Conception X Competition: £5k awards for four teams to recognise their progress and contribute to their next step as founders
Conception X, Cohort II launched in February with 18 PhD teams primarily from UCL. These teams came from a variety of departments, including computer science, mechanical engineering, and medicine.
After five months, the teams have completed the entrepreneurship training programme, and now move into commercial prototype development and testing. To celebrate the achievement of this milestone, we asked them to submit five-minute videos about their progress.
Each of the four winners receives a £5k award to both recognise their progress and contribute to their next step as founders.
11 teams applied for the award and the four winners are:
- Pinfold Technologies – low-cost, ultra-fast ultrasound imaging
- Empathetic Media – AR/VR mental health therapies
- Enteromics– real-time gut health monitoring
- In Neutro – platform for Alzheimer’s drug development
All of these early-stage companies combine computer science and health – two of UCL’s strongest faculties.
The Conception X programme represents gender-balanced teams. 60% of the teams submitting for the awards are led by women. While we did not control for gender in awards selection, the winners are two teams with female leaders and two teams with male leaders.
There were three things that differentiate the winners overall:
Transitioning to think as employers
The teams understand their own capabilities, and also where they have gaps. Not only are they working hard on their projects and developing as leaders, but they look to use the award to engage other people to accelerate progress – first moves toward building teams and hiring.
Specific product development plans
All teams mapped milestones as part of their submissions while winning teams had highly-specific plans. Next steps were precise, anchored in time, with results that are measurable. These teams were able to clearly articulate technical development roadmaps to audiences outside their own technical domains.
Going beyond the brief
There was a short-list of five points to address in their submissions, with no further guidance. The winning teams showed greater consideration of the audience in their submissions. They crafted pieces to not only answer the questions but also to tell us what they had done, and what they wanted to do, but more importantly, they made their journey real and invited us along on that journey.
Overall, the winners here understand that product development is about technical mastery, and building a business is about enrolling other people in the journey. The four winning teams were strongest on both of those dimensions.
In looking for a solution to one problem, Electrical Engineer Tom Robins (UCL Engineering) came up with a novel way to create ultrasound images. The result of his work is a platform which both drastically reduces the cost of ultrasound equipment and enables ultrafast 4D imaging for the first time. Beyond medicine, it has potential applications in medical research, industrial testing, consumer durables, and consumer electronics markets. To find out more, please refer to Pinfold Technologies technical whitepaper.
Collectively, the IoT semiconductor market is valued at $45B. The sensing market subsegment is worth $10B. Playing to UK university engineering strengths, the government launched a new semiconductor centre in Wales in 2018 dedicated to commercialising research in this market.
Computer Science researcher Dan Archer (UCL, Computer Science) began using virtual reality to share stories and communicate experiences while on a fellowship at the Reynolds School of Journalism in Missouri – the oldest school of journalism in the world.
Now, Archer is trialling an immersive experience product ResilientXR for mental health, an AR product built for children and younger students. The first version takes research into exposure therapy and applies it to bullying. Providing students with virtual bullies enables them to control the experience and develop positive responses so that they are better behaviourally prepared to manage bullying in real life situations.
Software-based mental health therapies are moving to the forefront of education and medicine. Mental health care is included as UN Sustainable Development Goal 3.4. The world has awakened to profoundly negative impacts and associated prices for not managing mental health to the same standards as physical health.
VR is a key component of a mental health software market that grows 15% annually and will be worth $5B in the next few years. By comparison, the existing mental health pharmaceutical market is worth $15B, and growing at a much lower 2% per annum.
ResilientXR demonstration video is available here.
Data scientist Mariam Elgabry (UCL Security and Crime Science) and engineer Phoebe Heseltine (UCL Mechanical Engineering) are combining cybersecurity and mechanical engineering research to create an ingestible capsule to monitor gut health. Each candidate joined the Conception X programme to commercialise their research. They formed Enteromics to build management of sensitive data into a safe physical device.
The Enteromics project is part of a $1.7 trillion global market in personalised medicine. Integrating data capture and assessment into health management so fundamentally changes human and animal life that Bill Gates specifically mentioned gut health monitoring as part of MIT’s annual Breakthrough Technologies list in February 2019.
Both academic achievement and solving human problems come naturally to Itse Onuwaje (UCL Pharmacology). She is parlaying a first-class undergraduate degree in pharmacology into cutting-edge research into Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment. Her product prototype changes the way drug development works, moving from single-hypothesis models to multi-strategy testing.
Dementia – the greatest challenge of our time – imposes a $1 trillion cost on the global economy – estimated at 1% of global GDP. Alzheimer’s treatment is a wicked problem, and there has been little movement in drug development over the last 15 years. While global human and economic costs compound, clinical trials in this area have an average failure rate of 99%.