The UK’s 10 Most Promising Engineering Unicorns

Posted: Oct 19, 2017

Britain has always been a hotbed for invention, and that seems set to continue.

“The UK is blessed with some of the brightest minds in engineering and technology, helping the country become world-renowned for its innovation and as a centre of entrepreneurial talent,” says Ana Avaliani, head of enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

“But scaling-up a business creates new challenges that some in the UK are struggling to overcome. Nearly 80% of the world’s unicorns are from the US or China, according to research from CB Insights; we’d like to see a greater proportion from the UK – currently we have just below 10%.” Unicorns are companies valued at more than $1 billion.

 The Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub has selected the UK’s 10 most promising engineering entrepreneurs, and it will support them through the SME Leaders Programme. Together, they offer a fascinating snapshot of the future that British engineers are building.

Alexander Reip, Oxford nanoSystems

Globally, air conditioning is one of the world’s biggest energy drains. Reip’s company has developed a ground-breaking coating that can reduce the size and cost of any product that uses boiling as part of a heat-exchange system. This could enable the creation of more energy-efficient air conditioners, limiting environmental impact and reducing costs.

Andrew Hine, GreenSpur Renewables

At the moment, most wind turbines collect the energy that they generate with the aid of expensive rare earth magnets. But there’s a strong demand for larger generators which would be more cost effective. GreenSpur has developed a low-cost generator that uses ferrite, which is both cheap and abundant, with more than 800 billion tonnes worldwide. It could deliver big cost savings for wind turbines.

Arthur Kay, bio-bean

Don’t throw away your old coffee grounds – they could be used to make carbon-neutral fuel. Bio-bean is the first company in the world to industrialise the process of recycling spent coffee grounds into sustainable, high-performance replacements for fuels and chemicals. The company works with instant-coffee factories, offices and coffee shops including Costa, and can recycle 50,000 tonnes of used coffee a year.

David Tuch, Lightpoint Medical

The detection of early-stage breast cancer has had huge advances, but it’s hard for surgeons to remove all of it – a quarter of people have cancerous tissue left behind after surgery. Lighpoint Medical has developed molecular imaging technology that can detect cancer in real time during surgery, allowing surgeons to be more accurate, and spare more healthy tissue.

Gareth Morgan, Terrabotics

There’s a wealth of satellite imagery available to guide decision making in the natural resources sector, but sometimes it’s hard to make sense of. Terrabiotics uses data analytics to map 3D terrain, helping save companies money by allowing them to identify potential risks before sending a surveyor. For example, using terrain mapping, Terrabiotics can identify whether a planned pipeline is viable without the need for a site visit.

Jennifer Griffiths, Snap Tech

Snap Tech’s algorithm allows customers to take a photo of an item such as a dress and get suggestions on matching items within a brand’s inventory. It can also be used to suggest similar items based on a product’s shape and colour, and the firm is working with 250 retailers and 16,000 brands.

Julio Enrique Guerrero, Metix Medical

The back of an ambulance is a hectic, crowded place. It’s hard for paramedics to juggle the range of sometimes cumbersome devices they need to capture a patient’s vital information, and back at the hospital the doctors are left in the dark about a person’s condition. Metix Medical has developed a single, portable device that a first responder can use to determine a patient’s state, and send information to the hospital in real time so doctors can prepare accordingly.

Mark Andrew Evans, Adaptix

Most X-rays use 2D imagery, because 3D X-ray equipment is expensive and tricky to use. But Adaptix has developed a flat X-ray with 3D capability, opening up 3D radiology to wider fields. It could be used in industry, security or veterinary medicine, but the biggest impact will be in increasing diagnostic accuracy in hospitals and dental surgeries.

Mathew Holloway, Q-Bot

The UK has some of the coldest and least energy-efficient homes in Europe. Home insulation is one of the best ways of cutting energy bills for households, but it can be disruptive and expensive to install. Q-Bot’s solution uses a robotic device to access a void through a small opening in the floor or wall to apply the insulation, with less hassle than traditional methods. It’s a scaleable and cost-effective solution.

Ryan Thomas Ludwick, Ludwick Precision

Standing desks are a growing trend in offices, but until now scientists and engineers have been out of luck. That could change – Ludwick Precision is a sheet-metal fabrication company that specialises in office and laboratory furniture, and it has created the first height-adjustable laboratory bench manufactured in the UK.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

(Credit: Royal Academy of Engineering)


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