Accelerated Materials, which helps businesses create innovative products with nanomaterials, has won the £20,000 first prize in The Chris Abell Postdoc Business Plan Competition  2021.

The second prize of £10,000 went to Cambridge Conduits, which is developing off-the-shelf bioengineered vessels to serve as  replacements for a range of diseased or damaged tissues in the human body. The third prize, of £5,000, was awarded to DeepForm, which aims to make car bodies fit for zero emissions by producing better parts with half the metal.

Cambridge Enterprise sponsored the first and second prizes, and Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC) sponsored the third.

The Grand Finale

Now in its seventh year, the competition has become a highly respected part of the Cambridge entrepreneurial calendar. Since its inception, the competitions’ Finalists and Semi-finalists have gone on to raise more that £26.3 million for their companies.

This year’s Grand Finale attracted 130 attendees from across the University, convening via Microsoft Teams. (Recording available here.) The six finalists each presented a three-minute pitch, covering their technology, the problem it addresses, the business proposition, and the market. In addition to the three winning projects, the projects included:

  • Cambridge Nucleomics, which is pioneering next-generation biosensing technologies by combining DNA nanotechnologies and solid-state nanopores.
  • Photoreforming, which offers a powerful solution for circular conversion of waste to carbon-free fuels. Photoreforming is a chemical process that uses sunlight-driven catalysts to break down mixed waste, including plastics, biomass (such as paper products), and food, turning this waste material into hydrogen and other chemicals.
  • William Oak Diagnostics, which aims to develop a point-of-care Vitamin K diagnostic device to allow routine testing of premature newborns at home. Using this device, midwives or community healthcare visitors could spot Vitamin K deficiency  before catastrophic symptoms arose.

The presenters each faced probing questions from the judging panel, comprised of Christine Martin, Interim Head of Seed Funds at Cambridge Enterprise; Heather Richards, Cambridge Enterprise Investment Committee; Chris Tapper, Associate at CIC; and Maximilian Ge, President of Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge (EPOC).

Accessing the Experts and Mentors Programme at Cambridge Enterprise

Nicholas Jose, Project Lead, Accelerated Materials, said:

“The Chris Abell Postdoc Business Plan Competition was an amazing opportunity to develop and showcase our business. It was more than just a pitching competition; after each round of mentoring, I was able to refine my ideas and presentation into a form that I can now confidently present to investors and clients. My mentors Nick Housby and Shai Vyakarnam were outstanding, providing valuable criticism from their own experiences in technology entrepreneurship.”

Lessons from a journey, Land’s End to John O’Groats

As the judges conferred, Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations, took the virtual stage. Likening the entrepreneurial journey to an actual one, he shared some insights gleaned on his cycling trek from Land’s End to John O’Groats this past summer. The trip raised money for the British Heart Foundation and was inspired by his friendship with the late Professor Chris Abell, a friend for whom the competition is now named.

Neely said the 1,550 mile trip was the equivalent of two Everests climbed, a daunting prospect. ″Every day we just did a little bit more and got closer and closer to the destination” he said. ″That analogy lends itself quite fittingly to the journey of an entrepreneur: every day just doing a little bit more, getting a bit closer to your end goal.”

The second lesson, he said, came after reviewing pictures from the trip. ″The overriding thing for me was the photos of us smiling,” he said. There will be exhausting and difficult periods in an entrepreneurial career, but ″keeping smiling is important.″

And finally, Neely applauded the helpfulness of strangers as one of the things that makes the Cambridge ecosystem special. ″People are incredibly generous with their time; they’re willing to support and help anybody as they try to make a difference”. He  thanked those involved in entrepreneurship across the Cambridge ecosystem for making sure that the fantastic ideas coming out of the University are having real impact on the world.

Neely concluded by asking competition entrants to ″remember that journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Even if you don’t win tonight, even if you don’t get to the top of tonight’s hill, keep going on your own journeys″. Finalists and Semi-finalists who don’t win one of the monetary prizes often take the knowledge gained in the competition to other settings and prevail.

The audience also heard from previous winners Simon Baker, Co-Founder of Versed AI, and Gita Khalili Moghaddam, Founder of GlycoVue, who presented the awards.

The competition is run by Cambridge Enterprise and EPOC, and this year was sponsored by Taylor Vinters, a global legal and advisory practice, supporting key innovation ecosystems and the businesses that drive them across UK, US, and Asia. ideaSpace, a community of founders and entrepreneurs across three great locations in Cambridge, provided the six finalists with membership, including tailored support and office space, for 12 months.

We would like to thank everyone who helped to make this year’s competition such a resounding success, including the sponsors, entrants, mentors, judges, and attendees of the Grand Finale.

The Chris Abell Postdoc Business Plan Competition 2022 will be open for entries in May 2022.