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.


 

AlgiKnit Closes $2.2M Seed Round to Develop Kelp-Derived Yarn

NYC biomaterials company spins bio-derived yarn from kelp. Addressing the overabundance of everlasting plastics, AlgiKnit is creating the next generation of sustainable wearable materials, produced within a closed-loop life cycle.

Today AlgiKnit, a biomaterials company developing yarn spun from kelp, announced a $2.2 million Series Seed round of financing led by Horizons Ventures and including SOSV.

The funding will propel the company through the next steps of development, towards manufacturing and commercialization of their bio-derived yarn.

To create an alternative to conventional textiles, AlgiKnit spins yarn from a combination of algae and plant biopolymers, primarily including kelp, one of the fastest growing organisms on earth. This seaweed absorbs the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide at a rate up to five times faster than land-based plants and improves marine habitats. By using a non-toxic wet-spinning process, the company transforms these sustainable biopolymers into a strong, hypoallergenic and compostable yarn. When products made from AlgiKnit’s yarn are worn out, they can be bio-recycled and reclaimed for the next generation of products.

“Our goal at AlgiKnit is to make fashion synonymous with sustainability.” Said Aaron Nesser, Co-Founder and CEO of AlgiKnit. “AlgiKnit Yarn sidesteps the harmful impacts of conventional fibers, the result is a material with exceptional sustainability performance, which does not contribute to microfiber or microplastic pollution. We’re exceptionally pleased to be working with such visionary partners.”

Bart Swanson, Advisor to Horizons Ventures shared, "Climate change affects everyone. We are excited that Algiknit’s biomaterials will give a sustainable option to the textile and fiber industry."

Horizons Ventures, the private investment arm of Mr. Li Ka-shing, is a leading investor in some of the world’s most innovative companies and disruptive technologies including Facebook, Waze, Spotify, Siri, Improbable, and Impossible Foods.

AlgiKnit Inc. was founded in 2017 with a mission to transform the fashion industry, utilizing science and design to create new, sustainable materials that fit into a circular economy.

'Helping others through images': Photojournalism Hub launches at White City

by George Hope

A new community-led Photojournalism Hub launched at Imperial’s White City Incubator this week.

The not-for-profit Hub, founded by local resident Cinzia D’Ambrosi, aims to generate concrete positive outcomes for vulnerable communities and individuals through the tool of photojournalism, whilst supporting the development and the dissemination of photojournalism work.

The Hub, which is supported by Hammersmith United Charities, will engage local people and those further afield in important contemporary social justice issues through photography exhibitions, online investigative visual and written content, debates, community-led forums, training and research.

The event was launched at Imperial’s White City Incubator by local Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter, who described photojournalism as a “fantastic way of connecting people and telling truths.”

Local freelance journalist Cinzia D’Ambrosi, who founded the Photojournalism Hub, has spent a number of years capturing the plight of refugees with the aim of influencing policy-makers. “People connect more with images – they show what’s really happening,” said Cinzia. “Photography has the power and leverage to make change - I always use my work to push for changes in some sort of positive way.”

Cinzia is working on several projects in White City, which is how she met Priya Pallan, Community Engagement Manager in the Academic Partnerships division at Imperial.

Priya introduced Cinzia to Anca Mandruleanu, Entrepreneurial Programmes Manager at Imperial Innovations. Anca has been supporting Cinzia and the Photojournalism Hub through business advice and mentoring. Anca said: “It has been a pleasure to support Cinzia on her ambitious journey of building this new project and to see how much interest the launch event hosted by the Imperial White City Incubator has raised within the local community and beyond.”

Cinzia is exploring further opportunities to work with the College. Speaking at the launch, she said: “I would like to thank Imperial College London for giving us the space here – we are really grateful to them.”

Through the Photojournalism Hub, Cinzia is pioneering a new concept, ‘Citizen Visual Journalism’, which aims to help local community groups and individuals learn to tell their own stories and to raise their own social justice issues through high quality images. This will help them address the very people who can make policy change, Cinzia explained: “It’s about helping others through images and storytelling.”

Alongside Ms D’Ambrosi and Mr Slaughter MP, the event also hosted talks from other local activists. Daniel Renwick, a videographer and journalist, presented his film “Failed by the State”, made four months after the fire at Grenfell Tower, and narrated by prominent community member Ish, who was born in Grenfell Tower.

Other speakers included Katie Webb, Co-Director of the Writers’ Union of Italy (FUIS), presenting the work of photographers and authors addressing human rights injustices from the Middle East and North Africa region, and David Hoffman, who has been a photojournalist since the 1970s and documents the reality of injustice, the frequent oppression of the state and its often tragic consequences.

This is just the beginning for Cinzia, who ultimately wants her project to go global. “Once you start something you believe in,” claimed Cinzia, “you get amazing support from people. Everyone is keen on helping in one way or another.”

IWCI Entrepreneur one of MIT’s Innovators Under 35

Henrik Hagemann has been featured in MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 Europe list for his work on CustoMem.

The Imperial alumnus founded CustoMem in 2015 to develop new solutions in wastewater treatment. The startup’s lead product, CustoMem Granular Media, combines biological and selective material which can be customised for different contaminants. In tests, CGM has been ten times more efficient in filtering out Polyfluoroalkyl—an industrial pollutant—at lower costs when compared to existing solutions.

Hagemman and the rest of the CustoMem team joined the Incubator through their participation in the Venture Catalyst Challenge, later staying on to continue developing the business and product. Earlier this year, the company was awarded a €1.4 million grant in the EU’s highly competitive Horizon 2020 SME Instrument scheme. This allowed CustoMem to increase its operations and move from the IWCI’s shared lab space to its own facilities.