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22 August, 2021 - 01:07 By Tony Quested

Cambridge Enterprise champions new wave of university ventures

A stunning cohort of life science and hi-tech startups are bidding to follow University of Cambridge pathfinders to commercial glory.

They strut their stuff in the 2021 Chris Abell Postdoc Business Plan Competition run by Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s technology transfer arm, and supported by sister venture Cambridge Innovation Capital. Competition is so strong that CE has already been nudged into fielding 13 contenders instead of the customary 12 for the semi-finals.

These semi-finalist projects and their teams advance to the next phase of the competition where Postdocs will be matched with a seasoned mentor from Cambridge Enterprise’s network of experts. 

Each team will have three (virtual) one-to-one meetings with their mentor to help develop key business skills and hone their business plans.

Up to six finalists will go on to compete at the online Grand Finale event, which will take place on Thursday 11 November. At the event each team will pitch its business plan to a panel of judges who are experts in spin-out investment.

Three prizes will be awarded: £20,000, £10,000, and £5,000 in funding. The first and second place prizes are sponsored by Cambridge Enterprise, and the third by Cambridge Innovation Capital.

The outright winner will also have the opportunity to pitch at the next Cambridge Enterprise Venture Partners dinner, an investor forum of venture capitalists and business angels with more than £4 billion of funds under management by members.

Cambridge Enterprise invests across a diverse array of sectors. Portfolio companies have gone on to raise over £2 billion in further investment and grant funding.

Over 20 years of seed investing at the University of Cambridge has seen a host of successes, including XO1, BlueGnome, Cambridge CMOS Sensors, Lumora, Quethera, and VocalIQ.

Cambridge Enterprise invests the University’s seed funds in new companies started by academics, researchers, staff, and students, building a bridge between research and commercial development.

The 13 semi-finalist projects for 2021 are:-

  • Accelerated Materials led by Nicholas Jose (Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology)
  • ARX Photonics led by Pawan Kumar Shrestha (Department of Engineering)
  • BioMavericks led by Andrew Guo (Department of Medicine)
  • Cambridge Conduits led by Alex Justin (Department of Engineering) Cambridge Nucleomics led by Kaikai Chen (Department of Physics)
  • Camzyme led by Gavin D. Garland (MRC Toxicology Unit)
  • Deep Form led by Christopher Cleaver (Department of Engineering)
  • Ethicronics led by Franck Courbon (Department of Computer Science and Technology)
  • InnovaRNA led by Aristedis Sfakianos (MRC Toxicology Unit)
  • Photoreforming led by Michael Stanton (Department of Chemistry)
  • ProSpectral led by Gwenhivir Wyatt-Moon (Department of Engineering)
  • Shaping Horizons led by Matias Acosta (Centre for Latin American Studies)
  • Vitamin K Alex Patto led by Alexander Patto (Department of Physics)

Many of the ventures are so early they do not yet have a website.

Accelerated Materials is a notable exception. Founded in 2020 by Dr Nicholas Jose, Professor Alexei Lapkin and Dr Mikhail Kovalev, AM commercialises the IP platform and know-how in the manufacture of functional nanomaterials developed in various projects at the University of Cambridge and Cambridge Centre for Advanced Research and Education in Singapore (CARES Ltd) since 2015.

As an engineering consultancy, AM uses decades of experience in industrial R & D and state-of-the-art technologies to provide businesses and investors with the knowledge and technology to accelerate materials innovation and commercialisation.

Another strong candidate is DeepForm which has developed an innovative sheet metal forming process that can reduce trimming, reduce thinning and reduce springback, maximising material value for customers.
Christopher Cleaver developed the DeepForm technology as senior research associate at the Department of Engineering and now spearheads the company as CEO.

This year’s competition is named in honour of biological chemist Professor Chris Abell, who died in October 2020. One of Business Weekly’s celebrated Cambridge Torchbearers, Chris was Professor of Biological Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Cambridge and Todd-Hamied Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge.

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