Human-like skin for robots, personalised synthetic voices for people who lose theirs through illness, and environmentally friendly sanitary products are among the prize-winning inventions that have been celebrated at the University’s innovation awards.
Inspire Launch Grow, the annual competition for entrepreneurial staff, students and recent graduates, was run and hosted by Edinburgh Innovations in the Playfair Library, Old College.
Awards of up to £5,000 were presented across five categories, judged by established entrepreneurs and business advisers. Finalists had previously pitched their businesses and social enterprises to the judges.
Skin for robots
School of Engineering PhD student Zakareya Hussein and Product Design masters student Laura Garcia Caberol won the Emerging Innovation Award for Students for their company Touchlab.
They are developing an electronic skin that can be wrapped around any robot to give it a human-like sense of touch, including ‘pain’ when poked with sharp objects.
“It’s a big boost of confidence. We’re really happy to know that people appreciate what we’re doing.”
– Laura Carcia Caberol, winner, Emerging Innovation Award for Students.
“It validates what we’re doing and the connections at this event are great – it increases our reach. We’ll be using the monetary award to increase our work with the company.”
– Zakareya Hussein, winner, Emerging Innovation Award for Students
Taking the Emerging Innovation Award for Staff were research assistants Alice Smith from Edinburgh Medical School and Lovisa Wihlborg from the School of Informatics, for Speak:Unique.
Their technology creates personalised synthetic replica voices for people with conditions such as motor neurone disease who lose the ability to speak.
From a recording of just 30 minutes of a patient talking, the system is able to turn any text into speech in the person’s own voice, enabling them to have an authentic-sounding voice long after they lose the ability to vocalise themselves.
“It’s great to see your hard work come together, and to see the other activity going on in the University startup and spinout scene. We’re at an exciting moment where we’re ready to launch as a spinout company and reach people we couldn’t reach as a research project. It’s been fantastic to have Edinburgh Innovations’ support to help us navigate the path to commercialisation.”
– Alice Smith, winner, Emerging Innovation Award for Staff
Social and Environment Award
The winner of the Social and Environment Award was Alison Wood, a recent graduate of the School of Economics and founder of Lilypads. Her social enterprise began its work in Kenya, addressing a lack of affordable sanitary products that prevents girls from attending school, and has now introduced an environmentally friendly sanitary product to the UK market.
“The finalists have come up with some amazing ideas and shown the necessary enterprising spirit and energy to take them forward as solid business propositions. It’s always a honour to support our staff and student entrepreneurs.”
– Dr George Baxter, CEO, Edinburgh Innovations
The Enterprise Award went to postdoctoral researcher Dr Alireza Abbassi Monjezi, founder of Waterwhelm, a technology that turns wastewater into clean water while simultaneously producing renewable electricity from biogas and an ash product that can be used as a soil improver.
Waterwhelm aims to radically cut the energy currently used to pump clean water and wastewater to and from remote locations in Scotland, and to bring clean water and electricity to off-grid communities in developing economies.
Dr Luca Cassetta, Research Fellow in the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, took the Innovation Cup for his company Macomics, which is developing antibody-based cancer therapies that target tumour-associated macrophages.
The awards ceremony was attended by more than 100 guests from the across the University and Edinburgh’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including members of the investment community who regularly support startups and spinouts launched by students and staff.
The event was opened by Edinburgh Innovations CEO Dr George Baxter, and speakers included Professor Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice-Principal, and award-winning entrepreneur Lauren Crystal.
Lauren, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, is co-founder of Hassl, a workplace collaborative tool for communications, project management and file storage, and she is co-founder and Managing Director of Your Creative, a creative agency that focuses on human-centred design.
In autumn last year, she was invited to exhibit Hassl at the prestigious Forbes Under 30 Summit in Boston, Massachusetts, and in March this year she won the 2019 Emerging Leader Award at the Telstra Victoria Business Women’s Awards.