WE Innovate champions women-led teams with entrepreneurial ideas.
The programme empowers participants through business coaching, masterclasses and networking. To celebrate the work of our 2023 cohort, we have created a showcase of their innovations.
Read their stories in their words below.
Registration for the WE Innovate 2023 Grand Final is now open!
Join us on Thursday 22 June 2023, 6pm-9pm at Imperial College, South Kensington.
Watch our final 5 teams present their innovations for a chance to win a share of the £30,000 prize fund.
Welcome to Our Innovators
Meet our founders and explore their innovations and sources of inspiration.
01. Phase One
02. PHASE TWO
01. Phase One
Athena Stirring Stick | Bastion | DeSolve Technology | Fig | iCloth | MetaCare | Little Chronicles | Playback | PreXY | Spatial | Stratum | TesTowel | Twisted | UrHealth
TACKLING CERVICAL CANCER
Cervical cancer is the the most common cancer in young women. Approximately 95% of cervical cancer cases are linked to infections with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV). Cervical screening is invasive and its key instrument, the speculum, has remained largely unchanged for 200 years.
By rethinking the traditional sample collection process, our teams have created more convenient and comfortable screening methods that ultimately give women greater control over their health.
TesTowel is the first women-centred HPV diagnostics service that provides non-invasive, low-cost and accurate self-sampling tests for young women to prevent cervical cancer. It relies on novel paper-based technology and the application of menstrual blood. It is as simple as using toilet paper, compatible with rapid processing and screening at low cost, helping customers track their cervix health condition, and relieving resources from health institutions.
Athena Stirring Stick
Helping to stamp out drink spiking. We want to ensure that social spaces are safe for everyone.
Athena Stirring Stick is a stir-stick-like device that quickly detects a spiked beverage and helps prevent instances of rape.
Working with pubs, bars, clubs and events we want to increase awareness surrounding drink spiking and provide a solution to detect it, in the hope that we can eradicate it from our spaces.
A software that matches drug carriers with drugs based on cancer properties, improving chemotherapy treatments’ safety and effectiveness.
“Our software evaluates and compares different drug carrier options, saving researchers’ time and providing faster results. The drug carrier’s properties, such as higher solubility, stability and targeting, increase efficiency while reducing side effects, enhancing the patient experience. Ultimately, our goal is to improve patient outcomes by ensuring the delivery of the right drugs in the most effective way possible.”
Empowering back pain self-management.
Playback is an app-enabled smartbelt system that measures and displays core muscle contractions during back exercises.
Lower back pain is a leading cause of chronic disability and pain affecting 1 in 3 people; and is the most expensive medical condition. Playback has created a wearable smart belt that helps motivate and guide exercise for people with lower back pain.
Helping you stay informed on waiting times in A&E.
We aim to reduce the burden on Accident and Emergency departments by distributing patients to alternative health services, based on severity. Our system has 3 components:
- Algorithm for Initial quick triage
- Virtual real-time queuing
- Monitoring availability of different local healthcare services
A significant proportion of the female population faces sexual health issues and discomfort. The majority of products are phallic and uniform in design and/or they focus on sexualizing the problem rather than focusing on the health benefits.
Garments that provide real-time and comfortable health monitoring for the elderly linked to 24/7 medical services.
Sudden illness, chronic disease and falling are the leading causes of severe injury and death amongst the elderly. By performing long-term, timely checks (on blood glucose and blood pressure, for example) and interventions, these outcomes could be avoided. At the early stage of some diseases, those key metrics do not usually show obvious negative signals, however minor changes can still be detected if being monitered over a period of time.
iCloth provides long-term, real-time monitoring of the multiple key metrics. Real-time monitering can be achieved by integrating specially designed wearable sensors onto cloth to ensure comfortable daily activities. When sudden illness occurs, the sensors can detect unusual signals (e.g. in heart rate), and trigger alarms immediately.
iCloth also provides an airbag protector, which will be released before the user falls to protect them being severly injured. These multiple key metrics can be accessed by the users’ home doctors to evaluate the heath conditions of the users and provide precision medicine to achieve better treatment with less intervention.
There is no app or platform specifically supporting women in their career progression.
PreXY is a platform and supportive community for women in their 20’s and 30’s to navigate their personal and professional development. Users will be able to access educational content and courses on various topics (eg. finding your first job, negotiating a salary, work-life balance, switching jobs, progressing your career) that best match their needs and profile.
A portable, non-invasive screening product for the early detection and management of thyroid conditions.
“Our new healthcare product helps people acquire examination results more quickly with the application of facial recognition technology and infrared thermography. This facilitates doctors to easily keep track of the disease condition over time, allowing for more personalized treatment plans.
Stratum is a handheld device with a digital platform and smart bandage for point-of-care wound analysis that enables predictive, preventative, and personalised care.
For the 1 in 14 British people living with diabetes, chronic foot ulcers can lead to hospitalisation, amputation and death. The community nurses who manage foot ulcers cannot keep pace with demand. Worse, the tools available to them are rudimentary at best, leading to missed warning signs and intervention windows.
Little chronicles is a tool for children ages 5 to 14 who experience PTSD in the face of war. It uses narrative exposure therapy to enable children to establish a coherent life narrative in which to contextualize traumatic experiences.
At war camp, the therapist asks the child to describe his or her emotions, and thoughts, through sensory tools. The child is given an open set of sensorially emotive beads to explain their life journey which the child then gets to keep, along with the narrative journal that the therapist teaches them how to use. The journal has stickers similar to the beads which the child uses to document everyday hurdles and triumphs. This journal can act as a data collection method to quantify the experiences of children in the face of war.
The UK faces a severe STEM skills shortage costing £1.5bn annually. Despite this, in the UK we lose three times more girls than boys in STEM.
We believe there’s a simple intervention shown to increase the number of women retained in engineering by up to 30%. The answer lies in visuospatial skills, or one’s ability to imagine and manipulate objects in the mind. Girls engage less than boys in the hobbies that train them, and schools don’t teach them, but these abilities are foundational to success in STEM. Training students brings the girls up to speed, increases their interest in pursuing STEM, and improves all students’ STEM grades.
Spatial is a B2B, puzzle-based game that can train KS2 students’ visuospatial abilities in as little as ten-minute sessions. Research shows the use of hand gestures and physical objects enhances visuospatial learning, while digital platforms unlock real-time feedback, instructional personalisation, and automated assessment and tracking.
With more than 200,000 tonnes of textile waste in a year, the UK is the fourth largest producer of textile waste in Europe. On average, each Briton throws away 3.1kg of textile waste every year, 1.7kg of which are disposed of in landfills.
Employing 1.6m workers, the care market is fragile. The key pain point for care providers is high staff turnover. One in every three care workers needs replacing annually, but providers face worker shortages and skills deficits. High staff turnover puts immense pressure on their ability to deliver good care to 10 million disabled and older people who use services daily. Workers cite low pay, poor support and feeling undervalued as reasons for leaving care jobs. Our research found they also lack practical skills and guidance to do their jobs well. With demand for care growing, care providers have financial incentives to break the cycle of ongoing recruitment and retain skilled staff.
We are using technology to tackle the social care workforce crisis. MetaCare is a digital tool that helps social care providers train and retain their staff. The tool functions as a daily worker’s companion, strengthening practical skills and knowledge, and reinforcing motivation to care. Built as a mobile app, the solution provides:
- Customised support using an AI-powered search engine, providing trusted and practical information in response to a worker’s questions in real time
- A digital mentor offering ongoing reassurance to the care worker and reinforcing caring values and motivation
- A peer community with access to advice, learning programmes and career development
02. Phase Two
Bond | Clip Energy | Epicue | PapCup | PCOSENS
The energy price cap has risen 178% in the past year. For millions, this is unaffordable as disposable income is falling at the fastest rate on record, with a 2023 forecast of -2.8%. Many people are trying to reduce energy use to save money, however existing devices like smart-meters don’t always show which devices are consuming energy, and they create pain-points due to their installation process.
CLIP breaks down your energy usage by appliance, so you can pinpoint exactly what is contributing to your bills. In addition, it provides personalised insights which advise on simple steps you can take to reduce your bills. This information is present in an empowering manner, informed by design psychology, to maximise behavioural change while mitigating bill anxiety. CLIP works by detecting changes in the magnetic field around the household mains wire and extracting unique appliance signals using cloud-based machine learning. We offer CLIP on a subscription, making it low risk and affordable for a wide-range of users, who’ll save an estimated net average of £200 per year with CLIP.
WHO recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of six months due to the health benefits, however 79% of mothers end up supplementing with formula milk. Once they switch, emotional bonding and breastmilk production are interrupted.
Our solution is a wearable baby bottle worn on a breast to support breastfeeding. This isn’t restricted to mothers, it can equally be used by other caregivers (such as adoptive parents, same-sex couples and fathers). The product consists of a silicone nipple shield, a connecting liquid tube, and a milk container. It is made from thinnest silicone for a real feel.
A heat-stress monitoring wearable that enables the safe adaptation of workers to a hot environment.
Heat-related illnesses are difficult to prevent before they happen due to their subtle physiological signs. Under high heat, we sweat to regulate our body temperature, and this fluid contains crucial information about the thermal state of our bodies. Epicue uses sweat to determine hydration levels and warn the user when they need to replace fluids early on.
We collect this sweat via a low-cost epifludic device that hosts a millifluidic channel system for volumetric sweat rate analysis and a sweat salinity monitoring system with electrodes. The latter self-powers an e-ink screen to warn the user when sweat salinity drops, which happens before heat-related illnesses occur. The device is semi-reusable, with the millifluidic cartridge lasting for one shift.
Papcup changes the way HPV can be detected to reduce the impact of cervical cancer. They were winners of the 2023 Hackstarter competition.
Papcup gives a choice of using either a sample of menstrual blood or a shallow vaginal swab to accurately measure HPV. The swab can be self-collected without requiring a speculum or other tools. The user adds a sample to Papcup, which is analysed by the electrochemical biosensor. A detailed report is produced in under 15 minutes, which is displayed in the Papcup app for the user and simultaneously relayed to the patient’s GP. The device is reusable, and the test can be repeated as many times as desired.
Co-founder and CEO Sanziana Foia was inspired initially by her own personal experience of a smear test: “It was an uncomfortable experience and from my knowledge of biosensors and technology, I was confident that the same health information could be gathered in a less invasive way, and without the need to visit a healthcare setting – which in itself can be a barrier for many women to get tested.”
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is chronic hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women in the UK, causing irregular or no periods, weight gain, excess body hair and infertility. Patients can feel unsupported by the healthcare system due to a lack of treatment options and follow-up care.
Our solution is a wearable sensor which continuously tracks the concentration of female sex hormones specific to PCOS in real-time. The data is displayed on a mobile app which maps your menstrual cycle based on your hormone concentrations, allowing the user to track their condition in response to medication or lifestyle changes, as well as predict ovulation based on personalised hormonal tracking. In addition, hormonal data can be collected prior to a doctor’s consultation, allowing more informed decisions to be made about the patient’s treatment plan. Tracking will allow patients to feel more informed and in control of their PCOS, with greater confidence that will receive the care they need without having to wait months for a follow-up.
aiKNIT | Aloe Health | Carbon Cell | Guerilla | Matrix
The market for tailor-made adaptive wearable devices is huge, and expected to grow by 9.8% (CAGR) until 2028.
aiKNIT is a programmable textile device that facilitates faster and more effective healing of musculoskeletal conditions and blurs the boundaries between a medical device and a fashion garment.
aiKNIT is targeting the 500 million people worldwide who suffer with arthritis conditions and wear pain relief devices that are uncomfortable, uniform in functionality and visually unappealing. Their adaptive tailor-made glove provides support and compression whilst allowing freedom of movement in non-affected areas.
aiKNIT also took part in the sixh cohort of the MedTech SuperConnector.
1 in 5 women, 1 in 10 partners and LGBTQ+ parents have mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth. Anxiety and depression are the most common. 50% of women who have depression during this period are not detected or given support as they do not meet specific criteria. Under-detection of mental health issues results in significant personal and societal costs: research suggests that increasing access to treatment for common maternal mental health problems could have a net benefit of half a billion pounds to the NHS over ten years.
Aloe Health is a digital platform that reduces systemic, societal and individual barriers to parents recognising mental health problems and accessing support.
“Using our system, parents can self-assess and monitor their mental and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after birth. We provide a personalised care plan to help parents understand their emotional state, providing clarity, reassurance and actionable recommendations to improve their wellbeing.
The report can be shared with family and friends, allowing for open discussions surrounding mental health to take place, helping parents to interpret their experience more clearly and normalising these issues to help break down stigma. Connection to a specialist would also be discussed at this point.”
Widely used in gynaecology, the speculum has not changed as an instrument since the Roman era. Matrix is a 21st century replacement of the speculum, designed for patient comfort and self-use in a clinical setting.
Given that 30% of eligible individuals did not attend their cervical smear appointments (42% of whom cited embarrassment as a cause), Matrix is well-placed to reduce preventable disease by improving patient attendance and deliver savings on the costs of missed appointments to the NHS.
Their device has been designed with the patient experience and physiological understanding of the female body front of mind. It is digitally-enabled, AI-supported and designed for self use, so that patients can completely control the experience in their own time and space. It transmits visual data for real-time assessment in a unique digital archive that can be used inform treatment and further research.
A Drainage System that Reduces Pollution in Cities
30% of all ocean pollution is caused by surface water runoff from cities. Rainwater washes the debris of human activity from our built environment and roads into our drains. This runoff is a toxic mix of pollutants (from road, tyre and brake wear, such as microplastics, hydrocarbons and heavy metals) and is discharged into water bodies untreated. In London alone, 2 billion kilograms of contaminants are leached into our water bodies every year, damaging aquatic ecosystems and entering the human food chain. Addressing this problem at scale by infrastructural overhaul would be prohibitively expensive and disruptive, so there is a need for a retrofittable solution that intercepts pollutants before they enter our water systems.
Guerilla is modular and scalable device that can be installed into roadside drains to extract surface water pollutants. Using a gravity based system with no moving parts or energy requirements, it is capable of throughputs matching 1.5 times that of the heaviest rain events for London while achieving 98% efficiency.
“Most of the pollution present in runoff is attached to total suspended solids (TSS) at the source. By separating the TSS from the stormwater near the first point entry into the drainage system, we prevent them from diffusing into the waste-water network, thus massively reducing costs of treatment while integrating with the current maintenance regime.”
Guerilla won the Environmental award in the 2023 Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition.
By 2024, the world is expected to produce enough expanded polystyrene foam to fill 2.5 million semi trucks annually. This and other polymer-based foams are manufactured using oil (10,000 barrels in 2018), contributing to global carbon emissions. Widely used in insulation, packaging, marine floatation and other products, these materials emit gases that are harmful to human health and are difficult to recycle. Styrofoam waste fills up to 30% of global landfills and can take more than 500 years to break down, remaining in the environment as toxic waste.
Our solution is Carbon Cell, an expanded foam that reduces the need for conventional, fossil fuel-based foams while enabling carbon sequestration.
Carbon Cell is made from biochar, a lightweight, porous fully biodegradable material that sequesters carbon and can be produced from waste stream products that would otherwise be burned or decomposed, such as potato peel and discarded textiles. This provides a sustainable bio-foam suitable for many popular applications such as thermal packaging, industrial horticulture and building insulation. Because it is biodegradable and non-toxic, it can be reintegrated into the biosphere at end of life.
Our WE Innovate Journey:
“Since beginning WE Innovate we have significantly developed our go-to-market approach, prioritising customer segments where we are likely to more rapidly achieve proof of concept and our first sale. We have sharpened our understanding of our core market for year one, keeping in mind our broader vision for other applications of our material. We have also put our work into practice as we tell our story in other applications for non-equity funding. This has so far yielded promising results, with our project reaching the finals of the Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition and being granted a place in the Greenhouse Accelerator programme for climate tech startups.”
WE Innovate is a fully-funded university programme championing women-led startup teams. It explores the threads connecting entrepreneurship, the female founder experience and STEM subjects.
Although applications for the 2023 programme are now closed, you can still get support with your idea or venture through booking an Idea Surgery and attending our events.
Hear our finalists pitch live at the WE Innovate Grand Final!
Thursday 22 June 2023, 18:00 – 21:00.
Secure your seat at the 2023 Grand Final. Hurry, tickets are available on a first-come-first-served basis! Sign up here
In Their Own Words
“As a woman with degrees in physics and engineering, discovering that a gap in STEM education pushes girls out felt like a gut punch.
My passion shaped my choice to leave my project management position at a consulting firm to pursue design and human-centred invention. In addition to taking part in WE Innovate, I have won two scholarships for Spatial: from Pokemon and the Royal Commission for 1851 and am also a Mayor’s Entrepreneurial Prize finalist.
Being a woman STEM entrepreneur has spurred me to build a network of experts in relevant fields to bring my product to life.”