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19 November, 2018 - 12:54 By Tony Quested

Healthcare AI leader tilts at four awards

Healthcare AI pioneer OKRA Technologies has fired a four-gun salvo in an all-out bid for glory in the Business Weekly Awards.

Based at St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge, OKRA has targeted the Startup of the Year, Disruptive Technology and Life Science Innovation categories while CEO Dr Loubna Bouarfa has entered the Cambridge Judge Business School Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

OKRA says that predictive analytics has revolutionary potential for healthcare. From diagnosis to drug development, many processes in healthcare could be significantly optimised, saving human lives as well as resources, says the business.

It adds: “We are on the mission to enable such better, faster, life-saving decisions. We combine multiple complex data sources and use pioneering AI algorithms to generate insight and predictions in real time.

“In 2018, we raised Series A funding, recruited a full team and gained two blue-chip pharmaceutical clients. A Business Weekly recognition would complete our 2018 growth journey and empower us to further pursue our global ambitions – powered by Cambridge and female leadership.”

Through a number of global ventures, OKRA is demonstrating, in its own words, “how artificial intelligence is real and useful, rather than futuristic and dangerous.”

One initiative that has caught the eye is an advanced and unique methodology devised by OKRA to predict the placement stability for children in UK foster care. 

In the UK, over 65,000 children live with almost 55,000 foster families. Instability is a notorious problem, where children move between several families and find it hard to build stable, loving relationships. 

As a response, OKRA branched out from healthcare to develop a predictive early detection system, driven by artificial intelligence, which can predict placement stability with a 93 per cent accuracy rate in real time. 

The team used data from multiple countries (excluding child data) and are now trialling the tool with active social workers in Ontario, Canada. They recently presented their methodology at ISPOR Europe – a world-renowned conference for human economics and outcomes research – in Barcelona.

Dr Bouarfa said: “AI is not a promise for the future; it’s doing real work today. Children deserve the best possible care to bring them safely into adulthood, and AI is a powerful tool. At OKRA, we are proud to apply AI for a healthier, happier world.”

Only last month, Dr Bouarfa was featured in the global technology magazine Forbes, as part of its first-ever Europe’s Top 50 Women in Tech list. The list was released for Ada Lovelace Day celebrating women in STEM.

Dr Bouarfa said: "I was honoured to be featured on this list alongside such a brilliant group of women and I applaud Forbes for recognising the role of women in tech. 

“From coding to management, diverse teams perform better. At OKRA, our commitment to diversity is key to our success, not only with regard to gender but also many other factors.”

Under Dr Bouarfa’s leadership, OKRA closed a $4.2 million Series A round. The CEO holds a PhD in Machine Learning applied to healthcare. She also holds a number of advisory positions and is a member of the European Commission's High Level Expert Group for Artificial Intelligence.

Dr Loubna Bouarfa in Brussels
Dr Loubna Bouarfa in Brussels

In Brussels recently she helped accelerate a programme to fashion pan-European governance and regulation of AI as one of 52 thought leaders on the advisory brains trust – the EU High-Level Expert Group on AI. Discussions were held in the European Parliament covering topics from programming bias, data security, error accountability and responsible workflows.

The group informs policy development by making recommendations on ethical, legal and societal issues related to AI.

About the Business Weekly Awards

Categories range from startups and disruptive technology to engineering excellence, social enterprise and international trade. 

The University of Cambridge, through Judge Business School and Cambridge Enterprise, is again backing four categories to honour the best graduate businesses, the leading women entrepreneurs, individuals who have contributed most over a lifetime to furthering the Cambridge brand, and to ‘Dontrepreneurs’ – university personnel that have commercialised science or technology that has changed the world.

Winners of the various categories will be unveiled Oscars-style on March 20, 2019 – again at Queens’ College, Cambridge.

A trio of high profile Cambridge entrepreneurs have been added to the already powerful judging panel for this year’s Awards. Claire Ruskin, a celebrated engineer and CEO of a revitalised Cambridge Network; Dr Darrin Disley, the dynamic life science entrepreneur and social enterprise champion; and Bob Driver, former director of technology for UKTI, director of Cambridge Wireless and CW steward on the Government’s new UK5G innovation network – have reinforced the ‘Solomon strain’ that ensures our winners really are the best in business.

They join other top entrepreneurs including Hermann Hauser, John Lee, Charles Cotton, Peter Cowley and representatives of our star-studded sponsors who will run the rule over entrants from a diverse range of business sectors. 

The Business Weekly Awards is sponsored by Mills & Reeve, AstraZeneca, MedImmune, Barclays, PwC, TTP Group, MAG London Stansted Airport, University of Cambridge Judge Business School, Cambridge Enterprise, Marshall of Cambridge, Cambridge Science Park, St John’s Innovation Centre, Bailey Fisher and The Bradfield Centre.

Twelve of our ‘Business of the Year’ winners have been sold for more than $65 billion; investment secured globally by winning businesses in the last five years alone – across all categories – now comfortably tops $250bn.

Business Weekly Awards
Last year’s Business Weekly Awards drinks reception at Queens’ College in Cambridge

The Awards categories

Startup of the Year – For the most exciting startup enterprise in any sector that has made substantial progress in the last 12 months.

Graduate Business of the Year – For a Cambridge-based company that has shown outstanding commercial potential or success over the last 12 months, either founded by a Cambridge University alumnus or which has significantly contributed to the employment and retention locally of Cambridge graduate  talent. 

Engineering Excellence – For the engineering or manufacturing company that is deemed to have done most for the cause of industry in the last 12 months.

Disruptive Technology – For the company in any sector whose science or technology is deemed to be genuinely game-changing.

International Trade Champion – For a company in any industry that has significantly broadened its export sales or access to global markets.

Cambridge Enterprise Lifetime Achievement Award – To recognise an extraordinary career devoted to innovation and commercial success for the benefit of society and the UK economy.

Life Science Innovation – For the organisation or individual who has done the most to further the cause of life science discovery for the benefit of human healthcare.

Cambridge Judge Business School Woman Entrepreneur of the Year – For a woman entrepreneur who can demonstrate outstanding achievements in the last 12 months and who inspires and nurtures other women to excel. 

Kate Gross Award for Social Enterprise – For the individual or organisation that has done most to further the cause of social enterprise in the last year.

Cambridge Enterprise Academic Entrepreneur of the Year – For outstanding work by an academic as an innovator, founder or consultant in the past 12 months.

From these a Business of the Year will be selected to join a Hall of Fame that includes Abcam, Arm, Autonomy, AVEVA, British Sugar, CSR, Darktrace, Domino, Horizon Discovery, Perkins Engines, Pi Group, Ryanair, TTP and Treatt plc.

To enter the awards online visit

Closing date for entries is November 30, 2018

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