Meet the five student startups that could change the world

Mar 21, 2021

Five Imperial student startups will battle it out in the final of the College’s biggest entrepreneurial competition, the Venture Catalyst Challenge.

By Joanna Wilson

From growing plants without soil, to fintech and intelligent 3D printers, the teams represent some of the College’s most promising new businesses.

The five teams will pitch their ground-breaking ideas to industry judges and the winner will take home a top prize of £20,000 to kickstart their business.

The Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC) is the College’s largest entrepreneurial competition for students and alumni, enabling them to develop an innovative idea for commercialisation. It challenges them to turn their ideas into new technologies, products and businesses based around five key tracks:

  • Creative & Consumer – Sponsored by Huawei
  • Digital & Fintech – Sponsored by Citi and Imperial College Business School’s Centre for Financial Technology
  • Energy & Environment – Sponsored by Grosvenor
  • Health & Wellbeing – Sponsored by Santander Universities
  • AI & Robotics – Sponsored by Huawei

Run by Imperial Enterprise Lab, the challenge provides access to seven intensive weeks of masterclasses, coaching, and meetings with experts, all with one aim – to help students and alumni bring their idea to commercial reality while growing their knowledge, skills, and network.

25 teams, divided into the five themed tracks, pitched to expert panels in the competition’s heats in March. The winner of each track was awarded £10,000 and is now competing to win the £20,000 Grand Prize in the competition’s digital final on Thursday 25 March.

Creative & Consumer: Growing food locally

Long supply chains in the food industry lead to the nutritional benefits of produce being diminished and unnecessary plastic packaging. Hectar want the knowledge and tools to grow fresh food to be accessible to everyone, so food can be grown locally. To do this, they have designed a modular hydroponic system, where plants are grown without soil, in a nutrient-rich solution. They will provide kits to community gardens, cafes and schools, and will also make the system plans available open source online.

Digital & Fintech: Optimising finance

Savium is building a financial engine to allow small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access full real-time visibility of their finances and optimise their business costs. They use open banking application programming interfaces (APIs), classification algorithms and powerful statistics to help business owners streamline data entry and make smarter data-driven decisions.

Energy & Environment: Making metals simpler

Deep.Meta are tackling the issue of identifying problems in metals production. Currently defect investigations are manual, so take a long time to identify and are not always precise. Deep.Meta are using machine learning algorithms to predict when defects will occur, such as on the production line of a steelworks, before they do.

A laptop screen with a man presenting
Osas Omoigiade, co-founder of Deep.Meta presenting at the competition’s heats

Health & Wellbeing: Preventing pressure ulcers

Pressure ulcers are defined as an NHS ‘never event’, a preventable condition which increases patient mortality. CalidiScope are developing a mattress topper with innovative sensors and machine learning to predict ulcers before they develop, monitor patient movement and automate documentation.

AI & Robotics: Making 3D printers intelligent

MattaLabs aim to make 3D printers intelligent. According to the team, 3D printers will spearhead the next industrial revolution, but are currently unreliable, frustrating to use and need constant human interaction from skilled technicians. This wastes material, energy and time. Their solution is to develop the first self-learning global 3D printer network using advanced computer vision and machine learning.

Previous successes

This year 20% of teams on the cohort have previously been part of WE Innovate, the College’s entrepreneurship programme designed to inspire and accelerate the progress of entrepreneurs identifying as women.

Previous winners of the VCC have gone on to found successful businesses, including last year’s winners The Shellworks. They created a plastic alternative from seafood waste that breaks down in any natural environment, allowing consumers to throw away their waste worry-free. The team took home the £30,000 top prize after battling it out against four other startups during the competition’s first ever all-digital final.

The Shellworks turn crustacean waste into a plastic alternative
Credit: The Shellworks

The headline sponsor for this year’s competition is Huawei.

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