory approval.’

What made you apply to the Emerging Technologies Competition?
NIQS applied in 2022 and were shortlisted as finalists. However, they later had to pull out. Nicholas considers this, ‘it probably worked out for the best, because we might not have won last year. But we reapplied. We had scaled our technology down to handheld size, generated some very strong ex-vivo data and filed a new patent. All these things fell into place by not being able to do it last year.’

What did you like best about taking part in the Emerging Technologies Competition?
Nicholas says, ‘I really enjoyed the opportunity to get on stage and pitch to a panel of industry experts who are working in medical technology, healthcare, or pharmaceutical companies. Being able to be questioned and get feedback from them is priceless.’ Nicholas adds, ‘the networking side of it was all really fun, being able to chat to people over lunch and in the coffee breaks.’

What advice would you give to anyone looking to apply to the 2024 Emerging Technologies Competition?
Nicholas breaks his advice into three sections. Firstly, he says, ‘I recommend starting as early as possible because the sooner you start, you can start to figure out the areas that you don't know and you can get additional input from colleagues to make the written application as strong as possible.’ Secondly, ‘on the pitch side: practice, practice, practice. You’re then more familiar and comfortable with the material and less likely it'll be thrown off if something unexpected happens.’ Lastly, ‘modelling and preparing some practice Q&A. I tried to look at my pitch and think “If I was a judge, what would I try to pick out? What would I try to find out more about?”.’
 

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Lambda Agri

Passive light management for greenhouse horticulture.


Abstract

Lambda Agri are a ‘spin in’ at the University of Cambridge where they co-developed the IP for Lambda UV-R. They are currently designing and making their chemical in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. 

Our programme manager, Emily Vipond from the RSC, caught up with Lambda Agri’s Monica Saavedra (CTO & Co-Founder) and Boris Breiner (Chief Scientist) to find out what they have been up to since winning the 2023 Emerging Technologies Competition in the Energy category.

Who is Lambda Agri?
Lambda Agri is the trading name of Lambda Energy, which was founded about six years ago as a solar company, looking into improving solar cells using spectral converters – films that can better convert sunlight and improve cell efficiency. However, in 2021 the team’s research highlighted an alternative market for their emerging technology, a pivot that had them rebrand to Lambda Agri.  

Their product is an active material that can be coated directly on to glass used in greenhouses. This converts UV light to red light, encouraging better growth in plants.  With millions of square metres of greenhouses all over the world, the market potential for their product in agritech was clear. Monica says, [on pivoting the company’s focus] '‘it also touched upon a particular drive: of working towards the UN goal of zero hunger.’'

What have you been up to since winning the competition?
Literally a few days before the competition final, Lambda Energy received exciting results from their MVP product testing in eight greenhouses at Cranfield University. Their product demonstrated a 9.3% increase in basil leaf yields and a 5% increase in strawberry sweetness. These results were independently verified by plant scientists at the University of Cranfield. The results for the strawberries have generated a lot of interest from growers who are targeting high-quality or high-value berries.
Monica says, ‘this early demonstration really brought home that this is a useful technology.’'
 
With regards to the commercial part of the company, Monica and the team currently have several ongoing conversations with paint companies. Their current business model is ‘'to sell their active material to the paint companies who will mix this into the paint that is then sold to growers to spray onto their greenhouses’. Monica goes on to say, ‘we will very likely subcontract the manufacture of the chemical to scale it up in the first instance and licence the technology after that.’'

Since winning the competition, Lambda Agri have gained a lot of momentum. They have been successful with grant applications, shortlisted for other competitions, and had a lot of interest from investors.

Monica concludes with the company’s plans for the future. ‘'On the technical side, via one of these grants we’ve been awarded, we are planning to coat  over 1500m² of greenhouses for a total A/B test size of 300m2. Growers won't be convinced unless we show them at least one growth trial with a minimum 600 m² of greenhouse covered with our material. We will be investigating different crops as well, such as various berries and herbs.’'

What made you apply to the Emerging Technologies Competition?
Boris says '‘it was [our colleague] Niall who bought it to our attention, being a member of the RSC, and it looked like a good opportunity. At the time we were seeking funding and getting the recognition in the agritech sector.’'

What did you like best about taking part in the Emerging Technologies Competition?
Boris says ‘'the impressive part to me was being in the final and listening to all the other presentations. It was an impressive line-up of companies and ideas you had there. I was blown away just looking at the list of finalists and being able to network with the other finalists during the breaks.’'

What advice would you give to anyone looking to apply to the 2024 Emerging Technologies Competition?
Boris and Monica both agree on ‘'give it a try – you never know.''
 

Read more case studies

Read about what our 2023 winners have been up to since winning. 

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About the competition 

Take a look at how the competition could benefit your innovation.

Lambda Energy

More info...

Applications are open until 15 April

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