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Student entrepreneurs win at Inspire Launch Grow 2021

Student entrepreneurs win at Inspire Launch Grow 2021

A grip-strengthening robotic glove, an app to better connect restaurants and food suppliers and a system to measure forest health using satellites have been named the winners of the University of Edinburgh’s annual awards for student entrepreneurs.

The three startup businesses were announced at the Inspire Launch Grow 2021 awards run by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service, celebrating student and recent graduate enterprise.

They were selected by an expert judging panel from a shortlist of 14 finalists across three categories, with each winner awarded £5,000.

In the Emerging Enterprise category, sponsored by Balfour Beatty, the winners were undergraduate student Armin Ghofrani and recent graduates Thomas Billam and Gauthier Collas with their business NextChain. The team have developed an app to improve the food supply chain process for restaurants, promising chefs they can “say goodbye to phone calls, emails, paperwork and mistakes”.

Armin Ghofrani said:

“We are so grateful for the support and help we’ve received from EI – particularly the co-working space where we got to interact with so many inspiring people. We really wanted to help businesses adapt to the tough conditions they face and with this boost we hope to continue to grow our user base in Edinburgh.”

Two recent engineering graduates took the Impact Award for social enterprises focused on change for common good. Rowan Armstrong and Ross O’Hanlon are the founders of Bioliberty, developing a lightweight robotic glove which strengthens grip and a digital therapy platform which helps develop natural hand strength.

Ross O’Hanlon said:

“It has been a tough year, but we’ve managed to use that time really productively. We’re thrilled to be recognised. It’s obviously a team effort and I’d really like to thank everyone who’s supported us along the way.”

Thibault Sorret, a masters student in Ecosystems, Wildlife and Ecosystems Health, took the Innovation Award for technology-based businesses. His startup, Wildsense, monitors forest health using satellite imagery to help foresters better adapt to climate-change-related risks.

Thibault Sorret said:

“I’m really grateful for the university and EI’s support helping me take my academic work and translating it into real world impact. Hopefully we can inspire even more students to take the plunge and develop even more amazing and positive ideas.”

The 14 finalists were selected from a strong field of entries across the University of Edinburgh’s three colleges: Arts, Humanities & Social Science, Science & Engineering, and Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.

Lorna Baird, Enterprise Development Manager at Edinburgh Innovations said;

“It’s been an incredibly hard year for our student startups but throughout they have shown resilience, ambition and determination; showing us all that they can triumph even in a pandemic.  Our Inspire, Launch & Grow Awards is our way of celebrating their true grit!  Well done to all the finalists and winners.  We are incredibly proud of what you have achieved to date.”

Each finalist team made a 10-minute business pitch to an expert panel of judges ahead of an online awards ceremony where the winners were announced on Wednesday 7 July. All 11 runners-up received £500, and all finalists received a photography package to help market their businesses.

The judging panel included previous winners, who are now successful entrepreneurs as well as enterprise experts. They included Aayush Goyal, Co-founder Social Stories Club, Lorenzo Conti, Founder of Crover and Steve Hamill, CEO Scottish EDGE.

Past winners of ‘Inspire Launch Grow’ include TouchLab and WaterWhelm in 2019. TouchLab developed an electronic skin to give machines a human-like sense of touch while WaterWhelm aims to bring clean water to billions of people. Both startups have also won other awards such as the Scottish EDGE awards and the Converge Kickstart Challenge.

Student Enterprise at the University of Edinburgh continues to go from strength to strength with yet another record-breaking year of student startups and an excellent record of investment.

Agreement targets disease-resistant gene-edited pigs

Agreement targets disease-resistant gene-edited pigs

The University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and animal genetics company Genus PLC have signed an agreement to produce pigs that are resistant to a respiratory disease affecting livestock worldwide.

Researchers and the company hope the licensing agreement, facilitated by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service, will lead the way to gene-edited, disease-resistant pigs being available to global pork-producing markets.

Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) harms the animals’ welfare and is one of the most costly animal diseases in the world, with around $2.5 billion (£1.8 billion) revenue lost each year in the US and Europe alone.

The disease causes breathing problems and deaths in young animals and can result in pregnant sows losing their litters.

Vaccines have mostly failed to stop the spread of the virus that causes PRRS, which is endemic in most pig-producing countries worldwide.

The University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute has produced pigs that can resist the disease by editing their genetic code. The research received funding from both Genus and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Professor Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director of the Roslin Institute and Dean of Innovation at the University’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, said:

“Roslin is rightly recognised for pioneering animal biotechnology that enables genetic engineering of farmed animals. The strong, productive and durable partnership with Genus has been a key aspect in seeing academic endeavour translate to useful and useable translational projects for the livestock sector.”

Project leaders say that by partnering with Genus, a leading global animal genetics company, the Roslin Institute will benefit from its existing relationship with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), insights into the pork sector, its established supply chain, and its distribution channels in the world’s biggest pig markets, including China, Europe and the US.

With the signing of the licensing agreement, Genus will continue planned work for testing multiple generations of pigs and conducting studies required for FDA approval.

Dr Elena Rice, Chief Scientific Officer at Genus PLC, said:

“We have long and fruitful relationships with Roslin and admire the depth of Roslin’s research and pioneering spirit. Together we laid out the groundwork for combating PRRS, and Genus is working with the FDA to obtain approval for this technology.”

Dr John Lonsdale, Head of Enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations, said:

“Animal health is a keystone of animal welfare as well as bringing benefits to food-producing economies and global food security.

“This highly specific edit to the animals to ensure disease resistance is a result of decades of work at Roslin, and we’re delighted to be helping to improve animal welfare by bringing this technological breakthrough to market through this partnership with Genus.”


For further information, please contact:
Shane Canning, Press and PR Office,
0755 782 0266, shane.canning@ed.ac.uk

Photo illustration: Alan Roberts/Unsplash

EI hosts global university experts to boost regional investment

EI hosts global university experts to boost regional investment

Edinburgh is hosting commercialisation experts from 10 leading transatlantic universities to find ways to boost investment in regional centres of innovation away from long-established hotspots.

The latest ‘TenU Hosts’ event, titled Regional Opportunities, focuses on attracting global and domestic investment into areas of the UK away from the south-east of England and areas of the US between the east and west coastal regions.

The event will be chaired by Dr George Baxter, Chief Executive Officer of Edinburgh Innovations.

In addition to Edinburgh, TenU comprises the heads of equivalent offices at the University of Cambridge, Columbia University, Imperial College London, KU Leuven, University of Manchester, MIT, University of Oxford, Stanford University, and UCL. The collaboration is funded by Research England.

Policy implications

TenU Hosts Regional Opportunities will highlight collaborative approaches that have proven successful and discuss policy incentives to increase their potential. This includes implications for national policy – the UK Government’s levelling up agenda and R&D Place Strategy, and the US Innovation and Competition Act, which authorises investment in regional technology hubs.

“Across the US, the UK and Europe there are many world-ranking universities producing exceptional intellectual property that is being relatively under-exploited.


“Our aim at this latest TenU forum is to ensure that investors and national and regional governments don’t miss out on opportunities across perhaps lesser known areas of the UK, Europe and the US.”


– Dr George Baxter, CEO, Edinburgh Innovations.

Regional innovation

The event will feed into a cooperation between Research England and the US’s National Institute of Standards and Technology to map regional innovation and economic development and improve connections between research and industry.

Speakers at the event, hosted online on 8 July, include partners from investment firms Osage University Partners, based in the US, and Edinburgh-based Epidarex Capital, as well as Nichole Mercier, Managing Director of the Office of Technology Management at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, and Andrew Wilkinson, CEO of University of Manchester Innovation Factory.

“The calibre of this panel and the content of the event will drive and inform positive policy discussions within the UK and Scottish governments on the importance and opportunity of university research and innovation.”


– Dr George Baxter

TenU Hosts series

It is the fourth TenU Hosts event to take place since the organisation was launched in July 2020. Previous events have focused on the post-Covid economic recovery, entrepreneurial ecosystems and international investment.

Related links

Ten U

EI in global push for entrepreneurial ecosystems

Research England backs schemes to boost universities’ impact



Boehringer Ingelheim: big pharma mentoring for researchers 

Boehringer Ingelheim: big pharma mentoring for researchers 

Boehringer Ingelheim, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, is supporting University of Edinburgh researchers to develop the commercial potential of their work.

Through its Office Hours initiative, Boehringer Ingelheim met members of five research teams from across the University’s College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine, to offer mentoring and feedback and to give an insider view of big pharma.

It is the first time that Germany-headquartered Boehringer Ingelheim has offered the Office Hours event, a format of its Grass Roots programme, in Scotland.

‘Exquisite’ academics

Dr Laura Corradini, External Innovation Manager Research Beyond Borders at Boehringer Ingelheim, said Edinburgh research in the drug discovery and therapeutics field is “a fast-growing ecosystem nurtured by state-of-art preclinical and clinical facilities and exquisite academic expertise focused on solving the biggest medical challenges”.

The initiative was supported by Edinburgh Innovations, which helped bring the two sides together, selected the participants and hosted the one-day, one-to-one tailored mentoring meeting online.

Heart by-pass solutions

Among the researchers who met Boehringer Ingelheim was Professor Andy Baker, Head of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, who is researching the use of Small Interfering RNA to prevent heart by-pass vein graft failure.

“The event was very useful in understanding key perspectives that are important in the development of new therapies.


“I received very insightful comments to my questions that will help me derive a more complete vision of where my translational approaches need additional support, expertise and direction.”


–  Professor Andy Baker, Head of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science.

Cancer biomarkers

Dr Jenny Fraser, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, discussed her research to develop blood biomarkers for advanced prostate cancer.

“The BI team were all extremely generous with their time, knowledge and expertise, and really lovely people.


“It was invaluable to obtain their perspective and insight into areas that I hadn’t considered. The discussion was also great in highlighting aspects of the science that would be relevant for experimental and clinical application and potentially foster collaboration or funding opportunities.


“It was very worthwhile and inspiring event.”


–  Dr Jenny Fraser, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Biomedical Sciences.

Research questions

The three other research projects were: novel therapeutic targets for cardiometabolic conditions; underlying mechanisms of age-related disease risk; and seeking new targets for therapeutic options in colorectal cancer.

Researchers were invited to share non-confidential details of their work with Boehringer Ingelheim and pose a series of questions aiming to seek pharma opinion on how to progress their research and exploit its therapeutic potential in a sustainable manner.

Boehringer Ingelheim then selected senior research-and-development leaders with specialist knowledge of each researcher’s field to address those questions.

During a day-long event, Boehringer Ingelheim worked with each researcher in turn, addressing topics such as pre-clinical and clinical development, research strategy and business development.

“We are always excited to meet scientific innovators in the Office Hours round table discussions. We feel that by sharing our drug discovery expertise we can contribute to the acceleration of the development of novel solutions addressing unmet medical needs to ultimately benefit patients.


“Moreover, taking a break from our daily responsibilities to mentor the next generation of drug discovery strengthens our commitment to innovation.”


–  Dr Laura Corradini, External Innovation Manager Research Beyond Borders, Boehringer Ingelheim.

Grass Roots

Boehringer Ingelheim’s Office Hours is part of the company’s Grass Roots programme designed to enable emerging science and technology by championing young life-science companies.

The Boehringer Grass Roots activities are designed to help bio-entrepreneurs increase their knowledge of how to progress their science along the value chain, and it is offered on a ‘no strings attached’ basis.

Related links

Boehringer Ingelheim Office Hours

EI services for staff

Dr Andrea Taylor named Head of Major Projects

Dr Andrea Taylor named Head of Major Projects

Edinburgh Innovations has named Dr Andrea Taylor as its new Head of Major Projects.

Dr Taylor will lead Edinburgh Innovations’ Major Projects team, which focuses on developing the University’s long-term strategic relationships with commercial partners and securing large funding awards for industrial collaborations.

She will also develop and manage cross-University projects and lead Edinburgh Innovations’ foresighting work, steering the University’s industry engagement activities and forecasting trends in order to match University expertise with industry’s needs.

Record of success

Dr Taylor has led EI’s Business Development team serving the University’s College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine (CMVM) since 2017, during which time she has overseen a transformation in commercialisation stemming from the College.

This includes a string of therapeutics spinout company launches, based on University research, aiming to tackle some of medicine’s biggest challenges and launched with substantial funding by prestigious investment companies. And funding awards for research collaborations between the University and industrial partners have reached new highs over each of the past three years, and are on course to set a new record this year.

Recent successes include helping to secure the launch in May by Evotec and Bristol Myers Squibb of BeLAB1407, with funding of $20 million, to advance drug discovery opportunities and encourage new spinouts from the Universities of Edinburgh, Birmingham, Dundee and Nottingham.

And in April she won the Hidden Hero award in the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2021.

“The progress we’ve made at CMVM reflects the strength of the team at EI, the entrepreneurial spirit of the University’s researchers and the eagerness for industrial partners and the University to innovate together for mutual benefit.


“The Major Projects team has the same ingredients in place, including a team of EI colleagues with a breadth and depth of specialist expertise, so I look forward to helping develop the pipeline of major partnerships, funding and projects that is reflective of the increasing ambition of EI and the University.”


– Dr Andrea Taylor, Head of Business Development, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.

Ambitious team

The Major Projects team will look to build on recent successes, which include the establishment of the Advanced Care Research Centre in 2020 with a £20 million award from Legal & General, the UK’s largest pension fund investor.

This month the team helped Blackwood Homes and Care win a major funding award from UK Research and Innovation as part of the ISCF Healthy Ageing Challenge, for a £12.5 million project to help older people live at home for longer and with greater independence.

“Edinburgh is among the highest ranking UK universities for industry engagement, and as commercial partnerships become ever-more important across the sector, we want to take our Major Projects work to the next level.


“I’m delighted that Andrea will lead this important activity, and I know there’s no-one better placed to help us fulfil that ambition, which will ultimately lead to benefits for the economy and society.”


– Dr George Baxter, CEO, Edinburgh Innovations.

Dr Taylor will begin her new role on 1 August 2021.

Related links

Blackwood healthy ageing collaboration


Knowledge Exchange Awards


China collaboration targets new graphene-based waste treatments   

China collaboration targets new graphene-based waste treatments  

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and a specialist Chinese materials company have launched a collaborative project to develop graphene-based materials for use in waste treatment and purification applications.

The University has signed a six-year collaborative research agreement with Jiangsu Dingying New Materials Co Ltd, worth £1.19 million.

Experts at the Institute for Materials and Processes within the University’s School of Engineering will research how to optimise two types of graphene-based material including nanostructured membranes to remove pollutants and extract useful substances from effluent liquids and gases.

The company will take the results and scale up production, for applications such as industrial waste management and chemical purification.

Partnership support

The University’s project team is led by Dr Harvey Huang and Professor Xianfeng Fan of the Institute for Materials and Processes. Their relationship with Jiangsu Dingying New Materials Co has been developing since 2017, supported by Edinburgh Innovations.

“The signing of this agreement reflects hard work and determination by both sides to pursue our mutual interest in developing this field, and we’re very pleased to have helped achieve this successful outcome.”


– Dr George Baxter, CEO of Edinburgh Innovations.

Environmental benefits

Dr Harvey Huang, the principal investigator of the collaboration, said the research would facilitate the commercialisation of graphene-based materials and contribute to the worldwide efforts in waste management, energy saving and pollution reduction.

“This collaboration will help us find lower-cost and more sustainable routes to reducing pollution produced by industry, which when scaled up by our specialist partner company could bring significant environmental benefits.”


– Professor Conchúr Ó Brádaigh, Head of the School of Engineering.

Membrane nanostructures

A growing number of industrial uses have been discovered for graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a 2D honeycomb structure, since its discovery in 2004.

As an inexpensive yet abundant oxidized form of graphene, graphene oxide is a promising material for graphene-based waste treatment and purification applications.

The collaboration aims to engineer the nanostructures of graphene-based membranes with enhanced structural stability to allow faster and more effective extraction of contaminants from water, and to research the use of such membranes to extract toxic volatile organic compounds from industrial waste gas streams.

It will also seek to develop membranes with greater selectivity in their filtration, so that they can extract lithium from waste or lithium-enriched brines for use in the battery sector, and for purification applications in the chemicals sector.

Related links

Institute for Materials and Processes

EI services for staff