Imperial celebrates five years of pioneering WE Innovate women

From flushable sanitary pads to innovative finger prick tests, Imperial has marked five years of its flagship entrepreneurship programme for women.

By Deborah Evanson

WE Innovate, formerly known as the Althea-Imperial Programme, is designed to inspire a new generation of women entrepreneurs at

Female Students at WE Innovate

Female Students at WE Innovate

Imperial and help them accelerate their startups. 

Over the course of six months, the programme supports female students to develop their business idea, advance their leadership, and develop their entrepreneurial skills. Participants get access to masterclasses, business coaching, talks by inspiring business leaders and pitch training, before pitching to a judging panel for the chance to win a share of a £20k prize pot. 

Scores of successful startups have emerged from the programme, with inventions including wearable devices, innovative medtech, new drone technology and social enterprises. 

Professor Maggie Dallman said: “Over the past five years, the WE Innovate programme has supported hundreds of women on their entrepreneurial journeys. At a time where fewer than one in ten venture capital dollars go to female-founded companies, this support is critical. 

“The businesses to emerge from the programme have the potential to disrupt industries, solve problems and improve lives. I am so proud of what they have achieved and I look forward to seeing this year’s cohort of innovators flourish over the coming months.” 

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of WE Innovate, Imperial Enterprise Lab hosted a free half-day conference supporting female leadership and entrepreneurship. 

Called WE Inspire, the conference brought together students, women entrepreneurs from the College’s neighbouring White City community and young innovators from Imperial’s Maker Challenge programme to network and hear inspiring talks from business leaders and previous WE Innovate participants. 

Olivia Ahn, Founder of Polipop, pitches at WE Inspire

Olivia Ahn, Founder of Polipop, pitches at WE Inspire

This included Olivia Ahn, founder of Polipop (formerly known as WithLula), who won the competition in 2017. Her startup is developing zero-waste, flushable menstrual pads to tackle the environmental impact of disposable sanitary products. 

The team has engineered a plant-based material that is stable during use at body temperature, but which disintegrates upon contact with cool water, allowing them to be flushed down the toilet safely. 

At the same time, Polipop is working with the Indian government to develop low cost reusable sanitary pads, that can be given to schools and villages in a bid to make menstrual health and hygiene sustainable and accessible to all.

Ana-Luisa Neves, founder of Momoby, came second place in the 2017 WE Innovate competition, before seeing further success at

Ana Luisa, Founder of Momoby, at WE Inspire

Ana Luisa, Founder of Momoby, at WE Inspire

Imperial’s Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC)earlier this year where Momoby claimed first prize.

Ana’s startup is developing a small device that can test for diseases with a known impact on pregnancy – such as hepatitis, syphilis, and HIV – using a single drop of blood. 

The World Health Organisation recommends that all women be tested for these infectious diseases, but this can be a challenge in isolated communities and developing countries, where testing is often unavailable or inaccessible. 

Momoby will allow for timely diagnosis, treatment and better health outcomes for both mother and baby. 

Other talks included Eleanor Harding, Product Designer at Twitter, who spoke about the importance of failure and how you can use it to grow and Gemma Milne, Co-Founder of Science Disrupt, who shared her perspective on leadership, including its challenges and her practical tips for taking on a leadership role. 

Entrepreneurs Riham Satti, Co-Founder and CEO of data-driven recruitment system MeVitae, and Enass Abo-Hamed Co-Founder and CEO of green energy company H2GO Power, also shared their personal journeys, the challenges they have overcome, and how they got their businesses to where they are today. 

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Manager, Olivia Standish, said: “WE Inspire has given us the opportunity to use what we have learned from WE Innovate and impact more students than ever before. We hope that the students will be inspired to go on as the future leaders in science and technology to have a transformative impact on society.

“The most important outcome of today has been to demonstrate that leadership comes in many forms and that it’s easier than you may think to smash the ceiling.” 

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