Innovation shaping east and south-east England’s post-COVID future


Local businesses supported by Innovate UK are getting the east and south-east of England ready to build back better after coronavirus:

  • from reducing the spread of COVID-19 to cutting the amount of packaging that goes to landfill, trailblazing businesses are helping east and south-east England to build back better
  • industry, government, universities and local enterprise partnerships are working together to benefit east and south-east England and the whole UK
  • next month’s Innovate East event will showcase the excitement of innovation and provide advice for businesses wanting support.

Pioneering businesses in east and south-east England are crucial to help the area and the whole country to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, and government support is available to help them do it.

This is the message from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, which brings funding and knowledge transfer partnerships to pioneering small businesses across the UK.

In east and south-east England alone, almost £14 million was awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises over the last three years, with support given via 77 grants.

Support to innovate

Innovate UK is holding the free, virtual Innovate East conference and exhibition, working alongside:

  • the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (South East LEP)
  • New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (New Anglia LEP)
  • University of Kent
  • Universtiy of Essex
  • University of East Anglia.

At the event, it will be possible to find out more about the innovation that is already taking place in their area, as well as how to access funding and support.

More details can be found in the case studies at the end of this article, detailing Innovate UK-backed innovation in Kent, East Sussex and across the east of England. These include:

  • the ground-breaking technology that kills viruses on surfaces within seconds
  • a barrier coating that makes biodegradable materials a practical and recyclable alternative to single-use plastics
  • the antiviral fabric dye that helps stop the spread of COVID-19
  • the digital communications tech that helps frontline healthcare staff to communicate through the barrier created by PPE

Pioneers working together

Howard Partridge, Innovate UK’s regional manager for the east and south-east of England, said:

When I’m asked what gives east and south-east England their innovation strengths, I always say that it’s the breadth of the businesses’ capabilities and the collaborative networks that connect and support them.

The fact that we have pioneering businesses and research organisations that are at forefront of helping to fight challenges such as COVID-19, in so many different ways – from life sciences to manufacturing – is testament to this.

The Innovate East event has been designed for the owners of innovative businesses, or those with the ambition to start one, to find out how they can bring their ground-breaking ideas to market.

There will be access to the area’s many business innovation networks, as well as to businesses that have already benefitted from Innovate UK’s funding. Virtual attendees will also be able to gain practical support, such as a round writing bids and pitches.

Examples of Innovate UK-backed innovation in the east and south-east of England

The Kent-based entrepreneur on a mission to replace single-use plastics

One of Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation winners, Dr Fanya Ismail, is the founder of Sol-Gel Materials & Applications (SGMA), which has developed a barrier coating for fibre-based packaging, which has the potential to help make single-use plastics at thing of the past.

The coating, which is extracted from sand, provides a biodegradable, compostable and recyclable alternative to plastic packaging. material can be used to more widely replace single-use plastics.

Fanya Ismail, who is based in Kent, will be speaking at the Innovate East event, explaining how it is possible to make a huge difference through innovation. She will also be able to answer any questions around female entrepreneurship, and how being involved in Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation initiative helped her on her journey.

Brighton innovation changes the face of healthcare across the globe

Brighton local Dr Rachael Grimaldi created the innovative CardMedic digital flashcard system in response to the global crisis in communication in healthcare. She was inspired by a news article about a critically ill COVID-19 patient who struggled to understand healthcare staff through Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

From concept to launch in 72 hours, CardMedic has more than 46,000 users in 120 countries and over 16,000 app downloads since April 2020.

The pandemic has unearthed the huge gap in service provision for patients with underlying communication difficulties, as well as exposing the health inequalities suffered by this group of patients who make up nearly 20% of the UK population.

Backed by Innovate UK funding since July 2020, CardMedic allows frontline healthcare staff to communicate with patients across any barrier – whether it’s visual, hearing or cognitive impairment (including stroke, dementia, learning disabilities, autism and more), language barriers, literacy issues or PPE.

Patients and healthcare workers can access an A-Z list of flashcards that replicate clinical conversations around common healthcare topics. Through this software, staff can talk to patients about their care, including medical procedures and investigations.

Dr Grimaldi has been awarded a place on the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, and CardMedic was named one of the Department for International Trade’s “Top 25 Ones to Watch” list for international expansion.

More about CardMedic.

The Essex agri-tech partnership that doubles local strawberry produce

Wilkin & Sons Ltd, a well-loved heritage brand in Tiptree, Essex, has shown its dedication to continuing innovation through the launch of an exciting new knowledge transfer project.

Best known for its Tiptree jams and preserves, the company has been making jams since 1885. Highly innovative, the team has won Innovate UK funding to embark on a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with the University of Essex to look at automated sensing systems for the early detection and prediction of disease outbreaks in strawberry crops.

The Haverhill innovation set to help stop the transfer of viruses and bacteria

A start-up company CodiKoat, based at The EpiCentre at Haverhill Research Park, has developed a ground-breaking technology that kills viruses and bacteria on surfaces within seconds.

Backed by Innovate-UK, CodiKoat has produced an antiviral adhesive film, which can be used to coat any surface, be it hard or soft, rough or smooth, curved or flat.

Its new and patented technology can also be easily integrated into the manufacturing process of door handles, doctors’ gowns, bank notes, lift buttons, keyboards –virtually any product and surface commonly exposed to viruses and bacteria.

Matin Mohseni, one of CodiKoat’s founders, said:

This is a timely technology that can save lives. It can be used both quickly and cheaply within the healthcare sector, hospitality industry and public transport dramatically helping to stop the transfer of viruses and bacteria both during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also thereafter.

Developing an antiviral fabric to helps stop the spread of COVID-19

At Norwich Research Park, pioneering company Colorifix, which uses a biological process to produce, deposit and fix pigments onto textiles, has joined the international effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

With funding from Innovate UK, Colorifix is working alongside the University of Cambridge to develop anti-COVID-19 photoactive and light-independent dyes, using pigment-producing microorganisms.

Using microbiology, material science and nanotechnology, the team is developing fabrics that have antimicrobial properties which work against pathogens common in hospital settings.

Colorifix’s safe, sustainable, natural antiviral dyes are kind to both the environment and to people’s skin.

Top image:  Dan Waskett

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