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9 June, 2011 - 09:14 By News Desk

Journey just beginning for Cambridge University entrepreneurs


Serial biotech entrepreneur and business angel, Andy Richards, advised finalists in the CUE Entrepreneurs Challenge in Cambridge that competitions for startups weren’t all about winning and losing.

It’s the journey that counts, he told the 12 finalists and an audience of around 300 at the Cambridge Union.

And the journey starts now – not just the four £5k prize winners but also for many other teams among the original entry of 300.

CUE president, Shen Wei, revealed to Business Weekly that a number of the teams involved had high hopes of commercial success.

RISE, Qiqqa, Sphericos Biotechnologies and eComm won the four major £5k prizes; RISE won the Social Enterprise £5k-er; Qiqqa the equivalent in the Software, Web and IT section; eComm and Sphericos the two Technology and CleanTech accolades.

Elpida Cambridge Health won the angel’s prize. Two ‘First Step Forward’ prizes for promising tyros went to Touch Africa and Oxbridge Tours. Twelve teams pitched to a panel of angel investors comprising Charles Cotton, Jonathan Milner, Andy Richards and Ted Shelton.

Shen Wei said: “Not only the winners, but also many of our finalists are in the process of creating their own ventures, to continue on their own entrepreneurial journeys.

“In CUE’s experience, software-based and social enterprises normally have a lower barrier to market entry than technology ventures because of the particular funding and resource requirements involved.

“Qiqqa is already on the market and the others are taking off as we speak. The £5k phase of the Challenge is a business plan and creation competition so I do have faith in these passionate student entrepreneurs to turn their ambitions into reality.”

Baillie Aaron, the brains behind RISE, is already looking to the future. She said: “We were thrilled to win and it's one significant step toward raising the £75k required to run our proposed one-year pilot.”

eComm’s Tongyun Li is also on the money-go-round. He said: “At this stage, our product development relies on research grant funding. We are seeking £500k investment in the next phase for deploying our first product. More investment will be needed for further future development. It was fantastic to be a £5k CUE winner – now we now plan to push forward to market and sell the product.”

For James Jardine from Qiqqa, winner of the software, web and IT category “the endorsement from Cambridge University for a research tool is more important than the £5k.”

Faisal Khan of Sphericos Biotechnologies, a £5k winner in the technology category, felt the award was proof that scientists could do business: “This sends out a message to scientists to get involved in business and spend some time in a business suit as well as a lab coat. We plan to launch in Pakistan and hope to create jobs for unemployed students there. We’re thrilled the judges have given us this chance.”

The first leg of this particular CUE journey began a year ago and it has been a long and valuable learning process.

Shen Wei said: “We act as launch pad for student entrepreneurs. We find them, train them, support them, fund and mentor them. It is a year-long process. This is where real ventures begin. We help them in infancy and funnel them into places such as ideaSpace to give them continuous support.”

The good advice was still coming thick and fast at the Grand Finals ceremony with a great panel and experienced award presenters.

Bill Shipton from The Shackleton Foundation talked about perseverance and courage. Neil Davidson from Red Gate Software said that a successful venture didn't need to be glamorous and it was OK to sell products customers actually wanted.

Dan Cowell from Horizon Discovery outlined the hard truth but the joy of running a startup. Simon Ford from ARM shared the thrill he felt when he realised the chip he was working on at ARM would lead to global change, He added that because of the endeavour of student entrepreneurs, Cambridge was on the world map as a place to scout for technology breakthroughs.

According to Charles Cotton, the serial Cambridge entrepreneur who was one of four angels judging the competition, all the CUE finalists were winners. He said: “It has been a privilege to judge them. They all showed amazing commitment and passion and any would have been a worthy winner.”

About the Winners

RISE – inspired by Baillie Aaron – is an evidence-based program matching court-involved young people with adult coaches. Its mission is to provide role models who can inspire, educate, and expose youth to new opportunities.

Through its innovative, activities-led curriculum, Young RISErs will develop critical life skills and educational tools that will empower them to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency – and to stay out of the youth justice system. RISE’s founders have experience in social entrepreneurship, youth education, at-risk youth mentorship program development, and law enforcement. They are both currently pursuing post-graduate degrees in criminology at the University of Cambridge.

Qiqqa – spearheaded by James Jardine – is a software application that helps students and researchers manage and extract maximum value from their research materials. Qiqqa combines innovative technology tools with powerful natural language processing algorithms to give academics the ability to cope with the vast amount of information required in modern research. Qiqqa helps them focus on the important facts, discover related material and improve recall, allowing them to learn faster. Students love Qiqqa because it’s free, but the software has application in industry, too. Qiqqa Premium brings additional features, expanded web storage, group collaboration, and no advertising. Qiqqa makes research fun.

eComm – headed up by Tongyun Li – has high hopes of commercial success: Due to severe signal penetration loss, large buildings blocks have increasing demand for in-building infrastructures to provide wireless services (3G, Wifi and etc). Most recent market research forecasts worldwide deployment revenues from in-building wireless systems to grow from $3.8 billion in 2007 to over $15bn in 2013. Distributed antenna systems (DAS) is an attractive approach for improving radio coverage in buildings. However, traditional DAS suffers from a requirement for high linearity, dynamic range and energy consumption. Using digital signal processing techniques, eComm says it has demonstrated a high efficient digital DAS system with dynamic range over 60dB and reduced data rate of 208 times. A reconfigurable digital system and high energy efficiency lead to significant reduction in both construction and maintenance costs, it says.

Sphericos Biotechnologies, masterminded by CEO Faisal Khan with Shah Rukh Abbas as CTO, is promoting the cause of safer insecticides of biological origin and seeks to raise $300,000 to launch its project. It has introduced a novel approach for the production of 'green' bio- insecticides that will compete in the current market by escaping stringent regulatory restrictions through its eco-friendly nature, higher efficiency and decreased production costs through the use of recycled agricultural wastes. The launch of Sphericos Vault, an online information database of all Sphericos Custom products, will attract universities, governmental and non-governmental organisations to collaborate with Sphericos in the fight against mosquitoes and malaria.

Angel prize winner Elpida Cambridge Health (led by Muntaqa Umar- sadiq, Lu Tan, Michael Freeman) says its vision is to provide aggregated POC diagnostic tools for the early detection and rapid diagnosis of the major infectious diseases affecting the developing world. Its flagship product, Elpida Diagnostic Toolbox (EDT) will equip mobile doctors who visit rural communities to provide care, with an innovative toolbox that combines POC diagnostic tools with pictorial guides expressed in local dialects that empower patients to take ownership of their management plans. Maximising the impact of mobile doctor visits unlocks an important solution to rural healthcare.

‘First Step Forward’ winners were Touch of Africa and Oxbridge Tours.They didn’t make the grand finals shortlist but were deemed to have made most progress from the ‘best of the rest’ among original entrants. Headed by Sela Motshwane, Touch of Africa introduces a fashion range for  African ex-pats and western consumers. The business is a reflection of a growing trend, as African-inspired designs are showcased in London and New York fashion weeks. Initially the business will import existing ranges from Southern Africa and target small fashion boutiques to build interest and gauge the market, particularly in cosmopolitan areas. Once established, larger retail chains will be approached with the range, creating a strong brand and ultimately bringing African fashion to a wider market.

Oxbridge Tours, led by Chris Dobbing and Andrey Pronin, is a social enterprise founded to help students fund the rising cost of education by giving academic and cultural tours of Oxford and Cambridge to corporate groups, schools and tourists.The partners said: “Our triple bottom line centres on: People - We pay more than double market rate and give hands-on management experience; Planet - We recycle and encourage clients to use public transport. Profit - We support student events, societies and bursary schemes. “We aim to be the market leader for walking tours in Cambridge within 36 months and franchise to similar cities worldwide.”Photography by Alan Bennett/ Media Imaging SolutionsCUE-AngelsCUE-PresidentsCUE-Qiqqa-Jimme-JardineCUE-Winners-004

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