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Profiling nine female innovators tackling the UK’s biggest challenges

Innovate UK's Women in Innovation campaign recognises the achievements of female innovators in the UK - here we profile its nine winners each set to receive £50,000 to build their businesses

From realising the potential of AI to ushering in the future of mobility, female innovators around the world are pushing boundaries and redefining industries.

In Britain, the government body Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation campaign aims to encourage woman-led entrepreneurship with a reward of £50,000 for its nine winners, who were announced today (8 March) to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The winning women are developing pioneering innovations to tackle the grand challenges we face as a society, from a new paper coating to cut down single-use plastic to helping us train mechanics using simulators.

“This is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, backing businesses of all sizes across the UK to grow and boost the economy with the skills and inventions we need for the next generation.”

We take a closer look at the female entrepreneurs pioneering British business.

 

Female innovators

Agnes Czako, AirEx

Agnes Czako’s smart “airbrick” technology helps to improve a home’s energy efficiency by using AI to monitor and respond to the environment and weather, as well as the behaviour of its occupants.

It comprises various sensors that measure temperature, humidity and air quality, along with algorithms that allow for automatic air flow regulation, depending on local weather and air quality.

The AirEx can also help with getting rid of unwanted draughts, ensure good air quality and potentially help households save on heating bills by using 10% to 15% less energy.

 

Alex Haslehurst, Vitrue Health

Vitrue Health helps clinicians assess patient health, particularly motor function, more accurately and more efficiently than can be done with traditional clinical tools.

Founder Alex Haslehurst believes assessing physical condition is most useful for older adults, as a better understanding of their health could help them manage issues and maintain their independence.

female innovators
Alex Haslehurst, founder of Vitrue Health (Credit: Innovate UK)

“Our one failure so far has been not getting something into people’s hands sooner,” she said.

“With new products you need to iterate quickly, get it in use, get people trying it, and then move on – and remember, hard work pays off in the end, so keep going.”

 

Cintia Kimura, KG Protech

At the age of 22, Cintia Kimura founded her company, which provides remote practical training for car mechanics.

After meeting KG Protech’s co-founder Georg Homolatsch, she moved to London – where the pair learnt the ins and outs of business and how to evolve their product.

“My father worked as a technician for 20 years looking at everything that could go possibly wrong,” Ms Kimura said.

female innovators
Cintia Kimura, founder of KG (Credit: Innovate UK)

“He used to break cars to find faults – it works, but it’s expensive, and you can only do it once per car, so I came up with KG Test & Train.

“It turns any car into a training centre, so it puts technicians into real-life fault situations so they can learn how to diagnose and fix them.”

 

Daniela Paredes Fuentes, Gravity Sketch

After securing a joint masters in innovation and design engineering at the
Royal College of Art (RCA) and Imperial College London, Daniela Paredes Fuentes founded Gravity Sketch.

The company provides virtual reality software that allows designers to sketch models and conceptual drafts in a 3D space.

She said: “When I was younger, I was always the dreamer – from a very early age, I wanted to study design.

“Then I wanted to study car design. Then I wanted to own a company. And that was when I was ten.”

 

Dr Debbie Wake, MyWay Digital Health

Dr Debbie Wake had her idea for MyWay Digital Health when she and Dr Scott Cunningham led a project at the University of Dundee, which quickly became a commercial spin-out.

The digital platform provides diabetes patients with personalised advice using home-recorded data that helps them manage their condition and maintain their health.

“We’re seeing people come onto the platform and we can feel the impact it’s having on their lives,” said Dr Wake.

female innovators
Debbie Wake, founder of MyWay (Credit: Innovate UK)

“I thrive on innovation, being able to do something different. Building a business is really exciting and the entrepreneurship and start-up world is an exciting place to be.”

MyWay Digital Health has 40,000 registrations in Scotland, and Dr Wake now plans to expand the platform internationally.

 

Dolores Sanders, Total Control Pro Ltd

Dolores Sanders started her first business at the age of 18 – a handmade printing company.

“I’d make screens and set up the machines, being really hands-on with the product,” she said – now I’ve taken my experience of growing up in a factory environment and modernised it.”

female innovators
Dolores Sanders, founder of Total Control Pro (Credit: Innovate UK)

Ms Sanders’ current business Total Control Pro Ltd uses big data-sharing to streamline the manufacturing process for SMEs.

 

Dr Fanya Ismail, Sol-Gel Coatings and Advanced Materials

Using a chemical process called “sol-gel”, Dr Fanya Ismail’s company produces solid materials to create disposable, waterproof coffee cups without the need for plastic.

“We aim to allow people to be able to eat and drink safely without any negative impact on other living species and the environment generally,” she said.

female innovators
Fanya Ismail, founder of Sol-gel Coatings (Credit: Innovate UK)

“I really hope this award will help me to push forward my innovation and accelerate its route to the market.

“I also hope to be able to inspire other women to take the opportunities that I have taken.”

 

Jessica Bruce, Run3D

Jessica Bruce is the managing director of Run3D – a bioengineering firm that specialises in real-time gait analysis to help older adults and people recovering from surgery to walk more comfortably.

She developed the technology, which uses infra-red to measure precisely how a person moves, while studying at Oxford University and formed the company as a spin-out.

female entrepreneurs
Jessica Leitch, founder of Walk3D (Credit: Innovate UK)

“The first year was very difficult. It was an incredibly steep learning curve. I had no training in business, but I had a lot of support from my investors, who were very supportive and still are.

“There are two extreme ends of the spectrum, but if you’re willing to endure the plateaus it’s a really good ride.”

 

Sheana Yu, Aergo

Sheana Yu’s wheelchair seating system uses air cells to ensure the user remains comfortable and supported.

“It’s such a huge encouragement to be recognised for the work you’ve done – if my story can motivate more women like me, that will be a really exciting part of the journey,” she said.

female entrepreneurs
Sheana Yu, founder of Aergo (Credit: Innovate UK)

“This award will be a great platform to grow by learning from other female founders, and be a part of a network of inspirational women.”

 

What is the Women in Innovation campaign?

The Women in Innovation campaign was launched in 2016, after Innovate UK discovered just one in seven applications for support from the organisation came from women.

It claims boosting the number of female entrepreneurs could deliver £180bn to the economy.

The organisation has undertaken various initiatives, such as partnering with image provider Getty Images to create anti-stereotypical portraits of female entrepreneurs, to increase the proportion of women registering for Innovate UK support by 70%.

Innovate UK interim chief executive Dr Ian Campbell said: “Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards address a key barrier for diversity in innovation – a lack of female role models.

“By recognising their achievement, we are making sure that our nine newly-crowned winners inspire the next generation of female innovators.

“Whether it’s inspiring young students showing a passion for STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], someone with the spark of an idea or an innovative business ready to be taken to the next level, the Women in Innovation 2019 campaign aims to drive long term and far-reaching change.”