Over a trio of blog posts, we will showcase 19 high-potential entrepreneurs, along with their innovations and business successes. If you’re an aspiring innovator, aged 18 to 30, perhaps Innovate UK can help you turn your business idea into a reality! More details at the bottom of the post. But first, some context!
For the UK to realise its ambitions of becoming an innovation superpower, we need to fully harness the rich diversity of talent available across the country, whilst creating opportunities for diverse innovators to make a real business impact.
At Innovate UK, we are committed to opening the door to untapped talent, tearing down barriers, and increasing participation, resulting in an innovation ecosystem that is representative of our society, an ecosystem that anyone can be part of, and everyone will benefit from.
The Young Innovators awards is a key part of this strategy. Now in its fourth year, the programme has already supported over 150 aspiring entrepreneurs, aged 18 to 30, with seed funding, an allowance to cover living costs, and 12 months of mentorship!
This year, we are piloting a new, complimentary programme called Young Innovators Next Steps, which is open to people who have previously completed our Young Innovators programme. Following a robust evaluation process, 19 high-potential young entrepreneurs have received further £50,000 cash injection and advanced business coaching.
Since winning their first award, these pioneers have:
- founded their companies
- attracted investment
- secured offices and production facilities
- expanded their teams
- filed patents
- landed important deals with the likes of John Lewis, Innocent Drinks, and Microsoft.
We hope this new Next Steps support package will enable them to scale-up their businesses further and faster.
In this first blog, we will celebrate seven of the 19 Next Steps award holders. The innovation potential of this cohort is incredible. They’re building their purpose-driven business for enduring success, whilst tackling significant societal challenges, from cutting-edge sensors that monitor pollinating insects to an artificial intelligence-powered personal trainer in your pocket.
Who: Kate Walker (26 years old), founder of ExpHand Prostethics
Kate designed a prosthetic that can actually grow with children, unlike anything currently available.
ExpHand Prosthetics provide affordable, life-changing upper limb prosthetics that give children a fuller, more independent life. Since winning her first award, Kate has had positive academic and clinical product reviews, connected with NHS clinicians, submitted two patent applications, hired four people and is currently securing ExpHand Prosthetics first investment round.
It feels amazing to be leading a business that will have such a positive impact on the lives of children. Being recognised by Innovate UK is a great vote of confidence, acknowledging the work we’ve done so far and where we’re aiming to be in the future. I am thrilled to have been selected for the Next Steps Award.
The funding has already allowed us to purchase a key piece of design software to adapt our product following user feedback.
Who: Casey Woodward (29), founder of AgriSound
Casey is deploying cutting-edge listening devices across the planet to transform how people monitor insect activity to protect vulnerable and critical pollinators like bees. Since winning his first award, Casey has doubled his turnover, launched a new product, and begun high-profile projects with M&S, Innocent Drinks, and Dyson Farming.
AgriSound was founded to modernise the practice of monitoring and protection of vulnerable insect species. Since winning the Young Innovators Award, we have launched a new product, Polly, which is a wild pollinator counting device and doubled our turnover.
My team and I are thrilled to have won Innovate UK’s Young Innovators Next Steps Award to continue developing our products and expanding our business.
Who: Megan Jones (31), Founder of Curated Makers
From: Whitefield, Manchester
Megan is supporting micro-businesses to get spaces on the high street within their stores or within retailers like John Lewis, M&S, Next and Paperchase. Her ‘Made Local Pop-Ups’ allow small, local makers and artists to showcase their work to new customers.
Since winning her first award, Megan has significantly expanded her team, allowing them to run numerous pop-ups and market spaces concurrently.
I founded ‘Curated Makers’ because I wanted to create new retail opportunities and support small authentic businesses in the UK. The past 18 months were game changing for our project: we grew our team, received funding, and expanded our network.
I cannot put into words how excited and grateful I am to be selected for Innovate UK’s Young Innovators Next Steps Award! I can’t wait to see where we are in another 18 months.
Who: Pearce Jarret (28), founder of Gwaan
From: Brixton in London
Pearce is developing an artificial intelligence-powered personal trainer, Gwaan.ai, that allows users to access real-time statistics on their exercise performance. Pearce is committed to showcasing a range of users in his training videos, including non-white, plus-sized, and disabled models, and is creating accessible workouts, including for people who are unable to stand.
Since winning his first award, Pearce has secured investment from Microsoft and developed his first minimum viable product.
Thanks to the Young Innovators Award, I have made connections and gained additional funding from Microsoft. Innovate UK also helped me gain visibility from British Science Week. Right now, our team consists of just two people, but with the Next Steps Award we hope to expand.
Our aim is to eventually become an NHS-approved fitness motivation tool used by medical experts to monitor patient activity and diagnose movement inadequacies.
Who: Lucy Fisher (26), co-founder of Knit It
Lucy has taken her childhood passion for knitting and turned it into a business. Knit It® aims to inspire younger generations to pick up their needles and start knitting via an interactive online platform that makes knitting fun and simple, whilst teaching knitters and newbies skills and techniques. Knit It® has gone from a girl and her grandma to a thriving team.
Since winning her first award Lucy has pitched at London Tech Week, launched knit-it.co.uk and is now on the lookout for knitting pattern designers to join her story.
I started Knit It® because I wanted to revolutionise the knitting industry and inspire a new generation to take up the craft. At the beginning, I could not have imagined that I would have secured funding to take my business forwards, have support from famous knitters like Tom Daley, and be on the lookout for collaborators and partners to make this happen big time!
I’m so proud to have been selected for Innovate UK’s Young Innovators Next Steps Award and excited for the future!
Who: Marcus Comaschi (27) founder of GyroPlant
Marcus is helping to transform vertical farming, a field that plays an increasingly vital role in global food security. He designed GrowCup™, a reusable alternative to single use growing media for seeds.
Since winning his first award, Marcus has been working with partners across the UK, including working with one of the largest vertical farming tech companies in the UK, to accelerate research and development and bring his product to market.
The GyroPlant GrowCup™ will help indoor vertical farms become more sustainable. At the moment our product is patent pending, and we are working with a multi-million-pound partner to enter the market as soon as possible.
Innovate UK has helped connect us to likeminded people and partners, offering us networking opportunities which wouldn’t have been possible if we were on our own. We are grateful to be selected for the Young Innovators Next Steps Award and hope that it will help us to develop and succeed globally.
Who: Melenie Schatynski (32) founder of My Code Kit
From: Clapham, London
Melenie is on a mission to help young people learn to code through My Code Kit. Her innovation, Ocobox, is a software development environment with integrated chatbot assistant, that not only teaches core coding skills but helps students to actively learn from their mistakes.
Since winning her first award, Melenie has been developing her business leadership skills, iterating her product, and implementing a beta testing programme with her prospective customer base.
I won the Young Innovators Award with passion for coding and supporting young people. The award gave me the confidence to be a business owner and transform a pipedream idea into a realistic business plan.
After receiving the Young Innovators Next Steps Award, we plan to promote Ocobox for schools all over the UK as the go-to coding tool for GCSE and A-levels. After we achieve this, we plan to start releasing it globally.
Great ideas can come from anyone. Regardless of your background, if you have an innovative business idea, but are unsure how to turn it into a reality, then maybe Innovate UK can help!
The 2022 to 2023 Young Innovators Awards is now accepting applications (competition closes on 27 July 2022, 11:00).
Top image: Credit: Kate Walker