From education to employment

Civic participation platform wins Imperial’s top prize for women entrepreneurs

A photo of a laptop screen

An Imperial student-founded startup has developed a social platform that improves deliberation and civic decision making.

SURU Together, co-founded by Georgie Denis, a master’s student in the School of Public Health, scooped the £15,000 top prize in the WE Innovate final on 25 June for developing a platform to allow for group decision-making and deliberation, helping civic organisations like local councils draw on the knowledge of the people who know the needs of their community best.

WE Innovate Final 2021

WE Innovate is a women’s entrepreneurship programme run by Imperial Enterprise Lab designed to inspire and accelerate the progress of women entrepreneurs. At the final, held virtually for the second year, five finalists went head-to-head in the hope of winning a share of a £30,000 prize pot, sponsored by bp.

Over the past 7 years, this game changing programme has provided a wide range of opportunities to women interested in entrepreneurship, from developing business ideas and entrepreneurship skills to raising investment and networking.

Solving complex problems together

The team behind SURU Together, who were awarded first prize in this year’s WE Innovate competition, say that complex social challenges – such aspolitical issues or the climate crisis – are better solved by many people deliberating many ideas.

Founder of SURU Together Georgie Denis
Founder of SURU Together Georgie Denis

Groups being able to deliberate allows a consensus to be reached and reduces the likelihood of views being polarised, the team say. But finding ways for large numbers of people to debate and deliberate is difficult and expensive.

SURU Together have developed an audio platform for group decision making. Called “People Supported Intelligence (PSi)”, their platform would allow group deliberation of a social challenge, such as how best to maintain social distance while keeping high street shops open.

On the platform, citizens can discuss their ideas for addressing this issue in audio chat rooms, initially with a small group of others. After deliberating, people vote on their favourite idea. They are then assigned to new groups to explore and to vote on more ideas. The team say that by working in small groups it’s easier for large numbers of people to exchange data, to resolve conflict and come to an agreement. This would allow civic organisations, such as local councils, to gain an insight into public sentiment.

Civic organisations would pay to use the platform and the anonymised conversations would teach an AI to recognise publicly preferred solutions. With a repository of discussions about a wide range of topics, statistical models could be trained to help policymakers understand a community’s preference on social issues. The team are currently developing processes that ensure full transparency about what data they collect and how it will be used.

SURU Together was co-founded by Georgie Denis who is studying for a Master of Public Health. Speaking to the judges after being announced as the winner, Georgie said: “Watching everyone else pitch and the incredibly important work that people are doing, I’m so happy that you think that our mission and what we’re trying to do is just as important.”

“I think it’s going to be a fantastic experience to give the platform over to the people that can find real solutions to real problems by using it.”

An online platform for discussion and deliberation

Improving braille devices

Braille deviceSeveral additional prizes were awarded during the final. Named in joint second place and splitting a prize pot of £12,000 are Paige and NEUROsole.

Paige, co-founded by Biomedical Engineering students Carolina Gomes and Nina Moutonnet, are developing a multi-line Braille device to allow blind or visually impaired people to access mathematical or scientific text. The team report that modern Braille technology is limited to single-line text, which makes simple reading tasks time-consuming and laborious for the blind, and certain fields, such as STEM subjects, very difficult to access. The team say that existing devices are also unaffordable.

With their device, the team hope to offer an improved reading experience, open up the world of STEM to more people, such as by providing a built-in calculator, at a more affordable price to improve accessibility to Braille readers across the world.

Preventing diabetic foot ulcers

Ambreen Muhammed
Ambreen Muhammed, founded of NEUROsole

Neuropathy, damage to nerves, is a long-term complication of diabetes that
can lead to foot ulceration or even amputation.

NEUROsole, founded by fourth year medical student Ambreen Muhammed, are smart shoe insoles aiming to empower patients with diabetes to take control of their foot symptoms.

The smart insoles would pair with an app, which is offered in a multitude of languages to remove barriers to care, and detect early signs of inflammation and poor circulation. NEUROsole also guides patients through a streamlined foot examination, allowing them to keep track of their foot health in their own home.

Diagnostic platforms and pain management for children

Joint runners up, winning a share of £3,000, were Zyme Biosciences and Happyr Health.

Supporting women’s entrepreneurship at Imperial not only helps our female students, graduates and alumni achieve their potential, but also promotes the significant contributions which women make to our society. Professor Maggie DallmanVice President (International)

Zyme, co-founded by postdoctoral researchers Dr Marta Broto and Dr Leah Frenette from the Department of Materials, is developing an all-inclusive diagnostic platform to empower early diagnosis and improve patient care.

Clinical diagnosis is currently performed in central laboratories, which can take days to deliver results. The team say that the clinical diagnostic capacity of the NHS could be expanded if disease diagnosis was moved from hospitals and laboratories to GP surgeries and small clinics. The team aim to use rapid and ultrasensitive point-of-care technologies to foster early disease diagnosis and personalised medicine. To do this they have developed QwikZyme, a small integrated disposable device for disease diagnosis.

Happyr Health, co-founded by MSc Healthcare & Design student Nicola Filzmoser, is a headache and migraine management app that uses storytelling and gaming to help manage chronic pain in children and young people.

Users follow daily missions of evidence-based exercises to increase mental health and disease resilience. The team match therapy missions with individual patient profiles using their artificial intelligence algorithm.

Nicola Filzmoser
Co-founder of Happyr Health Nicola Filzmoser

The audience also had the opportunity to vote for a semi-finalist team to win the Lauren Dennis Award, comprising of a 3-month tailored mentoring programme to accelerate business ideas beyond the programme. The prize, named in memory of former WE Innovate participant Lauren Dennis, who passed away in 2018, this year went to Zyme.

Two prizes, sponsored by the Engineers in Business Fellowship, were awarded to semi-finalist teams from engineering backgrounds. Winning a share of £3,000 grant funding, mentorship, as well as a professional CV package, were Paige and Zyme Biosciences.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Professor Maggie Dallman, Vice-President (International) & Associate Provost (Academic Partnerships) said: “Supporting women’s entrepreneurship at Imperial not only helps our female students, graduates and alumni achieve their potential, but also promotes the significant contributions which women make to our society. Nowhere is this more important than in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, where young women are still woefully underrepresented. It is heartening, though, to see the diversity of students that we’ve attracted to Imperial reflected in our cohort.

“This year has provided a stark reminder of the importance of championing founders from all backgrounds and of promoting the values of equality, diversity and inclusion in our community – properly tapping into the pools of talent that have been neglected for too long.”

World-class experts

The judges, a panel of world-class entrepreneurial, academic and industry experts, awarded marks to teams based on displays of outstanding commitment, unique ideas, the potential for commercialisation and teamwork. The judging panel was made up of Alexsis de Raadt St James, Managing Partner at Merian Ventures, Kate Bingham, Managing Partner at SV Health Managers LLP and Sam Skerry, SVP, bp Launchpad & Venturing.

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