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Norwich Research Park holds Dragon’s Den-style competition for spin-out companies at Enterprise Tuesday

30 November 2023

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Norwich Research Park hosted the final of an Innovation Hothouse competition for start-ups, on Tuesday 28 November, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia (UEA) and The Royal Society, where they pitch their business ideas to a panel of experts.

This latest in a series of Enterprise events, sponsored by Mills & Reeve and #21toWatch, winners received the prize of a year’s free virtual tenancy at Norwich Research Park to the top three placed businesses. There were eight finalists, all of who are fledgling businesses based at the Park, whose business ideas are ‘spin-outs’ of research conducted at one of the Park’s partner institutions. The overall winner took home a £500 cash prize with the runner-up receiving £250.

The event was chaired by Dr Soraya Jones, Royal Society Entrepreneur-in-Residence at UEA. She said: “At UEA, we aim to support students and academics within the faculty by enhancing their knowledge of entrepreneurship, giving them a greater awareness of the commercialisation process and learning how to be more engaged with the business and investor communities. The Innovation Hothouse competition is part of this initiative, and also celebrates all the world-class innovation taking place in the region.”

As part of the competition process, all of the finalists have received mentoring and they will receive support via an investment readiness workshop, be helped with introductions and networking opportunities and be given an investor book authored by one of the judges – well-known serial entrepreneur and investor Dr Peter Cowley.

Adopting a Dragon’s Den-style pitching format, one representative from each of the eight finalists will have five minutes to persuade the panel of judges that their business is the one worthy of the first prize.

The finalists:

Dr Yan Fen Lee of OPAU, a spin-out from UEA’s School of Pharmacy. OPAU is a technology platform that gently removes water from liquid-based products, transforming them into lightweight dry sheets, reducing transportation costs and being more environmentally sustainable.

Jacob Wells of MovExplore, a spin-out from UEA’s School of Health Sciences. MovExplore utilises the latest technologies to provide scans of the way people move to aid in diagnosing specific medical conditions, creating effective treatment plans and monitoring general health.

Ken Tam of Ediform, a spin-out from UEA’s School of Pharmacy. Ediform will create a new generation of food using 3D and 4D technology to provide the right nutritional values to feed hospital patients, people in care homes and children at school, aiding recovery and/or ensuring maintenance of a healthy disposition. The technology can also provide a sustainable food supply to grief-stricken areas of the world easily, cheaply and quickly which can mitigate starvation.

Josh Colmer of TraitSeq, a collaborative spin-out from UEA’s School of Biology and the Earlham Institute. Traitseq is a revolutionary AI-based agritech company, using AI and machine-learning to predict complex agricultural traits and input efficacy with a high degree of accuracy, that will help accelerate the development of new crops and products for breeders, agrochemical and gene-editing companies.

Emma Raven, of MVPea, a collaborative spin-out from UEA’s School of Biology, the Earlham Institute and the John Innes Centre. MVPea is converting cutting-edge research into innovative pea-based food products. It aims to create delicious, healthy and sustainable products that will improve consumers’ diets.

Daniel Marcu and Professor Simone Immler of Virilitas Labs, a spin-out from UEA’s School of Biology. Virilitas Labs is addressing the critical issue of declining human fertility and limited advancements in assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). Its focus is on providing individuals with information about their reproductive health and enabling clinics to offer fertility tools to improve pregnancy and live birth rates.

Matthew Bennett of Innovative Approaches, a spin-out from UEA’s Faculty of Science. Innovative Approaches is looking to improve the environmental sustainability of laboratories which are essential for research and innovation. They are also highly resource-intensive complex environments, posing a challenge on how to achieve net-zero carbon emission targets. It delivers a range of services to help organisations effectively reduce carbon emissions associated with their laboratory operations.

Dr Ross Overman of The Chemistry Shed, a spin out from UEA’s School of Pharmacy. The Chemistry Shed is a biotech business that uses an innovative computer platform to accelerate the discovery of new medicines. It will help to lower the cost and speed to market for new medicines whilst also providing training and employment opportunities for young scientists in Norfolk.

The panel of judges are Chief of Judges, Prof Sheng Qi, Professor of Pharmaceutical Material Science & Technology and Associate Dean for Innovation (Faculty of Science) at UEA, serial entrepreneur Dr Peter Cowley, start-up advisor, angel investor and mentor James Thomas, Christina O’Brian, Corporate Principal Associate at Mills & Reeve, Dr Kam Pooni, CEO of Glyconics Ltd and Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, the science park management company at Norwich Research Park. (See below for more details about the judging panel.)

Following the competition, there was a session chaired by Dr Pete Jackson, CEO of Infex Therapeutics and Non-Executive Chair of Anglia Innovation Partnership, titled ‘How to prepare for and secure investment’ which aims to provide practical advice for start-up businesses.

The panel featured Chris Hunter, COO of Colorifix, Dr Andrew Osborne, Head of Biology at Ikarovec (both based at Norwich Research Park), Dr Jason Mellad, CEO and Co-founder of Start Codon, James Pilling, Associate Principal Scientist of Astra Zeneca and Dr Sarah Robinson, Director of Delivery at Health Innovation East.

And to close there was a keynote presentation from Dr Peter Cowley outlining what investors look for when analysing businesses to invest in.

The winners of the event:

1. Joshua Colmer – Traitseq

2. Dr Yan Fen Lee – OPAU

3. Ken Tam – Ediform

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership, the science park management company at Norwich Research Park, said: “There is a huge potential for brilliant business ideas to emerge from the research community at Norwich Research Park which is why we established our campus-wide Enterprise strategy, in 2022, to support and encourage people with great ideas to validate them and develop successful and innovative businesses.

“These events highlight the real opportunities that exist here and the importance of nurturing new businesses. Our unique combination of top-class facilities, access to funding and ease of collaboration means we can fast track ideas so that they become viable start-up or spin-out companies.”

#21toWatch is a dedicated campaign to showcase and highlight the maybe lesser known, recognising those exciting new entries across all market sectors, and celebrating the very best work going on today in the East of England. The winners of the competition will automatically be shortlisted for #21towatch 2024. Nominations for the the next cohort close on the 12th January, so there is still time to nominate!

More info and nominations can be made here: #21toWatch – cofinitive

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