Sixfold Bioscience grows into new lab space at the Imperial White City Incubator

Sixfold Bioscience, a preclinical biotechnology company focused on developing novel systemic delivery systems for cell and gene therapeutics, has taken new lab space at the Imperial White City Incubator. The company will expand its multidisciplinary team of scientists and build a new chemistry suite, allowing it to carry out important experimental work in-house.

Based at the Imperial Translational and Innovation Hub (I-HUB) since October 2018, Sixfold was founded to tackle a major global healthcare challenge: safely delivering therapeutics to diseased cells. Current drug delivery solutions may either be hard to manufacture, too toxic, or unable to target specific diseased cells.

Sixfold is developing a delivery platform to unlock the currently unmet potential of cell and gene therapeutics to treat cancer and other genetic diseases.

Dr Zuzanna Brzosko, CEO of Sixfold Biosciences, said:

The Sixfold Bioscience team at the Imperial White City Incubator

The Sixfold Bioscience team at the Imperial White City Incubator

“The move into the larger, private lab space - which comes only several months after creating our first base at the I-HUB - is an exciting step for our company. It will allow us to carry out most of our experimental work in-house, expand our capabilities to encompass biology, chemistry and computational sciences and accommodate our growing team.”

The company has raised capital from a range of experienced investors, including YCombinator, and has won grants from Innovate UK and Horizon 2020. It now plans to advance its preclinical pipeline as well as expand its team and in-house capabilities.

Being based at the Incubator has facilitated some of the interactions with our key academic collaborators at the Imperial College London and provided an immersive entrepreneurial environment. We look forward to our continued presence here”

Richelle McNae, Entrepreneurial Programmes Coordinator, Imperial White City Incubator, said:

“Sixfold Biosciences has been a welcome presence at the Incubator since it joined the shared lab in 2018. They are a multidisciplinary team tackling a major global challenge, and we are delighted they have chosen to continue their company’s journey in the world-class laboratory and office space available at the Imperial White City Incubator”

Imperial advanced materials startup CustoMem rebrands to Puraffinity and raises £2.8 million from leading sustainability investors

CustoMem, an advanced materials startup developed at Imperial College London, has rebranded to Puraffinity and secured £2.8 million investment in an oversubscribed seed round from leading sustainability investors. As well as having started life at Imperial, Puraffinity is currently a client of the Imperial White City Incubator.

Puraffinity chose its new name to reflect its technology’s broad applications in designing materials for purification. The company is developing a range of adsorbent media materials targeted at removing high impact emerging contaminants called Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from water.

PFAS water contamination is a global environmental challenge. Human exposure to PFAS may lead to adverse health effects, particularly in pregnant women and children. As a result of these potential risks to human health, stringent advisory limits on PFAS levels in drinking water and groundwater are being introduced. Conventional treatment processes such as granular activated carbon and ion exchange are not able to provide a robust and cost-effective solution.

Puraffinity has been part of Imperial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for the past four years, participating in several Imperial Entrepreneurship programmes including the Venture Catalyst Challenge and WE Innovate.  

Henrik Hagemann, CEO of Puraffinity, said:

“We were convinced to progress and give it a go because of these two Imperial programmes. We were able to get into the pressure cooker and a safe environment with the support of Imperial and decide whether to progress our ideas and form a company.”

The company was incorporated as CustoMem shortly afterward and took space in the shared lab at the Imperial Bioincubator at South Kensington. When the Imperial White City Incubator launched in 2017, Puraffinity became the first member of the 2nd shared lab. During this time, it secured £1.2 million in grant funding from Horizon 2020 and ultimately took lab and office space at the White City-based facility, which Henrik says is a key contributor to their success

“We started with a small space in the shared lab and over the course of the year secured follow on funding off the back of being able to test our idea in the lab environment. After that first year we were able to graduate out of the shared lab into our own space.”

The company has now closed a £2.8m seed funding round, led by Kindred Capital alongside HG Ventures, Investiere.ch and a number of prominent business angels. Puraffinity has grown rapidly in the past six months to 13 employees, and aims to recruit further to over 20 by the end of the year.

“Many of those roles will be scientific and technical – we are hoping to get the talent from Imperial, and it would be great to be able to source people from the local area as well.”

It is planning to trial its product at one of Europe’s busiest airports later in 2019 and is discussing collaboration and partnership deals with companies in the global water space.

Student startup tackling UTIs with bacteria-killing light wins innovation award

A student-founded startup won the White City Innovators’ Programme for a device that could revolutionize the treatment of local microbial infections.

Brightcure, which was founded by PhD student Chiara Heide, aims to treat recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) without relying on antibiotics. The Brightcure team also includes Imperial alumni Charles Motraghi and MSc student Jacy Zhou.

Antibiotics can cause side effects for patients, and antimicrobial resistance is increasingly a problem when it comes to treating UTIs.

Brightcure’s novel technology would use localized light therapy as a targeted treatment to kill bacteria in the bladder. The team says that their device, which could be operated by a GP upon confirmation of an infection, could provide immediate pain relief for the patient and clear the bladder from any remaining harmful bacteria.  

As winners of the White City Innovator’s Programme, Brightcure was awarded a £6,000 prize package, including £4,000 cash to support the business’s growth. 

Chiara, who is a research postgraduate in the Department of Chemical Engineering, said: “The Innovators’ Programme was a fantastic learning experience - it gave us the opportunity to develop different parts of our business and gain valuable insight from specialist mentors. Our team especially enjoyed the supportive learning atmosphere that the Incubator team created during the Programme, and we would like to thank them for all the advice, guidance and support we have received so far.”

Runners up

Imperial alumna Niki Göransson (centre) received second prize

Imperial alumna Niki Göransson (centre) received second prize

Studio Lara, an Edtech startup founded by Imperial alumna Niki Goransson, took home second prize of £4,000 worth of support for her interactive learning materials to introduce electronics and programming skills to children in a playful way.

A new Impact Award worth £1,500 was also presented to MDlab for their startup which is developing a wearable, non-invasive device to help people with Parkinson’s gain back movement control.

All participants in the 2019 cohort received access to free co-working space at White City Incubator for a further 3 months

Supporting startups

Delivered in partnership with NatWest, the Innovators’ Programme is the Imperial White City Incubator’s flagship pre-accelerator programme. It aims to support the development of technology focussed early-stage companies by providing funding, mentoring and access to Imperial’s innovation ecosystem at Imperial’s White City Campus.

The five week programme is aimed at Imperial alumni, current students, and tech businesses from the local area and provides an array of business support services including one-to-one mentorship, alongside thrice-weekly sessions on topics covering business planning, raising funds, sales and marketing, managing a startup team and pitch practice.

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Now in its fourth cohort, this marks the first time that 50% of the teams on the Innovators’ Programme have involved a female founder.  

The Programme culminated in a pitching event on 13 June where eleven participating businesses showcased their ideas to a panel of expert judges.

Richelle McNae, Entrepreneurial Programmes Coordinator at Imperial, said: “Our flagship Innovators’ Programme is focussed on supporting local companies, Imperial staff, students and alumni to develop their business ideas whilst immersing themselves in the entrepreneurial community at White City.

Over the last five weeks, we have seen eleven extremely motivated teams come together for specialist guidance to help them along their journey – from pitching on day one to business planning, fundraising, IP and marketing. For the first time, we were able to showcase a cohort with 50% female founders, which I am immensely proud of. I would like to congratulate all or our participants alongside our partners at NatWest, as well as our mentors and speakers.”

The judging panel included James Holian, Chief Operating Officer at NatWest, Dr Andrew Tingey, Executive Director at Imperial Innovations, Linda Apelt, Agent-General for Queensland in the UK and Chris Tilley, Director of the Investor Club at Coutts Private Banking.

Previous winner of the 2018 White City Innovators’ Programme, George Winfield, has since gone on to achieve success in the the Mayor of London’s Entrepreneurship Competition. George founded Spyras – a startup developing a paper-based breathing monitoring system that can detect patient deterioration from sepsis – and won the Tech category in the Mayor’s competition earlier this year.

Imperial White City Innovators Programme launches latest cohort

Innovators from across the Imperial College London community have started a five-week business accelerator course at the Imperial White City Incubator.

Teams taking part in the Imperial White City Innovators’ Programme, run in partnership with NatWest, are working on technologies ranging from a novel treatment for recurrent infections, through VR-guided drones designed to work in confined spaces or on dangerous assignments, to sustainable fashion in reprintable t-shirts.

At the opening session, teams pitched their business for five minutes – for many it was the first time they’d stood up in front of an audience of peers to do so.

The programme offers individual mentorship to the teams from a panel of experienced industry professionals, alongside thrice-weekly sessions on topics covering business planning, raising funds, sales and marketing, managing a startup team and growing a startup.

A business planning session hosted at the Imperial White Incubator as part of the White City Innovators’ Programme

A business planning session hosted at the Imperial White Incubator as part of the White City Innovators’ Programme

This year’s cohort is notable as 50% of the teams involved have female founders – a first for the White City Innovators’ Programme.

Graham Hewson, Head of Incubation, Imperial Enterprise Division, said:

“Applications were extremely competitive this round and I’m thrilled to see such a high quality cohort for this session of the Innovators’ Programme. We have teams drawn from staff, students and alumni of Imperial, as well as from the local community in Hammersmith and Fulham, which highlights the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem we enjoy at Imperial.”

Niki Göransson is the founder of Studio Lara, a company developing child friendly materials for STEAM education.  With experience in design, but no business background she was excited to join the Innovators’ Programme to broaden her skills.

“As a sole-founder I feel that this programme is designed perfectly for me, so I get the basics right. I see the programme and the other teams as my safety-net, where I can learn, ask questions, and get support.”

The Innovators’ Programme will conclude with a pitch event on the 13 June, where the teams will present in front of a panel of judges, including NatWest Chief Operating Officer James Holian, for a chance to win a share of over £10,000 of cash and in-kind support.  

Imperial White City Incubator hosts UKSPA member conference

The Imperial White City Incubator, a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in London, hosted the January 2019 UK Science Park Association (UKSPA) member conference, with events and talks taking place across the Imperial White City Campus.

More than 80 delegates attended the two-day event, which this year focused on the development of Innovation Districts and Incubation facilities in towns and cities across the UK.

Sessions included a panel discussion led by Eulian Roberts, Chief Executive of Imperial College Thinkspace, which explored the ways in which innovation districts across the UK contribute to and sustain business growth, and a keynote speech from Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, on economic interaction between UK towns and cities.

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Delegates were also treated to a tour of the facilities offered at the White City Campus, including the Translation and Innovation Hub, which provides acceleration and grow-on space to innovative companies, the Invention Rooms, a shared space for innovation and collaboration, and the Imperial White City Incubator, a home for entrepreneurial, deep-science start-up companies which provides office and laboratory space in the heart of west London.

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The UK Science Park Association is the authoritative body on the planning, development and creation of Science Parks and other innovation locations that facilitate the development and management of innovative, high-growth, knowledge-based organisations.

Graham Hewson, Head of Incubation at Imperial Innovations, said:

“It was an honour to host to the UKSPA member conference again, four years after the last time we had the opportunity. We were extremely proud to showcase the incredible development work that has been undertaken at Imperial in that time, which has seen the Imperial White City Campus become the heart of an innovation ecosystem in West London.”

The Imperial White City Incubator launched in November 2016 and within 18 months had achieved full occupancy of its 18 thousand square feet of Laboratory and Office space. Three companies have graduated from incubation since launch, and clients have raised in excess of £85 million since 2016. The Incubator operates with a vision to Inspire, Incubate and Educate and applies its mission both to client companies and the Imperial community, as well as the community around White City and Hammersmith and Fulham.

The Imperial White City Incubator has pioneered a number of initiatives since it opened, including the Innovation Academy, a focused series of training courses designed to provide the background understanding needed to create a technology start-up. In addition, it created a shared-lab model to address the lack of provision of lab space for very early-stage businesses in London. Both initiatives have had a successful start to life.

Polymateria - biotransforming plastics

Plastic pollution and the problems it causes have captured the world’s attention in recent years. From shopping bags caught in hedgerows, to accumulations of micro plastics in marine species, governments and businesses around the world have introduced new policies and legislation to deal with these issues: bans on drinking straws and tariffs of 5 pence on plastic shopping bags immediately come to mind.

Polymateria, a UK-based business with a focus on providing circular solutions to plastic pollution, has developed a new suite of drop-in technologies called biotransformation that deals with plastic pollution. Polymateria was the first company to join the Imperial White City Incubator when it opened its doors in October 2016, and has since grown rapidly, appointed new CEO Niall Dunne, bringing its first product to market in March 2018.

Polymateria CEO Niall Dunne (centre) with Anca and Gavin from Imperial Innovations

Polymateria CEO Niall Dunne (centre) with Anca and Gavin from Imperial Innovations

“Polymateria is looking to deal with what we call ‘fugitive’ plastic,” Niall tells me when we meet for coffee in the sleek, glass-fronted I-HUB building at the White City Campus. He brings his own cup with him. “That’s plastic which mainly comes from single-use food-safe packaging and which gets into the natural environment through littering and failures in the recycling chain.”

Mostly composed of polypropylene, polyethylene and polyester, these are widely recycled and recyclable plastics, but that doesn’t stop them getting out into the natural environment. “Polymateria is focused on biodegradation,” says Niall, “so when someone litters, or there’s a problem in a recycling facility, or a fox knocks over a bin, our technology can still remove these plastics from the environment.”

The company approaches this from two directions, making chemical and biological changes to plastic resins that allow them to be broken down through natural processes into their smallest component parts – “small enough that a bacterium could digest it,” says Niall. This comes from understanding the chemistry of plastics and their use in the market today, and also from knowing how to draw in “natural agents of change – fungi, bacteria, UV light and moisture. All of these play a role in biodegradation, but with standard production methods, when bacteria see a bit of plastic they don’t know what to do with it. We’ve learnt how to insert prebiotics into plastics and combining this with the chemical structure break-down that we also induce, plastics containing our technology can be biodegraded by the environment, avoiding any trace of microplastics.”

Polymateria takes a deep science approach to its mission to biotransform plastics

Polymateria takes a deep science approach to its mission to biotransform plastics

Polymateria’s location at the Imperial White City Incubator, situated at the heart of the Imperial College ecosystem, provides it with access to the scientific excellence it requires. “We sponsor PhD students at Imperial, and they bring new perspectives and new approaches into our research,” says Niall. “It’s a vibrant environment, and we’ve benefitted from it. We’re looking to work with the best thinking in the world, and it’s great that we can find that 50 or 100 metres from our office!”

The Incubator also plays a key role when the company talks to customers, according to Niall. “Customers love coming here. We’ve brought some of the biggest brands in the world to the Incubator, and I think one of the reasons that they’ve engaged deeply with Polymateria is not just that we’re doing something different and special, but because this place is different and special too.”  

Moving back to coffee cups, I ask about the fact that a lot of companies claim that their cups or packaging are biodegradable. Niall agrees that there is a lot of confusion about the language used to describe plastics and packaging, and Polymateria is working closely with standards bodies and international brands, open-sourcing their testing methods to try and improve claims and certification and simplify what can be communicated to consumers. A biodegradable coffee cup, he says, can be put in an industrial composting facility, but a customer can’t put it in their compost heap. “Just because it says it’s biodegradable, it doesn’t mean it’s like an apple core.”

Polymateria’s technologies solve this issue, and the idea of apple cores comes up a lot in their discussions with customers. “Among the materials we give to customers is a comparison between our materials and microplastic,” Niall explains. “In all of our R&D we’re aiming and striving for the most effective technology possible for our products to be biodegraded faster. The ideal goal would be as fast as an apple core, regardless of whether it’s on a grass verge or in a compost heap. This is a massive challenge, but our aim is to bring this kind of revolutionary innovative thinking to commodity plastics, in a way that is affordable and scalable.”

Niall sees Polymateria as contributing within a shifting global approach to plastic pollution. “Everyone hopes there might be a silver bullet, but there isn’t one for plastics. It’s going to take a lot of collaboration, among all parties – those who produce plastic, those who use it, and governments and regulators as well.” He mentions the fact that many consumer brands have signed up to long-reaching and ambitious recycling targets – unquestionably a good thing – but while they’re working to reach those, the situation remains that 30% of the plastics produced in a year get released into the natural environment. “So, if you make a lot of plastic bottles and you’ve signed up to a recycling target, you’re still dealing with the fact that customers are going to see your bottles get pulled out of the sea, or littered in national parks.”

Polymateria’s ambition is to develop the ‘new normal’ for plastic resins, so that when littering happens, the impact on the natural environment is significantly reduced. “You still need recycling. You still need the three ‘Rs’ of reduce, reuse and recycle,” Niall tells me. “But a technology approach that can address the holes in that system can be transformational.”  

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If you would like to get involved with Polymateria, the company is currently hiring and actively recruiting a laboratory technician with background in analytical chemistry to work on testing new iterations of its Biotransformation technology. The role will be based at Polymateria’s laboratories at the Imperial Incubator and be supervised by their VP of Innovations, Dr. Chris Wallis. If you would like to apply please send CV along with one-page application in writing with how you believe you meet the criteria to cp@polymateria.com by 11th January 2019.