UK women trailblazers receive £2m in backing

50 of the UK’s leading women entrepreneurs backed by Innovate UK for game-changing ideas.

Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards will empower 50 pioneering women to scale their innovative businesses, including:

  • using plants to recover metal from contaminated land
  • deploying satellite data to detect long-lost archaeological sites
  • an artificial intelligence (AI) that curbs your unhealthy cravings
  • 3D-printed bionic prosthetics

From Aberdeen to Portsmouth and Belfast to Cambridge, this year’s winners of Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards are developing novel solutions to major social, environmental and economic challenges. Each winner will benefit from a £50,000 grant, one-to-one business coaching, and a suite of networking, role modelling, and training opportunities.

Coinciding with International Women’s Day (8 March), the awards reflect the government’s ambition to give more support to women innovators and business leaders.

Inspired by lived experiences

Many of the winners’ innovations are borne from their own lived experiences. This includes a new ‘gold class’ antibiotic, developed after witnessing a best friend dealing with the life-threatening effects of antimicrobial resistance.

Also, a mother who struggled to find the right UK health therapies for her daughter’s rare genetic disorder, has created an AI platform that connects health therapists from around the world with potential clients.

Other winners are paving a path to net zero, with innovations including:

  • water-colour paints made from recycled cosmetics
  • techniques for recovering lead from used batteries
  • bio-manufactured pigments for sustainable fashion

Diverse range of entrepreneurs

The range of innovations is vast, from health tech to education and from protecting lives to playing music. The diverse entrepreneurs recognised today on International Women’s Day encourage people to ‘embrace equity’.

Kirsty Smitten

Kirsty is a Forbes 30 Under 30 and The University of Sheffield’s Turner Prize awardee who developed a new game-changing class of antibiotics with her company MetalloBio that will prevent and treat bacterial infection.

Fuelled by seeing the negative effects of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on her family members and closest friend, Kirsty is determined to stem AMR’s rapid rise, which currently contributes to 1.2 million deaths globally.

Samantha Payne

Samantha co-founded Open Bionics, a robotics company building multigrip bionic arms for amputees, which are 3D printed to make them more affordable.

Disney granted the company royalty-free licence agreements, enabling them to produce prosthetics based on fan-favourite characters like Black Panther, R2-D2 and Iron Man. A ‘Sidekick’ app syncs the arm to the phone for personalisation, training and tracking performance.

Hero arm. Credit: Open Bionics

Becky Cotton

Becky is the co-founder of Lumino, who is developing a therapeutics app to reduce the impact of menopause-related symptoms including stress, anxiety, hot flushes, and sleep problems. One in 10 women will leave their job because of the impact of these symptoms, which can last seven years or more.

Lydia Mapstone

Lydia is the founder and CEO of BoobyBiome, who is developing a breast milk-derived microbiome supplement to help bottle-fed infants to help regulate their digestive, immune and metabolic functions. Babies without access to breast milk are more vulnerable to microbiome-related diseases such as necrotising enterocolitis, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and obesity.

Joanne Redmile

Joanne is the founder of TurboGaming, a pedal-powered games controller to get you off the couch onto a bike to play some of your favourite PlayStation and Xbox racing games.

Joanne Redmile

Jo Barrow

Jo co-founded Curb, a game-changing AI-led digital platform that helps curb your cravings. 90% of Britons have at least one habit that is harmful to their health. Curb recognises the patterns of behaviour that might lead to lapse and interrupts them with a ‘just-in-time adaptive intervention’, supporting people through moments of craving.

Sarah Nicolls

Sarah is the founder of Future Piano and concert pianist, who is revolutionising the design of grand pianos with her lightweight, portable yet totally acoustic ‘Standing Grand’. This innovative product that fits in modern homes without compromising on sound while reducing the weight and carbon footprint of a normal grand piano by 60%.

Claire Trant

Claire is the co-founder and CEO of Untap, who has developed a device that detects viral infection rates within communities without the need for lateral flow testing.

The test uses PCR technology to test wastewater for viruses like COVID-19, influenza, and Norovirus and can be used anywhere from schools to hospitals and workplaces for early detection.

Dr Victoria Kroll

Victoria, who is determined to decrease road traffic deaths in the UK each year, has founded Esitu Solutions, designing driver assessment and virtual reality training tools.

The idea is based on a decade of scientific research. It identifies drivers who are more at risk of collision through a driver profiling system and provide tools to improve their skills and reduce these chances.

Iris Kramer

Iris is the founder of ArchAI, who has developed software to detect undiscovered archaeological sites, using AI and satellite imagery. Iris is already working with the Forestry Commission and the National Trust to locate new sites of interest and is helping the construction industry to de-risk new build sites.

Iris Kramer Credit: Geospatial World Forum

Louise Ben-Nathan

Louise, from Ealing, has founded LBN Innovations. She is developing a new, more comfortable device to replace the speculum for cervical screening to detect mutations which could turn into cervical cancer.

Louise’s innovation will address the challenge of one in four women not attending screening invitations because they find it painful or embarrassing, preventing early detection and treatment.

Zijing Li

Zijing is the co-founder of Mimicrete. She is the brains behind self-healing concrete and might prompt the end of the pothole. Self-monitoring technology is embedded into the concrete, alerting engineers to degradation so it can be treated before it cracks or causes safety issues.

The flagship Women in Innovation Awards is a key part of Innovate UK’s commitment to boosting the number of women entrepreneurs. Innovate UK will give all 50 trailblazers £50,000 and bespoke mentoring and coaching to enable them to scale-up their businesses.

Now in its sixth year, the competition drew a record number of 920 applications from women business leaders, 10% up from last year. This reflects the growing number of women-led businesses in the UK (according to the Rose Review Progress Report 2023, 20% of all UK businesses are now led by all-women teams).

Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation programme continues to support high-potential women business leaders from diverse backgrounds. With a passion to support underrepresented innovation talent, 22% of the winners are Black, Asian, or from another ethnic minority group and 12% have identified as disabled.

Spanning the whole of the UK

The award winners also span every nation and region of the UK including:

  • Divia Bhatnagar, from Edinburgh, is the co-founder of Medical Intelligence Group. She has developed a 3D foot scanner to prevent and monitor life threatening diabetic foot ulcers from the comfort of a patient’s home. They can scan their foot and send the 3D image to a remote team of clinicians for evaluation and early intervention, reducing the number of amputations and lives lost to diabetic ulcers
  • Lorna Anguilano, from Wales, is the founder of Phyona. Phyona uses the root systems of plants to recover metals from contaminated soil, transforming it into high-value metal nanoparticles while returning the contaminated land back to health
  • Susan Kelly, from Derry, is the Co-founder of Respiratory Analytics. She designed an AI-led respiratory device, aflo™, for those with asthma, after witnessing her partner and two children being hospitalised due to life-threatening asthma attacks. Almost 90% of sufferers do not master the right technique to get the best benefit from their inhalers, aflo™ has been designed to do this automatically for them

Unique life experiences

Commenting on her Award and pedal-powered video game controller that gets you off the couch, Joanne Redmile of TurboGaming said:

I’m passionate about changing our culture’s relationship with gaming. It doesn’t have to be ‘the enemy’ that drives a wedge through happy families. With the right approach, gaming can be an active e-sport that boosts mental and physical health guilt-free.

Winning this award feels amazing. It’s given me confidence to own my unique life experiences, my neurodiverse mind and my unapologetic ambition. I hope my story proves the fact that game-changing revolutions can come from anywhere.

Commenting on her respiratory device and award, Susan Kelly of Respiratory Analytics said:

It’s a terrifying thing to experience and witness when your loved ones are having life-threatening asthma attacks. Inhaled medications are the cornerstone of asthma management and I’ve seen how difficult it is to get inhaler techniques right to optimise these drugs which is why this innovation was born.

It’s been very hard to keep winning the Innovate UK award a secret! My family are almost as excited as I am, and I can’t wait to get started.

New generation of women

Emily Nott, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Programmes at Innovate UK said:

Each year I am blown away by the brilliant ideas and talent we uncover through our Women in Innovation programme. Despite these challenging economic times, this year’s winners have shown great leadership, passion and resilience in driving their innovations forward.

Innovate UK will work alongside them now to ensure they have the resources and support required to grow and scale their businesses, while encouraging a new generation of women to get involved in innovation, pursue their ambitions and transform our economy and society.

Making a real difference

Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Innovate UK, said:

The Innovate UK Women in Innovation programme is an important part of our many activities to make a real difference to the talent and skills pipeline for UK business innovation by inspiring, involving and investing in greater diversity.

I warmly congratulate all the Women in Innovation Award winners and look forward to keeping in touch as they progress.

Pioneering ideas

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

Backing the UK’s brilliant female scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs is just common sense. The wider a talent pool we can bring to bear on some of the biggest challenges facing the world today, the more solutions we will find, as proved by the inspiring innovations outlined today, from bionic arms for amputees to game-changing antibiotics.

My congratulations to all 50 of this year’s winners. Pioneering ideas like theirs will open the door to everything from greater productivity to better healthcare, ultimately creating jobs and economic growth.

Further information

About Women in Innovation

Innovate UK launched Women in Innovation in 2016, after research revealed that just one in seven applications for Innovate UK support came from women. £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as men.

Since then, it has invested £7.6 million in over 160 trailblazing women and convened a vibrant community of over 9,500 business leaders, ambassadors, and allies. The award programme empowers women business leaders to develop commercially successful solutions to major social, environmental, and economic challenges. Women in Innovation is part of Innovate UK’s commitment to promote greater diversity and inclusion in business innovation.

Each year, the programme identifies women with innovative, high-potential ideas and ambitious plans that will inspire others. The programme is open to women founders, co-founders or senior decision makers working in businesses that have been operating for at least one year. The award winners each receive a £50,000 grant and a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and business support.

Since launching Women in Innovation, the number of women leading applications for Innovate UK support has increased by 70%. The Women in Innovation Awards 2022 and 2023 will build on this success.

Read more about the Women in Innovation programme.

Top image:  Credit: Lee Eynon

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