D/srupt Issue 4

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Issue 4/ 2021–22

The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

#Invented AtImperial SURU Together's new technology is engaging communities through participatory decision making. Meet winner of WE Innovate and Founder, Georgie Denis.

Taking on Tesla

Imperial alumnus, Peter Rawlinson is making his electric dreams a reality

Secrets of the Unicorns

Level-up your ideas at Imperial

Looking to learn new skills, meet team mates and get your ideas off the ground? Check-out all of the support available at Imperial inside

What does it take to become a billion-dollar company? Find out from Alex Dalyac, Imperial alumnus and Founder of Tractable

Tackling global challenges

Find out how Imperial is taking on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals



Get in touch:


A warm in-person welcome to the fourth issue of D/srupt. Hello! Welcome to the latest edition of D/srupt – which we’re very excited to be able to hand out in person this year! Despite the last year being mostly limited to Zoom calls and virtual programmes and events, the incredible community at Imperial College London has taken it all in its stride – if anything, it’s been our most creative and imaginative year yet! We’ve seen many students, alumni and staff members face the challenges of the past 18 months head on and make the most of the new normal. New virtual events, such as the Global Challenge Lab 2021, have allowed us to reach over 800 students from across the globe and collaborate to solve global challenges (page

34), our WE Innovate winner was able to pitch at the final all the way from Berlin (page 06), and teams like DASH Rides are paving the way to create a better future after COVID-19 (page 18). While we’ve been off campus, the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Imperial has also evolved. White City’s Scale Space is now open for business (page 42), giving established startups somewhere to grow, the Imperial College Innovation Fund made its first backing in Imperial startup Charco Neurotech (page 20) and we have a new Institute for Deep Tech Entrepreneurship to address the key barriers to the successful commercialisation of deep-tech ventures (page 40). So, get reading, be inspired and we’ll see you around campus (yay!)

D/srupt is brought to you by: Imperial’s Enterprise Division We would love to hear your feedback. Please get in touch if you have content suggestions, would like more copies or are interested in commercial opportunities. Editor: Jennifer Mills jennifer.mills@imperial.ac.uk Designer: Matthew Hart www.designedbymatt.co.uk Published October 2021

Jennifer Mills, Editor of D/srupt,

Talk from the top Professor Alice P. Gast, President of Imperial College London As the world begins to emerge from the global pandemic that has affected so many of us, I want to give you a most warm and enthusiastic welcome to campus. In the past year, we’ve witnessed tragedies near to home and far away, and we’ve seen triumphs of science, service and spirit. Within Imperial, inspiring stories of creativity, innovation, discovery and hard work dealing with COVID-19 has cemented our role as a world-leading institution finding innovative solutions to shared global challenges. Great innovations begin with great people: talented individuals steeped in the knowledge of their discipline, confident enough to work on risky, unsolved problems, and able to collaborate with others from different fields and different backgrounds. You can see in

D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

“Imperial’s ability to inspire, foster and support multidisciplinary teams of talented people to take on real-world issues is one of our greatest strengths.” this issue of D/srupt that Imperial has an abundance of such people. Imperial’s ability to inspire, foster and support multidisciplinary teams of talented people to take on real-world issues is one of our greatest strengths. In today’s rapidly changing world, developing an entrepreneurial mindset is a key advantage for any student. Whether starting a new business, joining an established company, or pursuing a career in research and academia, all our students gain the skills, knowledge and networks they need to take discoveries out of the lab and into the world, for everyone’s benefit. We hope you’ll be inspired by these stories.

Please pass forward or recycle : ) Issue 4 / 2021–22


In this issue


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In this issue #InventedAtImperial


06 Psi by SURU Together

08 Secrets of the unicorns

18 DASH Rides

14 Alexsis De Raadt St James: Levelling the entrepreneurial playing field

20 Charco Neurotech 24 ApTap

23 Entrepreneurship essentials 26 Entrepreneurship at Imperial 30 Lucid dreams

How to …

34 Tackling global challenges: Embracing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 40 Diving in to Deep Tech

12 Nail your email marketing

42 To scale or not to scale?

22 Embrace your inner negotiator

46 Imperial’s VC: 18 months of the Imperial College Innovation Fund

39 Get the most out of meeting a coach or mentor

50 Founder foundations: Building startups to last

Issue 4 / 2021–22

The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs D/srupt



HELP CAN nce WE ide HOW -in-Res ture erts • Exp erial Ven vice Ser • Impntoring Me S) (IVM tion ova SC • MT erial Inn • Impd Fun



Imperial founders named in Top 100 Asian Stars in UK Tech 2021 A huge congratulations to Lucy Jung, Founder of Charco Neurotech, Pae Natwilai, Founder of GetTrik, and Sam Tukra, Founder of Third Eye Intelligence, who have all been named in the Top 100 Asian Stars in UK Tech list, along with the Imperial’s Brijesh Roy and Govind Pindoria.

Two teams scoop prizes at The Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition Imperial-founded teams, DyeRecycle and ManholeMetrics, have each won £20,000 in The Mayor’s Entrepreneur Programme competition. DyeRecycle took home the Environment Award while ManholeMetrics took home the Tech Award.


Thirteen Imperial founders celebrated in Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe 2021

Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe shines a light on “bold, innovative young leaders who are changing the course and face of business and society”. We were so excited to see so many Imperial founders had made the list! Well done to *takes a deep breath*: Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley; Nate Macabuag; John Bertolaso, Edward Brial and Edward Hill; Siobhan Anderson, Hanson Cheng and Hugo Richardson; Annika Monari; Jacob Haddad and Kyriakos Eleftheriou and Raouf Yousfi.

An Imperial unicorn Tractable raise $60 million with a valuation of over $1 billion, making it the world’s first computer vision unicorn. We caught up with Imperial alumnus and Tractable Founder, Alex Dalyak, on page 09. D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

Issue 4 / 2021–22



RISE Coffee comes to the E-Lab If there’s one good thing to come out of lockdown, this is it! Missing her morning flat whites on the way to work, Imperial MBA alumnus Alice Wainwright went on the hunt for good coffee to drink at home. Not finding quite the right variety in coffee subscriptions already on the market, Alice and co-founder Ben, set about bringing delicious and exciting varieties of coffee to the homes of coffee lovers. And in the spirit of supporting our Imperial startups (and because we know the need for good coffee!) RISE Coffee now supplies the Enterprise Lab co-working space with delicious, freshly ground coffee from around the world. Come down and give it a try!

UNITY Bumper year for Imperial funding

Congratulations to the following teams who had some hugely successful funding rounds this year: Quit Genius raised $64 million, Gravity Sketch raised $3.7 million, Phenomic AI raised $6 million, SLAMcore raised $5 million and GyroGear raised £3.1 million!

OVER $85M RAISED Issue 4 / 2021–22

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No ... it’s BladeBUG

BladeBUG’s spider-like robot achieves a ‘world first’ by inspecting a UK offshore wind turbine funded by Innovate UK. While working as a Turbine Blade Engineer, Imperial alumnus Chris Cieslak became convinced that advanced robotics could reduce costs and maximise asset lifetimes at offshore wind farms. The team started prototyping at Imperial College Advanced Hackspace, where they came up with numerous iterations and, after securing Innovate UK funding, have recently completed testing the BladeBUG 2 at Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs D/srupt


#InventedAtImperial: Psi by SURU Together


Psi by SURU Together

Georgie Denis, Co-Founder (Global Master of Public Health, 2022) Niccolo Pescetelli, Co-Founder (External)

WE Innovate winner SURU Together have developed an online platform for civic organisations to engage their whole community in deliberative participatory decision-making. The problem Current decision-making processes are struggling to address the most pressing challenges because they are not fit for the twentyfirst century. People want to have a more significant say in shaping the policies that affect their lives beyond the opportunity to vote every few years. However, there are no tools that meet peoples’ new expectations for participation in local decision making. The existing community engagement tools for civic organisations are limited to opinion posting and voting,

which cannot integrate different perspectives and do not work well on complex problems. Research has shown that social media platforms may exacerbate this issue because it fragments opinions rather than uniting them. Continuing to use tools that aren’t fit for purpose will negatively affect social cohesion and the likelihood of addressing important complex challenges. The solution People Supported Intelligence (PSi) is an online platform for civic

D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

organisations, like a local council, to engage their whole community in deliberative participatory decision-making. PSi is novel because it gives civic organisations a more engaging and social way to hold citizen consultations about a specific local issue without relying on outdated methods like post, comment and like. PSi is more social than other community engagement platforms, so it can leverage the collective intelligence of people online. We have built-in automated group facilitation to improve disagreement management,

encourage deeper critical thinking and reduce extreme ideas. The Psi algorithm ensures that even large communities converge to a decision. PSi is more effective, faster and cheaper than existing solutions so that civic organisations can sustain a commitment to participatory decision-making. Where did the idea originate from? PSi originates from the Co-Founders experiences in the workplace. I work as a freelance Project Manager, and I have delivered collaborative initiatives for health and tech companies like the NHS, the Health Foundation and Clue the period tracking app. In my work, I facilitate group decision-

making and co-design programmes and services with multidisciplinary groups that can include patients and carers, legal teams, engineers, and policy-makers. My practice of facilitating large, diverse groups to find ways forward together has been translated into the PSi online decisionmaking design. Co-Founder Niccolo is an Assistant Professor of Cyber-psychology. He has a PhD from Oxford University and previously worked at MIT. Niccolo studies group dynamics and collective intelligence. Researchers found several principles that can help groups of people make good decisions. However, this knowledge is rarely translated into the design of online platforms and social media until now. Issue 4 / 2021–22


#InventedAtImperial: Psi by SURU Together

What’s been the biggest challenge? The biggest challenge was refining a well-known social problem into a specific challenge felt within a particular market. Once we landed on the civic organisation market, we could focus on meeting the right people. Over the last six months, we’ve met with over 16 professionals who shared their experiences with community engagement. Investing our energy into customer discovery and WE Innovate’s coaching helped us better apply our expertise to develop a practical way to solve their challenges.

Niccolo applies this science to PSi so everyday people can make better decisions together. Was your business inspired by a major global challenge or industry need? As someone trained by the NHS Leadership Academy and is working in the health sector, I have experienced a significant shift to increase the diversity of voices in decision-making. However, there is still a long way to go before decisions are genuinely representative and leverage the intelligence of diverse populations. The frustration I felt from not having a scalable way to engage a large, diverse group of people in my work motivated me to study for the Global Master in Public Health at Imperial because the course focuses on public approaches to public health and innovation. Research like the science of fake news (Lazer et al. 2018; Vosoughi, Roy, and Aral 2018) presents strong evidence for how current social media impacts policy and civil discourse. The impact on important topics like the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly evident over the last year. The evidence inspired SURU to apply our practice and science to ensure that PSi is resilient against misinformation impacting the decisions made on the platform so civic organisations can get an accurate sense of what their community cares about. How did your team meet? Nic and I are partners in business and real life. We met while studying at University College London. Do you have any advisors? SURU’s advisors include Jacqueline Dyer MBE, Deputy Leader at Lambeth Council in London. I have delivered several projects that support Jacqui’s work Issue 4 / 2021–22

The WE Innovate programme encouraged us to have tough conversations about our skills and strengths. This advice gave us a realistic view of how we can help solve a complex social challenge.

to improve outcomes for Black communities across England, for example, establishing of Black Thrive Global Community Interest Company in Lambeth. Working closely with Jacqui has helped me understand how civic organisations engage their communities in local decision making and the challenges civic organisations face when trying to make sure their decisions consider the needs of everyone in the community. What stage is the business at and what are your plans moving forward? SURU is pre-seed. We are building PSi and will hold the first community test in London in September.

Providing the platform to a real community will help us make the final improvements before bringing it to market. Are you raising funding? If so, what will you use the funds for? Yes, we are raising seed funding to bring PSi to the UK market. The fundraising target is £700,000. The resource will mean I can work full-time to bring PSi to communities, and SURU can expand the team. In particular, we now need sales and marketing expertise skilled at connecting with civic organisations, fostering support for pioneering a novel and social way to engage a community.

What’s been your biggest success so far? 2021 has been a whirlwind year for the team at SURU, from winning €55,000 in EU funding to building PSi to creating a great network of advisors and supporters, including Anthony Zacharzewski, President of the Democratic Society. The most significant success was winning 1st prize and £15,000 in the Imperial Enterprise Lab’s WE Innovate competition. We spent six months developing our productmarket fit, supported by experts from the Enterprise Lab. Now the team can confidently demo the platform to civic organisations like Lewisham Council.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? My advice is to be authentic. The WE Innovate programme encouraged us to have tough conversations about our skills and strengths. This advice gave us a realistic view of how we can help solve a complex social challenge. If you are honest about your team’s strengths and networks, you can find a market and build a venture that you can speak about from a place of authenticity. One day I hope PSi can support private organisations to engage their stakeholders and the general public in the same kind of participatory decision making. Still, for now, my strength lies in my understanding of civic organisations and institutions like the NHS. Knowing this about myself means that I can confidently talk about PSi and its value proposition. I am a successful entrepreneur because my venture is built around an authentic representation of what I know. Get in touch: Website: thepsiapp.com Twitter: @PSi_hub

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Secrets of the unicorns

Secrets of the unicorns

What it takes to build a $1 billion dollar company.


ccording to Statista*, as of April 2021 there were 591 unicorn companies in the world. The large majority of these are located in the US (288), followed by China (133), India (32) and the UK (27). But there’s one region of the world that’s seeing more unicorns galloping into existence than ever before – Europe. In data provided by venture capital firm PitchBook, 23 companies in Europe and Israel became unicorns between 1 January and 10 June 2021 alone, compared with only eight across the entirety of 2020. The current Statista European unicorn count stands at 69*. During 2020, the region recorded unicorn growth in the fields of fintech (Sweden’s Klarna), banking (Germany’s N26) and automotive

(Germany’s Auto 1 Group), but 2021 has seen unicorns form in new sectors entirely – with many companies receiving a clear COVID-19 lockdown boost. Newcomer industries include takeaway food delivery (Finland’s Wolt), digital telehealth (Sweden’s Kry), online meal kit delivery (UK’s Gousto), mental health treatments (Germany’s atai Life Sciences), grocery delivery (Germany’s Gorillas), and digital-first pet insurance (UK’s Bought By Many). With the European unicorn stampede showing no signs of slowing down, and hundreds more companies being labelled as ‘soonicorns’, the remainder of 2021 looks set to be truly legendary for entrepreneurs across Europe.

Number of unicorns in Europe*

69 in total



9 11


6 12


2 8

What is a unicorn company?

Did you know?

The collective noun for a group of unicorns is called a ‘blessing’. How fitting! 1. United Kingdom: 27 2. Germany: 15 3. France: 8 4. Switzerland: 5 5. Sweden: 3 6. Netherlands: 3 7. Spain: 2 8. Luxembourg: 1 9. Lithuania: 1 10. Croatia: 1 11. Ireland: 1 12. Belgium: 1 13. Estonia: 1

A unicorn is a privately owned startup valued at US$1 billion or over. Once a company has gone public or been acquired, it’s no longer considered a unicorn. The term was coined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee in 2013, using the mythical creature to describe the rarity of this level of success occurring.

4 10


*Statista, 2021. D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

Issue 4 / 2021–22


Secrets of the unicorns

An Imperial unicorn

In June 2021, Imperial alumnus Alex Dalyac’s startup Tractable was valued at over US$1 billion, making Alex a very proud unicorn founder.


f you’d asked Alex back in 2013 whether the group project he was working on for his Imperial master’s degree in computer science – which involved him taking photos of daffodils – would lead to the birth of a US$1 billion company, he would have told you the likelihood was as rare as … well … a unicorn. But that’s exactly what happened. Tractable was the world’s first computer vision unicorn for financial services and is one of only 20 computer vision unicorns in the world. We spoke with Alex about the path his business journey has taken and his advice for fellow entrepreneurs. Can you tell us about computer vision? Computer vision revolves around algorithms that can make sense of imagery and video like we do as humans, so recognising objects and understanding actions being taken by the various entities. More specifically, we’re focused on putting a ‘visual expert’ in people’s pocket that can help them sort out insurance claims for their car or home. What exactly is a ‘visual expert’? Imagine you’re driving your car and you get into Issue 4 / 2021–22

an accident – instead of dealing with a month-long horrible process with your insurer, you simply take out your phone and Tractable’s AI guides you around your car to capture video and imagery. It then figures out what it costs to repair your car and takes care of the insurance claim for you, directly with the insurer. We’re expanding this to homes as well. If floods damage your home, instead of waiting two months for the insurance company to send somebody out to look at it, you just take out the visual expert in your pocket and let that take over the appraisal so you can receive a payout from your insurance company sooner. Amazing! How did you come up with the idea? Were you trying to solve a problem? It was all thanks to Imperial College London actually! I was doing a master’s in computing at Imperial in 2013 to 2014 and got into image classification with deep learning, which was a groundbreaking technology at the time. This was just before AI company DeepMind was acquired by Google. In my second term, there was a group project where we built a plant

Going into science and engineering allows you to build new things that didn’t exist before and help people live better lives … and to me, that’s unbelievable – it’s almost like magic!

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recognition app which was almost like a visual expert in your pocket for plants. I remember going to Hyde Park and taking photos of daffodils in the wild, and the AI just working. This was a first – it had previously been impossible for computer vision to recognise objects and cluttered backgrounds in broad daylight because those would confuse the computer vision algorithms. Then in my third term, my supervisor Jack Kelly put us in touch with a plastic pipe inspection company. The pipes under the ground in London get old and can crack and break. This can lead to contamination of water or gas pipe explosions, so it’s quite important to upgrade them. There’s a key step in the construction process, which is welding two pieces of pipe together – you need to heat up the pipes, connect them and let them settle. If you don’t set up your weld well, there’s going to be a fault area where water and earth can get in and contaminate what’s being sent to people’s households. It was then that I thought: “What if construction workers had a visual expert in their pockets that they could pull out to make sure the weld set-up is correct before proceeding with it?”. That ended up being my master’s project. The results for the pipe inspection company were great and they ended up being Tractable’s firstever customer! Right after that, I realised that Tractable was going to be the visual expert in people’s pocket and we could use it for a wide variety of use cases. Pipes were clearly fine, but it wasn’t a big enough market. We realised that accident and disaster recovery was bigger, so we ended up focusing on cars and homes. How did you meet your co-founders?

Secrets of the unicorns

Be aware of scientific and engineering breakthroughs, because when they happen, they totally change the rules of the game. The second organisation to be credited for Tractable is Entrepreneur First (EF). They are a startup accelerator programme that’s now global, but it started in London. It helps individuals who want to start a company, but who don’t yet have a co-founder – they’re very unique in that way. I applied while I was at Imperial, and that’s where I met my first co-founder, Razvan Ranca, who was a researcher in machine learning at Cambridge. Thanks to EF, we raised our first round of funding, which was US$1.9 million, and that’s when our third cofounder joined us – Adrian Cohen. He was a more experienced businessman. I had met him previously in Vietnam when he was bringing online shopping to Vietnam for the first time. You’ve mentioned that Imperial gave you support on your entrepreneurial journey. How did that start? Imperial gave an incredible amount of academic freedom and a lot of bandwidth to projects that let you build products that are actually useful in the real world, as opposed to coursework and exercises. Imperial encouraged you to do research at the global forefront so your academic work could make a

D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

difference. It’s not imposed on you – you get to choose. If you have your own project, you’re encouraged to pitch it and find an academic who wants to support it. That was incredible. It actually culminated in a PhD offer with Imperial, too. I found it really amazing that Imperial believed in me so much! What did you want to do as a career when you were younger? As a teenager when I was graduating from high school, I remember thinking that going into science and engineering, rather than a social science, was going to be boring, isolated and dry. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Going into science and engineering allows you to build new things that didn’t exist before and help people live better lives … and to me, that’s unbelievable – it’s almost like magic! How long did it take you to go from your initial idea to your billion-dollar valuation? It’s taken 6.5 years. It was extremely hard getting to our first million dollars of revenue. Raising our first round of funding – which is seed – just required an exciting idea, but the next stage was hard and required a lot of work.

What are the next steps for Tractable? One thing we’ve been working on over the past year and a half that we’re really excited about and want to expand globally is recycling cars. When cars get damaged, a quarter of the time they’re too expensive to repair, so they end up going to the scrapyard. But it turns out that you can often upcycle much of the car. If the parts are not too damaged, you can reuse the door as a replacement part so when another car gets damaged and needs a new door, you don’t need to buy a brand-new manufactured door – you just upcycle the other one. This has major CO2 emission avoidance impact. For every car you upcycle like this, it’s about half a metric tonne of carbon dioxide emissions avoided. We’ve already started doing this in North America. The other thing we’re doing is natural disaster recovery. When you think of climate change, one of the worst impacts is the increase in frequency and severity of natural disasters – whether that’s bushfires and wildfires in Australia and California, hurricanes in America, typhoons in Japan or severe storms in Europe. These can damage our homes on a really large scale and leave people without a proper roof

over their heads for months on end. As insurance companies are totally understaffed to deal with this, wouldn’t it be good if there was a completely scalable solution? People could rely entirely on software – with the visual expert on their phone – to get an appraisal on their home and a payout from their insurance company. That way, you’re giving people certainty and peace of mind to fix their home and get back to a normal life quickly. We announced in July that we’ll be doing this in Japan with one of the country’s biggest insurance companies – Mitsui Sumitomo. We hope to be live this autumn and help at least 1,000 families to start rebuilding their homes much faster. What advice would you have for any Imperial students thinking about commercialising their research? First of all, well done – you’re in a great place to get started! Before commercialising your work, you’ve got to create something that doesn’t exist yet but that solves a problem much more effectively than anything else out there. That’s hard to do if you’re a student, but the key is being aware of scientific and engineering breakthroughs, because when they happen, they totally change the rules of the game. In our case, this was moving from traditional computer vision algorithms to deep learning. It meant that the years of work people had put into developing traditional computer vision techniques were no longer useful, so it totally reset the playing field for us. By diving into deep learning and getting straight into this new paradigm, we ended up among some of the best skilled people out there – and that’s ultimately what gives you the edge. Issue 4 / 2021–22


Secrets of the unicorns

The stats of the super founders

Imperial Biomedical Engineering alumnus, Ali Tamaseb, was so keen to discover the secrets of unicorn founders that he interviewed and analysed more than 200 of them. In his book Super Founders, Ali gives us the stats behind the success …


s a partner at Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm Data Collective, Ali Tamaseb was often asked about unicorns. What was it that made them reach that magical US$1 billion valuation figure when so many others failed? Was it luck? Or something else, like market or team or fundraising? Was it their founders? What did they do differently? Ali set about finding out. He collected 65 different data elements from unicorn companies in the US that had formed during the previous 15 years. He collected the same 65 data elements from every other US company that had raised a minimum of US$3 million in investment but had not become a unicorn later on – and used these as his baseline. Comparing and contrasting over 40,000 data points, he discovered some truly interesting insights about what made unicorn founders so special. His findings became the book Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups. This is what he discovered …

Do you have what it takes to be a unicorn founder?


The average age of a unicorn founder is 34.


of unicorn companies had solo founders.


of co-founders had either attended the same school or worked at the same company.

11 years

Founders had an average of 11 years’ experience before their companies became unicorns. We were proud to welcome Ali to the Imperial Enterprise Lab earlier this year when he hosted our ‘How to … be a superfounder’ talk and discussed his new book. Ali’s Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups is out now and can be purchased at superfoundersbook.com

Issue 4 / 2021–22


of unicorn founders had a technical background.


It took on average 5.5 years for a company to go from launch to unicorn status.


of unicorn founders were university dropouts.


of unicorn founders went to a top-ten-ranked school (great news for Imperial alumni!).


of unicorn companies had competition from day one.


of unicorns were expanding the market, not creating it from scratch.


of unicorn companies were started by repeat entrepreneurs, and many already have at least one US$50 million+ exit under their belt.

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How to ... Nail your email marketing


Nail your email marketing


Figure out what you can manage

Put together a campaign plan based on the resources you have available (including your time!). You can always ramp up your activity as your business grows, and you can see how much you need to invest in email. And speaking of plans...

By Sonal Dack, Email Marketing Expert-in-Residence at Imperial Enterprise Lab

Whether you’re selling products, generating/ nurturing leads or pushing traffic to your website, email’s where it’s at. Want to develop brand awareness, grow your community and keep people up to date on how your plans are going? Email’s an essential. Last year, businesses that invested in email received £26 worth of business for every £1 spent.


nd yet, the number one problem I come across when I first meet a client is that their email marketing started with a bang and then fizzled out to almost nothing. Such a shame when you consider what a difference it can make to your business! It’s easy to see why. Startup life involves A LOT of plate spinning. There’s so much to do and it feels like there’s just not enough time or pairs of hands to do everything! Sound familiar? If you’re nodding your head vigorously, help is at hand! I have a few tips to help you send great campaigns and make emailing a regular part of your marketing plan without it taking more time than it needs to.

Sonal Dack is the Founder of MailPimps, and specialises in helping organisations craft engaging email campaigns. She believes that any business can use email to build a relationship with their audience, gain customers and grow their business, and can help you get started and develop your own strategy.

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Issue 4 / 2021–22


How to ... Nail your email marketing


Create a schedule

Once you know what you can manage, build a schedule around it. This doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to a spreadsheet, but having dates to aim for gives you some structure. Include the different items you want to feature – for example, your progress, product updates, offers and helpful information for your customers.



Make the most of your existing content

You don’t have to produce new content for every part of an email campaign. You can use your social media and blog posts, as well as interesting and relevant things you’ve found while browsing the internet. Just make sure you keep things organised and cross reference all items against your schedule. I constantly save and clip interesting articles and posts to a Trello board. It takes seconds to do, but has saved me hours of head scratching when planning a campaign.


Keep your emails simple

Some of the best emails out there use a very basic layout and almost all email service providers (ESPs) offer a number of simple templates that you can adapt without too much effort. Just take some time to make sure your graphics and images have the correct dimensions and the text formats are right. Once everything’s set up, you can reuse your template until it’s time for a review and maybe an upgrade. Simple templates are also more likely to look equally good on mobile and desktop, which means you won’t have to spend ages faffing around trying to fix a glitch.

There’s, of course, plenty more to email marketing, but if you’re just getting started and have a million and one things to think about, why make life more complicated than it needs to be? By keeping things as streamlined as possible, you can get into the swing of it, learn what works, and then adapt and grow your activity accordingly. You might even end up loving email as much as I do!* *OK that might be pushing it!


Issue 4 / 2021–22

Have a pre-send checklist!

Checking your campaign before pressing send is an absolute must. Having a list means you can go through your campaign systematically, which saves time. It also means you could delegate certain tasks to a colleague or helpful friend who hasn’t been staring at the same campaign draft on screen for ages, and they’ll know what to look for. Here are some ‘must check’ items you can use to start your own checklist:

• Have you proofread and checked for typos (including subject lines and preview text)? Printing the email out can help you spot any gremlins you might’ve missed due to screen fatigue. • Have you checked the image rights on your visuals? • Does the email look right on both desktop and mobile views? • Are all the links working? • Are you sending the campaign to the right list and is it up to date?

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Alexsis De Raadt St James: Levelling the entrepreneurial playing field

Alexsis De Raadt St James: Levelling the entrepreneurial playing field When it comes to diversity in entrepreneurship, it’s clear that, as a society, we still have a long way to go. After some promising gains in 2019, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has seen a decline in the growth rate of total capital invested in female-founded and minority-founded startups. California-based venture capitalist Alexsis De Raadt St James has already made impressive strides when it comes to women’s equality in STEM, she’s made it her mission to get the diversity balance in entrepreneurship right.


s Founder and Chairperson of The Althea Foundation, Alexsis is no stranger to social challenges. The notfor-profit organisation uses a venture model to provide financial and non-financial support to people and initiatives that have been overlooked or underfunded, such as advancing gender equality and funding minorities in STEM. Seven years ago, The Althea Foundation was the first funder of WE Innovate – the Imperial Enterprise Lab’s flagship programme for women entrepreneurs. Then called the Imperial Althea Programme, it was the first women’s entrepreneurship programme of its kind in the UK. D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

The Althea Foundation has recently committed to sponsoring WE Innovate for the next three years. We asked Alexsis for her views on expanding diversity in STEM and how the WE Innovate initiative advances its mission. What are the challenges facing women entrepreneurs? The challenges have consistently been the same, a lack of funding – this hasn’t improved as we had hoped over the past ten years. I think 2021 is going to remain a difficult year for women because in 2020 funding levels declined overall for women. Female entrepreneurs had slowly been catching up to men

raising investment rounds in 2019, but in 2020 the amounts raised went back two or three per cent. Funding remains a major barrier for women creating companies, especially in STEM. While I feel very strongly about female founders, I feel just as strongly about minority groups or minority ethnicities who want to be entrepreneurs. I just did a masterclass at Oxford University’s, The Foundry, or OXFO, highlighting the importance of all founders being included in the envelope of innovation– we need to keep the focus on the fact that female founders and minority entrepreneurs still find it very difficult to start companies due to a lack of funding.

You’re an investor. How did you get into this? Before I started Merian Ventures, I had worked in male-dominated industries, like energy and banking where there are traditionally fewer women. However, the lack of women was even more striking when I started investing in technology. Women make up over 50 percent of all college graduates in the US and the UK – but in 2019 received less than 10 percent of venture capital funding in the US and UK. That was my motivation – I wanted to make it easier for women, and minorities, with STEM aspirations, to create companies and technologies they believed they could build. Issue 4 / 2021–22


Alexsis De Raadt St James: Levelling the entrepreneurial playing field

“What is now proved was once only imagined.” William Blake

The Althea Foundation has done inspiring work, not only in supporting more women in STEM and entrepreneurship, but in many other areas. What were the drivers behind starting it? I started the foundation 18 years ago when I had a personal tragedy that changed my life. I had two young children and an intense corporate role and realised, I needed, and wanted to change how I spent my time. I wanted to focus on areas where I believed I had a unique perspective and network. Since we started the foundation, we have deployed millions of dollars in areas that have historically been Issue 4 / 2021–22

underfunded by donors and governments like equality in STEM and affordable mental health care treatment. Our proximity to Silicon Valley was pivotal to our success, it assured our access to talent and technology. That still remains the case. You were a founder and funder of the inaugural WE Innovate programme at Imperial. Why was a women’s entrepreneurship programme needed and why was Imperial the place to launch it? I was based in San Francisco and was looking for a university setting where I could replicate one of the most successful startup ecosystem in the world –

What Alexsis looks for in a founder • Previous experience in their sector (e.g., university studies or corporate) • A strong understanding of the problem they’re solving • The confidence to pitch effectively • Proficient communication skills to explain their story • Coachability

Silicon Valley. I wanted to find a university that had all the components of Silicon Valley’s network effect. I wanted to create something like Stanford University’s StartX accelerator, an extraordinary ecosystem of talent and professional support. Imperial was an obvious choice. The College had its first female president, Professor Alice Gast, and all the other key components necessary to attract the best talent in the world – worldclass instructors, researchers and labs, a medical school, business school, excellence in deep tech engineering and computing and a design school. We wanted WE Innovate to be a platform to highlight the fact that women wanted

to create and innovate as much as men. I think seven years later, we can say our attempt to create a professional and creative space for entrepreneurs has been successful. Our goal was to create the United Nations of innovation in a dynamic microcosm, where men and women could dream, create and solve realworld problems. WE Innovate has succeeded far beyond our expectations. Earlier this year you coauthored an opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph entitled ‘Women risk being left behind by the recovery’. Why is this the case and what can be done to rectify it? We know that during the

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COVID-19 pandemic, 77 per cent of frontline NHS healthcare workers in the UK were women, meaning women stepped up to treat the virus. Statistically they contributed more to the survival of people and to keep the economy afloat. We also know that the women who stayed in their professional roles during 2020 suffered a lack of earning disproportionate to men. 20 per cent of women who were employed suffered job losses and earning cuts compared with 13 per cent of men. Further to that, we know that 47 per cent of mothers were more likely to quit or lose their job because they were the primary caregivers. This means that mothers who were entrepreneurs, or in the startup world before COVID may not go back to work, as many employers cut back post-pandemic. Female hiring reached its lowest point in April 2021 – it fell to 41.5 per cent compared with 45.6 per cent in 2019. This is troubling because women were already behind men when it comes to starting a company. The additional pressure on job security means many women will have lost the freedom to do anything other than focus on their immediate needs; childcare and working when they can. In the article you mention that digital and tech companies have done well in the last year. As these are male-dominated industries, do you think the gap has widened and women have been left behind? If we look at startups globally in 2020, female founders represent only 2 per cent, whereas in 2019 it was three per cent. This is important because you need to have women and minorities participating equally to create an

Alexsis De Raadt St James: Levelling the entrepreneurial playing field

Seven years of WE Innovate

400 Over 400 women supported

innovative network effect. If tech and engineering-led companies don’t problem solve with a more diverse workforce, they can’t appreciate the level of contribution that’s missing. We’re making progress but it’s far too slow to be impactful. More funding must go into accelerators like WE Innovate to increase the pipeline of female entrepreneurs. How would you inspire the male tech community to get more women into these positions? The problem is investors fund entrepreneurs in front of them, if 95% of the investors are male and 95%, of the entrepreneurs are male, the same people get funded and the network

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59 £16M 17

More than 59 women-led ventures incorporated

£16m of funding raised by WE Innovate alumni

effect has a strong bias to the familiar. In order to break the cycle, we need more women investors and more females entering the tech ecosystem. There has to be parity and that must start with funding women and monitories to the same extent as men. I’d love to see a female founder lead a major technology company, all of which are currently founded by men – technology should be genderless.

pandemic. To my delight, it was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. We saw entrepreneurs’ step-up and tackle coming out of the pandemic. I don’t think these innovations would’ve happened the way they happened had we not faced this global challenge. All of the judges were impressed.

You had the difficult job of being on this year’s WE Innovate judging panel. What did you think of the teams? The teams did an extraordinary job! I didn’t know what to expect given the challenges of the

The Althea Foundation has committed to funding WE Innovate for the next three years. What made you take the decision to fund the programme? I was motivated to commit to three years of funding given the challenges of COVID. It’s important women are given a strong advantage coming out of COVID. We want them to be inspired to start companies – it’s essential

17 external awards won

for the economy and the future of society. I’ve also been impressed by the level of diversity that WE Innovate has been able to attract – we want to make sure the future of innovation is as diverse as possible. What do you think the future has in store for WE Innovate? I see WE Innovate continuing to produce the same high quality female founders that it’s doing now. I’d like to see it scale over the next ten years, and become a core part of the College. The country and economy need to be as competitive as possible. If women are going to catch-up after COVID-19, they need a platform like WE Innovate to be launched.

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Alexsis De Raadt St James: Levelling the entrepreneurial playing field

“WE Innovate attracts the best talent … and that talent is often female founders from a minority background. We attract talent without barriers.”

Introducing WE Accelerate Following the success of WE Innovate, Imperial Enterprise Lab continues to support women entrepreneurs in their next chapter with a brand new initiative – WE Accelerate. It will target women-led ventures working on cuttingedge technology and innovative ideas at pre-seed stage. Successful ventures must have tested their prototypes and demonstrated significant customer validation.

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If you could give one bit of advice to young women, what would it be? Don’t let the imposter syndrome stop you from building the technology or the company that should be built. Imposter syndrome is real for many people and a challenge for female founders and minority founders. It’s the constant feeling that you shouldn’t be there, someone else should be – those thoughts get re-enforced through the lack of funding and role models. The constant second guessing and fear of failure holds so many talented people back. Just because 95 per cent of the market might not look like you, it doesn’t mean you don’t belong there. When I talk about imposter syndrome,

I quote the poet William Blake: “What is now proved was once only imagined.” Female and minority founders have the same right to imagine, innovate, create and contribute– no one needs to give them permission.

Read about this year’s WE Innovate winner on page 06. To see the support and initiatives you could access as part of the Imperial Enterprise Lab’s WE Innovate and WE Accelerate programmes, visit:

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#InventedAtImperial: The founder DASH formula Rides


DASH Rides DASH Rides is a fast and easy e-bike subscription service that aims to change the way the world moves for good. The service lets businesses empower their employees by giving them easy access to a cost-efficient, healthy and carbon-busting way to travel. The problem A big problem we face today is moving people around in cities in an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable way. Public transport is expensive and requires a lot of infrastructure, but private vehicles face issues of congestion, air pollution and a longer travel journey. We believe the electric bike addresses this issue. The UK Government has tried to incentivise cycling in the past with the Cycle to Work Scheme, but the programme is underutilised. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of bikes purchased under the scheme was a mere 7%, even though the legislation allows users to take the cost of the bike off their pre-tax salary, resulting in a 30% saving. We believe the scheme should be used more. The solution DASH Rides is a B2B service, accessed by a digital platform, that offers e-bike subscriptions for companies and employees as a way of decongesting roads, reducing emissions, enabling healthier lives, resolving operation inefficiencies and making businesses more profitable. To make it as easy as possible to get people on e-bikes, we’ve included servicing, maintenance and insurance in the price, and provided a free helmet. DASH Rides also offsets the carbon of every bike by 400%, making a positive change to the environment, and leading the way to an efficient and sustainable future. As a subscription-based service, our product removes the high cost of ownership for the user, leading

to more people cycling. We’ve positioned DASH Rides as a B2B company, as we believe employers are a great way to pull people in and distribute the cost of accessing e-bikes. By using our service, companies are combating obesity by encouraging health and wellbeing in the workplace, while also meeting their sustainability targets. Our users are moving around cities efficiently, saving money and improving their health and wellbeing. Where did the idea originate? Our co-founder David always wanted to work within the mobility industry, as he saw great potential when the wave of sustainability and technology came along. He knew it was a growing and turbulent industry, and co-founder Jamie had a similar view. We started off with electric scooters and the business naturally evolved to e-bikes via customer feedback and testing. How did your team meet? David left his job and decided to pursue an MBA, which is when he met Jamie. During his MBA, David would often meet people for a coffee, and Jamie was an old school friend he reconnected with during his studies. The pair hit it off instantly and were fortunate that their individual skillsets were complementary. Jamie had a financial accounting background, whereas David was more engineering and product focused – and that was the start of their journey together. Do you have any advisers? We have a lot of advisers. Our

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investors are fairly involved, as they provide valuable skills in other functions, such as marketing. We’ve also had some great advisers from the Imperial Enterprise Lab. Imperial Venture Mentoring Service (IVMS) gave us access to great mentors who were impartial and provided honest feedback and guidance for our business. We had several ‘Experts-inResidence’ sessions that were very useful. Janet Murray’s business coaching helped us reflect on what we’d done and where we needed to go next. We also attended a few Pitch and Mix events which taught us how to improve our pitching. We really enjoyed the networking aspect, as it was great to have a physical place to mix with others and bring bright minds together. When you combine business school students with science and technology students, you gain different pieces of expertise and that’s where the magic happens. Spending time in the E-Lab and having a coworking space that empowers entrepreneurs is incredibly beneficial. In summer 2020, we took part in the Summer Accelerator, which helped us focus our efforts and make ourselves accountable at fourweek intervals. The Imperial College Advanced Hackspace was another strong asset of support – over the space of a year, we worked there on a variety of hardware modifications. This ranged from electronics through to cargo crate welding. While you’re most definitely expected to lead the work, the team is always on hand to support you. We believe that diversity of thought is incredibly important and leads to better decision making – and that’s exactly what our advisers at Imperial Enterprise Lab provided. What stage is the business at and what are your plans moving forward? We raised £300,000 in our pre-seed round with several different angel investors. We’re currently focused

on increasing traction to grow the customer base as fast as we can. In a couple of months, we’ll fundraise again, as we expect our valuation to increase as the business grows. What’s been your biggest success so far? It’s extremely important to celebrate achievements, and fundraising was a massive milestone for us. Another major success was getting our first customer signed up on the platform. Since it’s a B2B2C, it’s a complex process, but getting the customer through all the steps was a great success as it validated the value of our business. What’s been the biggest challenge? Starting a business is incredibly tough mentally. It feels as though you’re pushing a boulder up a hill every single day. Every success is directly attributable to you as a founder, as is every failure. In a startup, there’s no way around that – it’s all you. When things go wrong, it’s very hard mentally, and it’s important to have a support system. With a co-founder, you’re in it together. We pick each other up when times are tough, which is really helpful as we grow the business. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? You should pursue something you’re interested in and passionate about, as it’s the only way you’ll put in the hours, and deal with the stress and pressure. Starting a business is mentally challenging in a way that people often aren’t used to; a way you’re not exposed to in large corporations. It’s the most uncertain and ambiguous environment possible and, when things go wrong, it’s very tough. When things go well, it’s hugely rewarding, though. If we’d taken regular corporate roles, there’s no way we’d have learned the amount we’ve learned at this point. There’s no faster way of learning than launching something of your own. Issue 4 / 2021–22


#InventedAtImperial: DASH Rides

How Imperial has supported the team

2019 2020 2020 2020 2020 Pitch and Mix

Summer Accelerator

Imperial Venture Mentoring Service

Imperial College Advanced Hackspace


Get in touch: Website: www.dashrides.com Facebook: /DASHRidesUK Instagram: @dash_rides Twitter: @DASHridesUK LinkedIn: /dash-rides-limited

David Watkins, COO (MBA 2020) Jamie Milroy, CEO (External)

Issue 4 / 2021–22

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#InventedAtImperial: Charco Neurotech


Charco Neurotech

Charco is restoring the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease, as well as those with other long-term conditions, through simple and effective non-invasive medical innovation. The startup’s first product, CUE1, is a wearable device for people with Parkinson’s that uses pulsed cueing and focused vibrotactile stimulation to reduce symptoms of slowness and stiffness. The problem In 2013, we met a gentleman who said: “I’m very happy now, but I look angry because Parkinson’s disease took away my smile.” Since then, our aim has been to bring smiles back for people with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder affecting around 145,000 people in the UK. It has no cure. Despite the best medical and surgical treatment available, many people remain frustrated by their disease. It’s characterised by the symptoms of bradykinesia, rigidity and tremor, but has many other symptoms which are often difficult to treat. This is exacerbated as the symptoms progress with ageing. This has a

significantly negative impact on independence, health and quality of life. The solution Building on the work of namesake Professor Charcot, a nineteenth-century doctor nicknamed the father of neurology, we’ve developed the CUE1 wearable device. It uses pulsed cueing and focused vibrotactile stimulation to reduce slowness and stiffness in those living with Parkinson’s disease, resulting in their improved movement. Developed by a diverse team of engineers, doctors and neuroscientists, CUE1 offers a novel, non-invasive approach to increasing quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. Using removable medical adhesive to rest on the sternum and activated by the simple

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push of a button, the CUE1’s vibrotactile stimulation can provide an immediate relief of symptoms. User testing has resulted in an average improvement of nine points of the UPDRS score (the gold standard for assessing Parkinson’s) – three times the minimum improvement required for an invention to be considered clinically important. We’ve also seen improvement across movement tasks, such as using tools, manipulating objects, walking and more. Most importantly, participants felt their movement was smoother and better controlled. Where did the idea originate? Our development process starts and ends by listening to people with Parkinson’s.

The initial spark came from a conversation we had with a gentleman who told us he experienced some relief from his Parkinson’s symptoms after sitting in a massage chair. From here, we dug deeper to find the mechanism behind this, becoming familiar with Professor Charcot’s work on full-body vibration to treat Parkinson’s, as well as the more recent body of research into the benefits of focused vibrotactile stimulation and cueing for people with Parkinson’s. We constructed several prototypes based on our research and spent time with a fantastic group of people with Parkinson’s to test them, see what worked and what didn’t, and improve our device. Without their incredible generosity and input, we wouldn’t have

been able to refine CUE1 into what it is today, so we’re eternally grateful to them! How did your team meet? Our founders, Lucy and Floyd, have known each other for years and had already worked on several projects together while Lucy carried out her Master’s in Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial and Floyd trained as a junior doctor. The rest of the team has formed over time through our networks and by talking to people at events such as the Imperial Enterprise Lab Innovation Pitch, which is where we met our Operations Manager, Alex. The binding element, common to all our team members and essential to any new additions, is moral fibre and passion for helping people via the implementation of simple, Issue 4 / 2021–22


#InventedAtImperial: Charco Neurotech

Lucy Jung, Cofounder and CEO (Innovation Design Engineering 2019) Floyd Pierres, Co-founder and Medical Doctor (External) Alex Dallman-Porter, Operations Manager (Innovation Design Engineering 2021) William HardieBrown, Technical Manager (External) Meet the full team here: innovative and non-invasive technology. This ethos, and a genuine excitement at the opportunity to work with people with Parkinson’s to improve their quality of life, is the glue holding Charco together.

How Imperial has supported the team


Imperial Venture Mentoring Service

2019 Imperial College White City Innovators’ Programme

2019 MedTech SuperConnector

2020 Imperial College Innovation Fund

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Do you have any advisers? Our very first adviser was Govind Pindoria, who we met through our participation in the Imperial College White City Innovators’ Programme. His advice, input and support has been indispensable throughout our journey. We’re beyond thankful for his continued confidence in our team and business – from the early days to where we are now. We were also supported by the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service (IVMS) in setting the business up, developing financial projections, navigating legal requirements and preparing for clinical trials. What stage is the business at and what are your plans moving forward? We see ourselves as being at a critical point in our journey right now. We’ll shortly be proceeding with our first run of preproduction units, after which our full production process will commence. CUE1 has

gone through CE marking, and Charco Neurotech is ISO 13485 certified. We hope to hold our priority launch, with a limited number of units, later this year. In preparation for this huge milestone, we’re refocusing our efforts on spreading the word to as many people with Parkinson’s as possible, so we can have the biggest possible positive impact on their lives. What’s been your biggest success so far? The whole Charco journey so far has been punctuated by many highs, as well as the daily challenges that come with building a startup. By far the best days have been those when we know we’ve made a difference to people’s lives. Whether it’s a day of successful testing with one of our amazing community members, or something as simple as an appreciative reply when we answer someone’s question over email, these experiences remind us of why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s also been impossible not to feel a little proud – and very excited – as we’ve watched CUE1 transform from an early workshop prototype to the sleek and professional product it has now become. Every time we receive a new sample,

opening the package is like opening a Christmas present! Another thing to be proud of is the team that we’ve built. It’s amazing to think that we started with just two founders and a few mentors, but now have ten dedicated team members – a number that seems to keep growing! We feel incredibly lucky to have such a diverse, hard-working and passionate group of people who share our vision of improving life for people with Parkinson’s and other long-term conditions. Our most recent milestone has been closing our seed round of investment. This is a result of hard work from the whole team, and gives us the ability to have the biggest possible impact on people’s lives in a short space of time. What’s been the biggest challenge? We constantly struggle with not being able to get CUE1 to those who need it now. We want to release the device as soon as possible, but are acutely aware that doing things right – especially in the medical-device world – takes time. Knowing that a certain step is necessary for CUE1 to make it into the world successfully is a psychological challenge – especially if it means it will delay our device release by an extra week. Aside from this, the everyday challenges of running a startup are difficult at times. Keeping track of all the different aspects that need to be considered is a juggling act – from team building to finance

to marketing to product development to regulatory hurdles. Thankfully, as the team grows we can dedicate more and more bright minds to each challenge and that makes the entire process not only more manageable, but also much more enjoyable! What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? Building a startup is not easy. Everyone who pursues entrepreneurship is bound to make some mistakes, and even established startups make them every day. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes of your own! Part of the ethos at the heart of Charco, and many other successful startups, is that there’s no such thing as failure – only opportunities to learn. Going in with this mentality will serve you well in your journey. So will trying not to focus solely on the outward successes of the startups you look up to. When the time comes to build your team (and this may be from day one, when forming your founding team) it’s important to find people for your venture who share your vision and believe in the values you hold. Hiring one person who is the right fit is infinitely more valuable than any number of people whose views don’t align with those of your company. Diversity of educational and social backgrounds is extremely important in your team, too. Having a rich mix of unique experience and opinions will often breed ideas and strategies you would never have thought of in a group of similarminded people!

Get in touch: Website: www.charconeurotech.com Facebook: /CharcoLtd Instagram: @Charcoltd Twitter: @CharcoLtd LinkedIn: /Charcoltd

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How to ... Embrace your inner negotiator


Embrace your inner negotiator There are many reasons why people decide to take the leap and become an entrepreneur. It could be to create a flexible schedule, build their legacy, or improve the lives of people around the world. But very rarely does ‘to become a great negotiator’ appear on the list of motivators. In fact, for many entrepreneurs, taking on the role of chief negotiator is filled with dread rather than excitement. But it shouldn’t be, because being a negotiator extraordinaire is definitely worth it! By Devon Smiley, Negotiation Expert-in-Residence at Imperial Enterprise Lab


s an entrepreneur, you’re setting the vision for your company, so honing your negotiation skills is critical to helping you hold your course and achieve your goals. Speaking up and asking for more in your business may mean signing bigger contracts with higher profit margins. But it can also mean setting clear boundaries with potential investors, navigating conflict with a co-founder or your team, and even improving your own work–life balance and mental health as an entrepreneur. Great negotiators are made, not born – so even if you’ve been hesitant to embrace negotiation, here are some tips for how to build your skills and get your best results yet. Embrace small asks Sure, signing multi-milliondollar deals is sexy. But the skill required to tackle those negotiations comes from making smaller asks. A lot of them. Try boosting your next proposal by two per cent. Ask for a meeting to be moved back from 9am to 11am. Call your mobile service

provider and ask if there’s flexibility on your rate. As you succeed with these bite-sized negotiations, your confidence will grow. Get the lay of the land Winging it is not an option when it comes to negotiation. Essential prep work will include researching what’s happening in the market, the company or individual you’re negotiating with, and compiling a list of elements that could either hurt or help. A great source of insight? Other entrepreneurs. Tap into your network to see who’s negotiated similar deals, and ask them what they learned and what they wish they’d done differently. Clear focus Before hearing what’s on someone else’s mind, know your own. What does a great outcome look like for you? What does your company need to move forward and hit the next set of milestones? At what point is a deal not worth signing and you’ll need to walk away? During negotiations it’s easy to get pushed off course by persuasive arguments, so having your desired

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outcome clearly established will help you avoid signing a lacklustre deal. Back-pocket proposals The secret to making negotiation look effortless is investing time in creating alternative proposals before you start discussions. Having a few moves in your back pocket will allow you to keep momentum going without sacrificing strategy by creating counterproposals on the spot. Power up It can be intimidating to be ‘the little one’ in negotiations, and it’s far too easy to throw up our hands and start accepting any offer that comes our way. To help avoid this, tap into your source of power. No one has extra time in their schedule, and they’re not meeting you for fun, so remind yourself why they are there. Why did they accept the call, show up for the pitch or send over a contract? There’s something you’re bringing to the table ¬– innovation, expertise, agility – that they need. Hold onto that whenever you feel a wobble.

Devon Smiley is a Negotiation and Commercial Consultant for founders, startups and scaleups that are ready to go after bigger, better deals, but don’t want to sacrifice vision, impact or relationships. She’s distilled over 15 years and $5 billion of negotiation experience into accessible and actionable guidance that helps build the skills needed to navigate conversations with confidence. Working with teams around the world (London, Paris, Singapore and Toronto) and across verticals (fintech, deeptech, SaaS, CPG and more), Devon has supported founders in cultivating the negotiation, communication and commercial skills they need to grow their businesses. A strong believer that negotiation isn’t just about boosting bottom lines, Devon has worked with pro bono partners including UN Women and the Clinton Foundation.

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Entrepreneurship essentials

Entrepreneurship essentials Did you know that Bill Gates reads 50 books a year? He credits his incredible knowledge to his love of reading and taking in and retaining information. We agree that books are the key to unlocking many skills and insights integral to being a successful entrepreneur. Here are just a few of our recommendations, but head down to the Imperial Enterprise Lab Library and see what else we have on the shelves.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

The follow up to Yuval Noah Harari’s cult read Sapiens looks at the future of humanity and explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century and beyond – from overcoming death to creating artificial life.

Building a Better Business Using the Lego Serious Play Method.

Love Lego? So do we! And it’s even better when it counts as actual work. Unleash your imagination and let your creativity run free with these innovative methods to improve your team, business and approach.


Ever heard of delighting your customers? Well, this is where the term comes from. Guy Kawasaki, venture capitalist and former marketer at Apple, explains why you should be seeking to enchant your customers to create affinity, commitment and loyalty, and describes exactly how to do it.

The Unicorn’s Shadow: Combating the Dangerous Myths that Hold Back Startups, Founders and Investors. Ethan Mollick uses hard data to dispel the myths around successful founders and change the way we think about entrepreneurial success. Not every successful startup was created by a hoodie-wearing genius spending long nights working out of his garage, you know! (Catch our interview with Ethan on page 50).

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works.

Ash Maurya takes you through an exacting strategy for achieving a ‘product/market fit’ for your fledgling venture, based on his own experience in building a wide array of products, from high-tech to no-tech. Throughout, he builds on the ideas and concepts of several innovative methodologies, including the lean startup, customer development and bootstrapping.

Draw To Win: A Crash Course on How to Lead, Sell and Innovate with your Visual Mind.

Anyone can communicate great ideas through images, even if you can’t draw! Follow author Dan Roam’s top tips for telling your story, getting people onside and making that pitch deck the best it can be!

Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies and Symbols.

To imagine the future is one thing, but getting others to share that vision and drive it forward is quite another. This book, or the YouTube video if you’d prefer, will give you the secret to getting people onside by harnessing the power of persuasive communication to turn your idea into a movement.

Issue 4 / 2021–22

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#InventedAtImperial: ApTap

Nadal Sarkytbayev, CEO (MSc Theoretical Physics 2016) Will Billingsley, CCO (BSc Biology 2017) Isa Ibrahim, CTO (BSc Material Science and Engineering 2017)



ApTap uses financial and utilities data to match customers to their best deal. In a few taps, it helps them cancel or switch from their old deal and sign up to a new one – all from within the banking or budgeting app they’re in.

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Issue 4 / 2021–22


#InventedAtImperial: ApTap

How Imperial has supported the team




The problem Only ten to 15 per cent of British households switch their utilities suppliers each year, meaning the UK wastes billions of pounds annually paying increased rates on bills and subscriptions. Keeping on top of bills, subscriptions and available deals can be difficult and confusing, and it often takes hours to research and switch providers.

playing for Imperial College London and have been friends ever since. We spent countless hours over the first 18 months of the journey in the Imperial Enterprise Lab, where we ideated and pivoted to get to where we are today. Our team is diverse in background and education, which gives us hugely different perspectives and allows us to tap into different opportunities.

The solution We’re building a global subscription store – ApTap – to bring clarity and control to customers’ fingertips. In the first instance, it’s an embedded, data-driven comparison and switching tool but will evolve to be much more. We find and organise customers’ recurring payments, then do an automatic comparison of their bills with deals on the market. Using financial and utilities data, we match customers to their best deal, and help them cancel, switch and sign up directly from their banking or budgeting app. ApTap integrates into any fintech, bank or money management platform to increase user engagement and drive new revenue for our partners.

Do you have any advisers? We have a number of advisers who have become involved serendipitously or through the founders’ networks. The mentors at the Imperial Enterprise Lab really helped us take our first steps in building a business.

What’s been the biggest challenge? There are many ‘chicken and egg’ scenarios we’ve had to face, with learning curves from tech to sales to funding and everything in between. The biggest challenge is staying focused on the true value we can bring to customers, since there are so many amazing things we could build – the ability to zoom in and out is one of the most valuable traits in a founder.

Enterprise Lab co-working

Get in touch: Website: www.aptap.co.uk Instagram: @aptapuk Facebook: /ApTapUK LinkedIn: /ApTap-ltd Twitter: @ApTapUK

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Where did the idea originate? The idea originated at a Founders of the Future event alongside Santander, where we were given insights into the Second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) and open banking. We brainstormed the idea that evening and over the next 16 hours wrote our first business plan! We iterated from a personal financial management tool and have developed the idea into a subscription control centre for anyone who pays bills. Clarity and control have always been central to ApTap, as we help people understand how, when and what they’re paying for, and then empower them to take action. How did your team meet? The team met on the football pitch

Pitch and Mix


What stage is the business at and what are your plans moving forward? We’ve recently launched a partnership with TSB Bank, which sees us rolling out our bill management tools to their five million customers. We’re now a team of 11, with backgrounds from all around the world. Over the next few years, we plan on growing our client base, the number of industries we cover and the team. Are you raising funding? If so, what will you use the funds for? We’re currently raising a further £500,000 to add to our half a million raise last winter. This will allow us to service other clients and add a number of new industry verticals. What’s been your biggest success so far? Our greatest achievement commercially has been our ability to build up a marketplace of over 50 suppliers in utilities and telecoms, and bring those relationships to TSB Bank. We’re very proud of the funding rounds we’ve closed and investors we’ve brought on board but, most importantly, we’re proud of the incredible team being built at ApTap.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? The importance of finding a good work–life balance can’t be understated. The stigma is to always be working but that’s simply not sustainable. You’ll make plenty of sacrifices in your time as a founder or entrepreneur, so remember to take some time for yourself, the people you care about and the things you love doing. At the end of the day, keep an open mind and work really hard! What support did you get from Imperial? The time with mentors and the workspace via the Imperial Enterprise Lab really helped us get on our feet. Building a business for the first time is no easy feat, but to do so fresh out of university is even harder. The resources the E-Lab offered us as we got started were invaluable. Pitch and Mix has always been a fantastic place for us to test and improve our pitching and presentations. Without this safe space, we’d have been thrown in at the deep end at major events later on in our business lifecycle. The Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC) helped us focus on what our core value might be for customers. This is something that took us time to shape, so going through the motions at VCC allowed us to structure the way we honed our value proposition.

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Entrepreneurship at Imperial

Level-up your ideas at Imperial At Imperial we have a thriving eco-system of extracurricular events, programmes and workspaces to support you on your entrepreneurial journey. Whether you’re looking to expand your network and be inspired, validate your idea and win some funding, secure lab space for research and development or get the right mentors to help you on your journey, we have the right support to help you level-up your idea.

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Entrepreneurship at Imperial

Entrepreneurship support at Imperial Delivered by Imperial’s Enterprise Division

Imperial Enterprise Lab


t Imperial Enterprise Lab we’re passionate about inspiring the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. Based at South Kensington Campus, the Enterprise Lab helps students think outside the box, break boundaries and dare to be different. Whether you want to develop new skills, test an idea, start a business or just meet interesting new people we’re here to help you. From skills seminars to competitions and co-working space to expert mentors, we offer all the support you need, free of charge.

PROGRAMMES AND EVENTS: How To Talks – Practical lunchtime talks, led by guest speakers, across a range of entrepreneurial topics relevant to any student or postdoc looking to learn new skills and make an impact. Chain Reactions Speaker Series – In partnership with the Imperial College Business School and CNBC, Chain Reactions brings in high profile speakers to talk about what it takes to be a catalyst for positive social change. Venture Scientist Series – A new seminar series, run in partnership with Imperial’s Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre (PFDC), for postdocs and PhD students who want to

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find out more about the commercialisation process and how to translate research into impact.

students from across the world to form cross-cultural teams and create solutions to UN SDGs.

Idea Challenge – Termly half-day events where you can meet new people, brainstorm solutions to a grand challenge, develop your entrepreneurial skills and, most importantly of all, have fun!

WE Innovate – Imperial’s flagship programme for women-led teams looking to develop their business idea. The programme takes place over 9-months with the winner decided at the WE Innovate Final.

Discovery Fund – A grant programme for earlystage ideas providing up to £500 for students and recent alumni to get out of the building, find customers, design business experiments and explore their ideas.

Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC) – Imperial’s flagship student entrepreneurship competition takes place over 7-weeks consisting of masterclasses, one-to-one coaching, meetings with experts and resulting in the Grand Final with a prize fund of £90k.

Global Challenge Lab (GCL) – Imperial’s flagship international entrepreneurship programme, GCL enables

Summer Accelerator – A 3-month programme for students and recent alumni

to fast-track the commercial development of an idea with the chance to win £5,000. Experts-in-Residence – One-to-one access to business coaches and specialists in everything from IP to Marketing and Team Building to Legal. Imperial Venture Mentoring Service (IVMS) – A team-based mentoring service bringing expert mentors to support Imperial students and staff looking to drive forward their startup. Get in touch: www.imperialenterpriselab. com Twitter: @ICEnterpriseLab Facebook: @ImperialEnterpriseLab Instagram: @ImperialEnterpriseLab Linkedin: /imperialenterpriselab

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Entrepreneurship at Imperial

Imperial College Advanced Hackspace


t the Advanced Hackspace in White City, you’ll find rapid prototyping, modelling and fabrication spaces, as well as the latest equipment to help you bring your idea to life. These include electrical and mechanical engineering workshops, digital modelling and fabrication spaces, and physical computing workspaces. Our community brings together inventive minds from all backgrounds, disciplines and levels of expertise to collaborate, experiment and innovate. From support and training to the latest prototyping equipment, it’s all here under one inspiring roof. PROGRAMMES AND EVENTS: LevelUP – A roster of workshops providing students an opportunity to hone their hacker, maker or creator

knowledge, learning valuable hands-on practical skills and tools to kick start a future project idea. Prototype Fund – Grant funding to turn inspiring, inventive and entrepreneurial ideas into a reality. Participants can apply for £500 to £1,000 to develop a working physical prototype. Hack Surgeries – One-to-one access to Hackspace expertise. Booking a surgery slot is a great way to get started or to have a detailed discussion about a specific prototyping or research challenge. Get in touch: www.imperialhackspace.com Twitter: @ICAHackspace Facebook: @ICAHackspace Instagram: @ICAHackspace Linkedin: /imperial-college-advancedhackspace

MedTech SuperConnector


he MedTech SuperConnector is designed to facilitate the early-stage development of innovative medical technologies, from devices, diagnostics, and digital healthcare solutions. MTSC will provide participants from Imperial and beyond, with the funding, training, mentorship and access to industry partners to help fast-track the translation of their research discoveries. Get in touch: www.medtechsuperconnector.com Linkedin: /medtech-superconnector



echcelerate supports postdocs and early career researchers (ECRs) to test out their business ideas in the marketplace and develop entrepreneurial skills. The three-month programme consists of masterclasses and venture review sessions, ultimately providing its participants with the opportunity to showcase their venture’s entrepreneurial journey to a community of investors and technology transfer industry.

Imperial White City Incubator


he White City Incubator is based at Imperial’s new research and innovation campus in White City. Early-stage businesses from Imperial and beyond can take advantage of being in close proximity to eminent scientists and experts in technology. The Incubator offers office and laboratory space, incubation and access to a range of events, networking and education programmes to support business growth. PROGRAMMES AND EVENTS: Deep Tech Network – Launched in May 2019, the Deep Tech Network is organised between Upstream and Imperial’s Department of Chemistry and Enterprise Division to encourage interaction and collaboration between business and Imperial’s researchers. Get in touch: www.imperial.ac.uk/enterprise/business/ white-city-incubator Twitter: @Imperial_INC Instagram: @Imperial_Incubator Linkedin: /imperial-white-city-incubator

Imperial Innovation Fund


he Imperial College Innovation Fund backs early-stage startups (both IP spin-outs and student startups) from Imperial. The College’s startup team is working with fund manager Parkwalk Advisors to build a cornerstone of Imperial’s investment ecosystem alongside our rapidly growing investor network. Find out more: www.imperial.ac.uk/enterprise/business/ industry-partnerships-and-commercialisation/ investment/icif/

Get in touch: www.imperial.ac.uk/enterprise/staff/techcelerate Linkedin: /imperial-techcelerate

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Lucid dreams

Lucid dreams Imperial alumnus and CEO of Lucid Motors, Peter Rawlinson, talks design, engineering and innovation in the automotive industry, and shares what he learned working with Elon Musk.


owards the end of July 2021, electric vehicle (EV) startup, Lucid Motors, began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange with a valuation of almost US$40 billion. Founded by Imperial alumnus Peter Rawlinson (BSc Mechanical Engineering 1979) – both the company’s Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer – Lucid is due to launch its muchanticipated first car this spring. Mixing world-first design with impeccable environmental credentials and the latest technology, the Lucid Air Dream is set to shake up both the EV and luxury vehicle markets. As its website says: “There’s luxury, and then there’s Lucid”. We spoke with Peter about how he got started, his esteemed place in history as Tesla’s former Vice President of Engineering, and what’s next for the future of EVs.

You’ve worked at numerous automobile companies in the past. What have you learned from working with them? When I first left Imperial, I went to Austin Morris for a couple of years. I think I was probably one of the first people in the UK to attempt to design a car on a computer – on CAD. Everyone was on a drawing board and there was this newfangled computer system installed in the design office. I thought “I’ve got to try and learn this. This is just up my street!”. There was only one colour on the screen at the time – monochrome green – and I knew I’d gone too far when I’d drive home at night and white fences would look pink. I didn’t twig it at the start – I thought they were pink fences – but then I realised it was affecting my eyes, so I went back to the drawing board (both literally and figuratively).

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Then I was at Jaguar in the 1980s. I was fortunate to be part of a small but very advanced group of people who were experimenting to make the computerised design of a car. It was absolutely revolutionary. I was lucky to work for the new chief engineer who had a PhD in computer science. Jaguar had brought him in to change the way they did things, but he didn’t really want to design cars. This was perfect for me, so we had someone who was great at facilitating new technology, but who let vehicle engineers like me just get on with it. It was fantastic! I remember I had to do shift work because the computer I was using was worth five times my annual salary, so we had to get two shifts of people using it. When I went to Lotus, I couldn’t believe they were still on drawing boards. This was in the 1990s, so I announced we were

moving onto computers. I rose through the ranks at Lotus and ended up as Chief Engineer of Advanced Engineering, largely because I knew how to do this one new thing – the digital design of cars. Was it tricky to implement this new way of doing things? Was there friction, or was everyone quite accepting? I think there was quite a widespread acceptance at Lotus – I don’t remember any resistance. I think we just drove it and it started taking off. When I went to Chorus Automotive in the Midlands and ran the Vehicle Engineering department there, that’s where we really started pushing the science. We looked at intelligent programmes where the computer would actually design bits of the car for you – it was all the rage in the 1990s! At Chorus, we Issue 4 / 2021–22

Lucid dreams


The real benefit to mankind and the real mission is to push the technological envelope to a whole other level. I genuinely believe Lucid is doing that.

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acted as a very advanced material science engineering consultancy for a lot of car companies internationally, and I travelled extensively in North America, Europe and the Far East consulting on advanced technologies to design cars. Rather than actually designing cars, it was helping people to design cars better and consulting on the academic side of how they did things. I also made the Think electric vehicle in Norway and we got the best difference-to-weight ratio of any production car and a better crash performance than Volvo at that time – all with a very small team. How did you start working with Elon Musk at Tesla? I got a call in early 2009 from someone who had joined Tesla and he said: “I think Elon should speak with you”. Elon called and we had a chat. He wanted to meet the next day, so I flew out and met him and we had dinner together. I joined Tesla two weeks later. They were designing the Model S. The idea was that it was to be a great fusion between a Silicon Valley computer approach and traditional automotive experience. Clearly the implication was that the Silicon Valley people at Tesla were the computer whizzkids and I was a middle-aged git who stood for the traditional experience – but it was completely the other way around! I was trying to ram computer science down the throats of Silicon Valley Stanford graduates who were resisting it. I set up Tesla’s Vehicle Engineering department upstairs at SpaceX, because we didn’t have our own place, and we designed the Model S there. I did it with a tiny team and a big amount of computer-aided engineering (CAE) analytical support and supercomputer power. I had less people

Lucid dreams

designing and more people analysing than in any other programme I’d worked on. We did the whole car in three years with 140 people instead of 1,400 people which had never been done before. I worked with Elon for three years as Chief Engineer on the design of the Model S and Model X, and as Vice President of Engineering for Tesla. I drove the computer science to another level there. It was a very academic approach to designing cars. The Model S is still in production today and there’s still no better electric car – until later this year when the Lucid Air comes out! So, how did your involvement with Lucid Motors start? I got a call from a small battery company in California – a ‘mom and pop shop’ called Atieva. They’d just received some investment and asked me if I’d like to do an electric car with them. I said yes, but there were two conditions. The first was that we’d have to try to create the best car in the world, as I wanted to take it to the next level after doing the Model S. They were a bit shocked, but I explained that I had a vision for what that car could be like and the things that differentiated it. I told them my plan for a ‘space concept’, where the car is smaller on the outside and bigger on the inside – like Doctor Who’s TARDIS – which is possible when you miniaturise the powertrain because you can lay it all out in a different way. So you can have all this interior space in a compact, easyto-park, environmentally friendly, super sports car that’s fun to drive. My second condition was that the company change its name from Atieva, as I didn’t think they were going to sell many cars with that name, so we renamed it ‘Lucid’. We wanted a name like nothing

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else on the planet, as that’s what we wanted for the car. Who would you say your competitors are? We’re really competing with petrol cars. There’s a big misunderstanding that we’re competing with electric cars – we’re not. There isn’t really a market as such for electric cars, there’s just a market for cars. There are two things that put people off buying an electric car – the price and the range. In every other respect, an electric car is better. Once you drive one, you think it’s the best thing ever, but the price and the range hold it back. Inevitably, every magazine article is comparing us with Tesla, but I think we’re really competing with luxury cars such as the S-Class Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Jaguar, Lexus, maybe the Nissan Infiniti – particularly with our first car, the Lucid Air Dream Edition, which we’re selling for US$169,000 (about £122,500) all in. It’s a pretty expensive car with a limited run, but we’ll get that price down to about US$70,000 (about £50,500) within around 18 months for a more basic version of the car. Then we’ll get an SUV out before doing another platform and aiming for a car which is maybe sub-US$50,000 (about £36,000). We’ve got the largest ‘frunk’ (front trunk) of any car other than the new Ford F150 Lightning electric pickup truck. The Mercedes Benz EQS – their new flagship luxury electric car – has the latest technology but they’ve got no frunk and the bonnet is permanently fitted down so, as a customer, you can’t open it. The service centre can access it, but the customer can’t because there’s no reason to lift it as it’s not serviceable – it’s all electronics and motor. It takes up so much space that there’s no room for a frunk!

The key thing I really learned at Tesla was to put all your chips in on success.

What’s the most challenging part about starting your own venture? Getting money is the most challenging – the engineering’s almost the easy bit for me! The first thing I had to do was get the company US$200 million just to get it kicked off. We did that and then the next big step was finding the Saudi public investment fund who put faith in us. They then invested well over US$1 billion, and we recently secured another US$4.4 billion, so we’re pushing on towards US$7 billion raised since I’ve been with the company – it’s very capital intensive. The

commercial side is the challenge because you’ve got to convince people not to invest millions, or tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions – you need to have billions, otherwise you’re dead! That’s very tough. What have been the best bits? I think it’s probably the sense of potential achievement. I’ve been paid for doing my hobby of designing cars all my life. Originally, I wanted to be a farmer – I was brought up in rural South Wales and I just loved the countryside. I saw it change for the worse and my heart bled. I see the

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Lucid dreams

decimation of the woodland and the rural environment that I was brought up in and I fear for the erosion of that biodiversity. The climatic changes we’re experiencing really, really frighten me and I’m very gravely concerned. It’s not just global warming, it’s the almost irresponsible intensive agriculture I’ve seen in rural Britain – it’s wholly inappropriate. Just the way hedgerows are

mechanically cut, rather than traditionally laid, so it totally decimates the biodiversity and biointensity. Now I feel like I’ve gone full circle because I can influence the future of mobility by really pushing the technology. It’s not about how many cars I can sell – it’s much bigger than that. In our factory, we can only make 30,000 cars – it’s a drop in the ocean. The

real benefit to mankind and the real mission is to push the technological envelope to a whole other level. I genuinely believe Lucid is doing that. We’ve got the most advanced powertrain in the world, by several years on everyone else. That’s going to come out this year and people are going to be shocked. It’s all about efficiency – Tesla’s running at 400 volts and we’ve

We’re worth nearly double Nissan and we haven’t even sold a car yet!

got a 900-volt car. We’re getting 4.5 miles per kWh with a big luxury car. Some of our competitors are only getting about 2.25 miles per kWh – they’re burning twice the amount of energy to go the same distance as we are. Just imagine what we could do with a small car! We’ve got a step change in our tech – all the lab data is indicating that. We can make EVs more efficient, and our tech can percolate out through all the other manufacturers and really have an incredible impact upon the planet. That could really change the world! What advice do you have for founders starting their own businesses? I think there are three facets to success: ability, absolute commitment – not just hours but how smart you are with your commitment – and luck. Without all three, I think you’re going to fail. You can be brilliant and very committed, but if you’re so damn unlucky, you’re not going to get anywhere. If you’re brilliant and you’re lucky, you might get a little way, but if you haven’t got the commitment, you’re not going to do much with it. The key thing I really learned at Tesla was to put all your chips in on success. Don’t do all these action plans for retreating from battle. He who dares wins – just totally go for it! Even that depends on ability, effort and luck, though. What’s your advice on putting a team together? I prize intellect over experience. Give me smart people rather than experienced ones who might have been doing the wrong thing for the last 20 years. You do need a mix, though. What I tend to do is combine experienced smart people with the young guns who challenge you. The other facet I always look for is whether a person

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knows the laws of physics and the core principles of maths. So many people say they’ve forgotten it, but I use the basic laws of physics that I learned at school and at Imperial every day, even now in my position. If you’re going to make a world-class product, it has to be distilled to the universal laws of physics. What I tried to do with the Model S, and now with the Lucid Air, is to say that I don’t care what any other car companies are like or what other cars are like – I don’t want a benchmark and I don’t want targets. The target is to make the car amazing. That’s what I did with the Model S and it’s now been in production for nine years – there’s still nothing like it and no one else has come close. It was a ‘laws of physics’ car and the Lucid Air is a ‘laws of physics’ car too. As you know, Imperial really encourages students to embrace their entrepreneurial side while they’re studying. What piece of advice would you give current Imperial students? That you’ve got to pick the right area for your future. I remember when I was at grammar school, someone said to me that I shouldn’t be doing mechanical engineering – I should be doing electronics instead, as that was the future. I think you’ve got to choose something which is linked to the future so that you’ve got a fair wind in your sails. Don’t try to do something that’s going to make you swim against the tide. I don’t think there’s a recipe – there’s a flukish amount of luck involved, so just accept that. Lucid Motors has been valued at close to US$40 billion now – we’re worth nearly double Nissan and we haven’t even sold a car yet! We now need to prove that we’re real by getting the car into production – that’s what really matters.

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Tackling global challenges: Embracing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Tackling global challenges: Embracing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals In 2015, world leaders adopted an Agenda for tackling the most pressing issues for sustainable development, setting out 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. As a global university, Imperial College London has embraced the Agenda and is working hard to help meet those goals.


t’s intriguing to consider how 17 was settled upon as the number of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. As numbers go, it’s not an obvious candidate for a countdown, but then it’s unlikely the goals were conceived with a set figure in mind. And even more

unlikely is the idea that there was any intention for them to be ticked off the list one by one. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are highly interconnected and were conceived as a collective plan to navigate a sustainable future for the next generations through collaboration

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and cooperation. The seventeenth goal around partnership is not an afterthought, but the bedrock on which the others are to be achieved. As an institution with collaboration running through its veins – and one with over 16,000 of the next generation studying within its student community – the

philosophy behind the SDGs chimes instinctively with Imperial’s ethos. Through direct initiatives such as the Global Development Hub, and a plethora of activities and innovations embedded within its ecosystem, Imperial has all of the 17 SDGs – and the interconnections between them – well within its sights.

The role of science

Science is central to the Sustainable Development Agenda. Research can provide an evidence-base for its implementation, a means to evaluate its progress and a platform from which to develop innovative solutions. Interdisciplinary research is particularly important, not

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Tackling global challenges: Embracing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

only because of the different sectors that the goals span, but because it’s by crossing disciplinary boundaries that real innovation can occur. Imperial has built a cluster of centres and institutions with interdisciplinary working at their core and issues of sustainability as their targets. These include the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Centre for Environmental Policy, and Energy Futures Lab. Their expertise has already achieved an impact by enabling research to translate into meaningful solutions and through

developing external partnerships. For example, research from the Energy Future Labs has been integral to Imperial spinoffs such as Ceres Power, which is making fuel-cell technology accessible for a variety of applications, while the Institute of Global Health Innovation is working to improve the safety of healthcare on a global scale. Professor David Nabarro is Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation and played a key role in the analysis and development of the Sustainable Development Agenda. He is very clear about the role of interdisciplinary science. “Imperial is a university

“There’s a huge amount of synergy between what Imperial stands for and what the Agenda requires. Imperial works with communities in London and beyond; it’s a future.” Professor David Nabarro, Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation

Transition to Zero Pollution initiative Spanning the range of pollution from plastics to aerosols to particulates, the initiative is bringing together researchers from across Imperial. Converging disciplines, from fundamental science and engineering, systems thinking, human health, new business models, and policymaking, it has enrolled two cohorts of PhD students and has scholarships available for undergraduates.

The Invention Room activities • Maker Challenge – programmes for local young people to develop an idea and see it through to creation. • Agents of Change – a unique women’s leadership programme and network which aims to support local women to lead social change in their communities. • What the Tech!? – a programme to help older members of the community get online and make the most of their smartphones, laptops and other digital devices.

“There’s a huge amount that Imperial can do to support and foster a mindset of innovation and enable people to take chances to see how we can address sustainability issues. This is happening not only through education but also through Imperial’s support of deep-tech enterprises and its impressive commercialisation networks.” Mike Simpson, CEO of Cheesecake Energy Ltd where there is a lot of individual brilliance,” he says. “And a real culture of working across departments. At the heart of this are the interdisciplinary institutes that organise the experts, so they don’t just focus on their specialities, but on the big problems of the future.”

Education across generations

Universities are also major contributors to the Sustainable Development Agenda through the provision of opportunities for learning and thinking about global challenges. There are a large number of interdisciplinary courses available to students within Imperial. Alongside this, the Change Makers Independent Project provides an overarching opportunity for third-year and fourth-year students to upskill in the

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global sustainability field by undertaking an independent project that explores a global issue of their choice. Over 240 students registered for this optional module in 2020. At the postgraduate level, the Global Fellows Programme brings together doctoral students from around the world to focus on developing research and professional skills to tackle issues of sustainability. The SDGs of education run deeper and broader than undergraduate and postgraduate courses, with a need to consider how to make learning more accessible and inclusive across age groups. Since 2010, Imperial has run the pioneering Wohl Reach Out Lab to inspire and engage young people from all backgrounds in science, technology, engineering

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Tackling global challenges: Embracing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

WE Innovate The Enterprise Lab’s WE Innovate programme has supported 400 female entrepreneurs in total, while 59 ventures have been incorporated and £16 million has been raised in funding. Programme graduate Olivia Ahn, Co-founder and CEO of PLANERA, was able to pursue the development of the company full-time because of the support received through WE Innovate. PLANERA has developed the world’s first certified zero-waste, flushable menstrual pads to tackle the environmental impact of disposable sanitary products. It’s working with the Indian Government to develop low-cost reusable sanitary pads that can be given to schools and villages.

“It’s part of Imperial’s mission for its research to benefit society and, as such, addressing sustainable development is embedded in its core research activities. This, combined with its supportive enterprise ecosystem, means that a lot of the entrepreneurial activities coming from Imperial are naturally looking to solve sustainability problems.” Dr Ola Hekselman, CEO and Co-Founder of Solveteq and mathematics (STEM). In 2017, The Invention Rooms opened at the White City Campus, offering local people the opportunity to access workshops, cutting-edge design studios and interactive spaces to help them innovate, build prototypes, and learn more about science and technology.

Starting-up small to meet big challenges

Innovation has been recognised as key to tackling the big sustainability issues of today and tomorrow, but even the most impressive ideas still need support and belief to flourish and become tractable solutions. The Imperial Enterprise ecosystem aims to provide that support at different stages of the entrepreneurial journey. Initiatives such as the Imperial Enterprise Lab and Advanced

Hackspace offer different forms of support through programmes, competitions, events, facilities and mentoring, while access to spaces such as the Imperial White City Incubator and the Translational & Innovation Hub allow fledgling startups to develop into fully grown companies that are sustainable in their own right. The new Scale Space (see story on page 42) now provides that extra leg room and leg up for those companies growing past the startup stage. Tackling big sustainability goals requires solutions with deep tech at their roots, and these involve a form of support that accounts for the time and facilities needed to bring these innovations to market. Through an ongoing series of programmes, the MedTech SuperConnector has helped the progress of a range of medical devices to

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address goals around good health and inequalities, including wearables to help the management and treatment of debilitating conditions, as well as affordable diagnostic and monitoring devices for point-of-need use in the community. Alongside this, the Institute for Deep Tech Entrepreneurship has been created to better understand how to overcome the specific barriers faced by these startups and to develop models of funding and learning to help these companies (see story on the Institute for Deep Tech Entrepreneurship on page 40). Through accessing the necessary support when and where they need it, startups such as RFC Power and Solveteq are successfully developing ways to transition to 100% renewable energy and

“WE Innovate taught me many valuable firsts. My first minimal viable product, my first business plan and dealing with the first of many failures. The incredible network of WE Innovate helped me launch my startup and get it to where we are today, and the network continues to support and cheer us on. I’m thrilled to see so many Imperial startups with sustainability as a prerequisite for their differentiable product. I truly believe this is an accurate representation of how the market and industries are evolving today.” Dr Olivia Ahn, Co-Founder and CEO of PLANERA and WE Innovate graduate

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Tackling global challenges: Embracing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

recycle lead–acid batteries. In the medtech realm, startups such as Unhindr and VUI Diagnostics are tackling health inequalities by improving prosthetics and developing community eye testing to combat eye disease.

Meeting the goals head on

As well as supporting young entrepreneurs working in sustainability, the Imperial Enterprise Lab is tackling the goal around gender equality directly through its WE Innovate programme. This aims to increase the number of women in leadership positions, running startups and raising funding. Recently, as a response to working towards the Sustainable Development Goals, the Imperial Enterprise Lab launched the Global Challenge Lab in partnership with Tsinghua Univeristies X-Lab. This initiative sees Imperial working with 11 global university partners to bring students and alumni together to grow their international network, gain new skills and create new ideas that help achieve SDGs. The first of these events focused on the third SDG of ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’.

Imperial startups tackling global challenges RFC Power is an Imperial spinout developing a low-cost, long-duration battery that will facilitate the transition to 100% renewable energy. The team is currently working on a project to improve access to clean, reliable and affordable energy in Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the company’s founders participated in Techcelerate and the company is now based in the Imperial White City Incubator. Solveteq (1) has developed an approach to recycling lead–acid batteries that could potentially replace current methods which are both energy intensive and highly polluting. The process uses a solvent that can be solid at room temperature but forms a liquid when mixed and can dissolve metal compounds. CEO and co-founder, Dr Ola Hekselman, was on the Techcelerate programme and worked with mentors from Imperial Venture Mentoring Service. Unhindr is developing a comfortable, adaptable prosthetic liner using soft robotics and AI. It was founded by an Imperial student with assistance from the MedTech SuperConnector and early-stage funding from the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Health.

Cheesecake Energy Limited (2) is developing energy storage at half the cost of the lithium–ion batteries which are the current market leader. The startup’s system uses compressed air and thermal energy storage to achieve high efficiency, long lifetime and a dramatically lower environmental impact. It was part of Imperial’s Venture Catalyst Challenge and worked with mentors from the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service. VUI Diagnostics (3) was founded by two final-year Imperial medical students who wanted to make eye screening tools more effective and accessible in order to tackle avoidable blindness. They’ve developed a portable plug-and-play device and software that improves access to community eye testing and enables earlier detection of eye disease. The team won the Venture Catalyst Challenge and was part of the MedTech SuperConnector. 3


Bringing it all together

Considering the large and varied number of initiatives at Imperial, a need to give them a virtual roof under which to stand was recognised. Earlier this year the Global Development Hub was launched to create a central repository for Imperial’s existing activities, while also establishing new networks and education programmes. Its overarching aim is to maximise the global impact of research, education and innovation to engage with the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030. “The Hub is about bringing people together Issue 4 / 2021–22


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to focus on these huge problems,” says Professor David Nabarro, who led the Q&A at the launch event. “And in a way, that responds to the interests of the people for whom we’re responsible. It’s a place for learning and reflection to enable new ways of thinking, acting, monitoring and communicating so we can work on these complex issues.” The Hub has started an ‘SDG of the Month’ event series which aims to bring panellists from different areas together to discuss specific goals. It’s also establishing a number of international initiatives and has worked with representatives from the United Nations Development Programme to discuss how the accelerator labs in their countries are working towards SDG 5 on Gender Equality.

Tackling global challenges: Embracing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainability within a pandemic

The drive behind the Sustainable Development Agenda has undoubtedly been affected by the pandemic and the full impact of this is yet to be seen. COVID-19 has shone a light onto existing inequalities and made it apparent that we remain vulnerable to a number of challenges. But it’s also enabled valuable shifts and realisations. By harnessing these shifts and enabling interdisciplinary and collaborative science to bring innovative solutions and strategies to the fore, the hope is that the SDGs will be realised. And perhaps the number 17 will become a figure with its own legacy and meaning for future generations.

Global Challenge Lab 21 The first Global Challenge Lab was sponsored by Huawei and Nestle and co-funded by Bristol Myers Squibb. Representatives from 11 university partners came together over ten days for a series of keynotes, panels, networking sessions and workshops. The programme culminated in a competition between 58 participating teams to generate the best solution to achieve SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing. The winning team developed a platform to connect mothers and midwives in sub-Saharan Africa and included members from the University of Sao Paulo, the University of Ghana, the University of Toronto and Imperial College London.

“The pandemic reminds us how important the SDGs are, and that we need to redouble our efforts to achieve equity, fairness and human rights.” Professor David Nabarro, Co-Director of the Institute for Global Health Innovation.

The future vaccine manufacturing hub Based at Imperial and partnering with collaborators from the UK and low-to-middleincome countries, the Hub is providing essential research infrastructure and expertise to support the development and manufacture of a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. It’s also developing modular methods for manufacture that enables rapid vaccine development for highly infectious pathogens in low-income countries. The challenge of COVID-19 has placed science and research more centrally in policy decisions and allowed us to see what’s possible through collaboration in the face of global challenges.

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“Students need to feel that the SDGs capture and frame issues they care deeply about and empower them to create and live change in their own communities and beyond.”

Find out more about how Imperial is tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on the Global Development hub:

Dr Elizabeth Haucke, Course Director of Change Makers module. Issue 4 / 2021–22


How to … Get the most out of meeting a coach or mentor


Get the most out of meeting a coach or mentor By Harveen Chugh, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Warwick Business School


oaching or mentoring meetings can typically range from 30 to 60 minutes. They may vary based on factors such as a programme requirement that asks you to take part for a particular length of time, the coach or mentor’s availability, or the specific amount of time you request from them. They may be on a paid or pro bono basis – but their time is extremely valuable either way. While the coach or mentor’s aim will be to provide value to you in that time, it’s worth asking: how exactly can I get the most from meeting with my coach or mentor? It’s a two-way street, after all! Here are three practical ways you can capitalise on your meeting to get the most value from it:

Dr Harveen Chugh is the Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Warwick Business School. She’s been a coach and mentor to many entrepreneurs on programmes including the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Leaders in Innovation Fellowships and the Imperial Enterprise Lab Summer Accelerator. She’s leading research on coaching and mentoring for entrepreneurs and has co-founded the Network for Coaching and Mentoring Entrepreneurs (NCME) for enterprise educators.






Your first step is to prep and provide information to your coach or mentor before your meeting. If it’s the first time you’ve met with them, this could be an introduction to say hello and to let them know a bit about who you are and what you’d like to achieve from the coaching or mentoring. If it’s a second, third or later meeting, this could be updating them on actions taken since the last time you met, or detailing what you’d like to discuss in the next session. Prepping not only saves time by allowing the conversation to progress quickly when you do meet, but it shows you’re someone who values the coach or mentor’s time and is keen to make the most of the opportunity. This will drive them to do their best for you, so it’s a win–win!

It’s easy to show up to a meeting (especially these days if its online and there’s no commute required!), but it’s important to think in advance about how you can maximise engagement once you’re in that meeting. This is key so your coach or mentor feels you’re fully present in the session, as well as for yourself so you gain the most you possibly can from your time with them. There are a few ways you can increase your engagement, such as consistently making eye contact with them and avoiding checking your mobile phone or other devices. If you’re taking notes or looking something up based on the discussion, tell your coach or mentor this so they know you’re still engaged. Choose a meeting time where you can give your full attention to the session without any big distractions. If there are other things going on during your meeting, despite your best efforts, let your coach or mentor know this so they understand the circumstances in advance.

So, you prepped well and maximised engagement during the meeting – well done! The last step is to follow-up with your coach or mentor before your next session. This can be as simple as a short email, or a few notes in a shared document featuring key points that were discussed, such as your key takeaways and your future plans. Why is a follow-up useful? It’s a fantastic chance for you to reflect on your meeting and capture your learnings. You’re also creating a record and contract with your coach or mentor, so you can recall what was said in the last meeting and easily prep for the next one – following the cycle around again! Plus, it helps you capture the actions necessary to work towards your goals, helping you to stay on track while your coach or mentor works with you to achieve them.

Issue 4 / 2021–22


So, there you have it – three simple and practical steps to get the most from meeting with your coach or mentor. Give ‘prep, engage and follow-up’ a try and reap those collaborative benefits! The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs D/srupt


Diving in to Deep Tech

“One of the major problems faced by Deep Tech companies like ours is the amount of time it can take to transition from prototype to commercial product, especially when entering a market that doesn’t exist yet. The wind energy industry shares our vision for the future, but we also need key players to be part of a collaborative effort and be on the journey with us so we can make sure the end product is validated and fulfils their needs.”

Diving in to Deep Tech

Chris Cieslak, CEO of BladeBUG who are developing advanced robots for the inspection and repair of wind turbine blades.

Many of the world’s most pressing problems — from addressing climate change to developing sustainable food and water systems and improving human health and wellbeing — depend critically on the successful commercialisation of fundamental science and engineering innovations that are often referred to collectively as “Deep Tech”.


nlike software or digital innovations, Deep Tech innovations require years of developing, testing, iterating, perfecting and sometimes pivoting to bring to market. They provide solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems which means that, if successful, the payback and societal impact could be huge. But, due to their pioneering nature, they also embody inevitable risk in both the tech and its market which requires committed and patient investment. Not easy to come by in today’s fast-paced and resultsdriven society.

As a STEM university, Imperial has Deep Tech very much at the heart of its entrepreneurial ecosystem. By enabling access to facilities and support through initiatives such as those hosted by the Imperial Enterprise Lab, Imperial White City Incubator and Imperial College Advanced Hackspace (ICAH), there has been an increasing number of Deep Tech startups founded by students as well as academics. According to Oscar Ces, Head of Department of Chemistry and Co-director of the ICAH, the increase in student Deep Tech startups is a relatively recent shift. “If

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you go back 15 or 20 years most student startups were fintech or digi-led,” he says. “Because we just didn’t have the infrastructure to facilitate Deep Tech ventures for students. But now there’s almost no barrier to a student spinning out a company in life sciences, material sciences or biotech and as a result we’ve seen an explosion in Deep Tech startups.” With the expanding number of Deep Tech startups there has been a growing realisation that these companies need tailored support to get them to the point where investors are ready to commit the

right amount of capital for the right amount of time. The runway along which these ventures develop is lengthy – ten to fifteen years minimum– and this requires investors who understand the nature of Deep Tech and, above all, are able to wait until these endeavours to come to fruition. Deep Tech requires a different approach to entrepreneurship that incorporates the complexities of scaling up this kind of venture from a laboratory prototype to feasible product. Current approaches such as the Lean Startup Model work to a relatively linear and simple Issue 4 / 2021–22


Diving in to Deep Tech

process, moving from idea to minimal viable product to testing and iteration. “The Lean Startup Model is an accepted approach around the world,” says Dr Simon Hepworth, Director of Enterprise at Imperial College London. “But it’s mainly aimed at software companies and isn’t so appropriate for Deep Tech ventures that have a longer and more complex runway ahead of them.” To overcome these challenges Imperial has started an Institute for Deep Tech entrepreneurship which is headed up by Professor Ramana Nanda who is an expert in the financing frictions faced by new ventures. Whilst acknowledging that every Deep Tech startup is unique, Professor Nanda plans to extract generic learnings and insight into the moments in a venture’s journey where support is particularly necessary. At the heart of this is the proposal for a new funding model that harnesses philanthropic capital as a means to ensure more patient, committed and trusting investment. “Currently we don’t have a financing model that will allow us to

“Since the essence of Deep Tech is to challenge the norm, and even the accepted fundamentals of our scientific understanding, the issues surrounding its development multiply from its inception. These begin with the difficulty of funding the scale-up and prototyping. They continue through adding complex operations early on into the company life cycle. Running concurrently, and partly as a result of the challenging business model, is the need to bridge ‘the valley of death’. Which, more often than not, necessitates government funding of some kind to secure the company’s survival.” Krisztina KovacsSchreiner, CEO of Lixea who are developing a novel chemical fractionation process for woody biomass or agricultural residue to enable its conversion into biofuels and bioplastics.

Top tips for Deep Tech startups from people who have been there and done it • Be determined – this is a long journey with many twists and turns. • Talk to industry and potential customers early on – get some early validation of what you are doing is wanted and needed • Surround yourself with remarkable and determined people with expertise in tech, management and commercialisation, you cannot do it all on your own. • Walk carefully between staying in stealth and becoming public – if you disclose the detail of your venture on a public platform you may jeopardise your patent. • Take advice from mentors and advisors on the valuation of your venture - look at your competitors and see how they were valued at similar stage of the journey.

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Support for Deep Tech entrepreneurs

Commercialisation Support – developing a non-dilutive funding model that is tailored to the commercialisation challenges faced by Deep Tech ventures Ecosystem and Policy Support – establishing a systems-level view to address ecosystem and policy challenges

Commercialisation Support

Ecosystem and Policy Support

“Through the Institute for Deep Tech entrepreneurship we want to develop a systematic understanding of the journey taken by these Deep Tech ventures from idea through to commercial finance to understand what are the key places where some startups fail and others have huge successes. We want to try to identify and anticipate those systematic bottlenecks that the companies are hitting and to refine our support in this virtual cycle of research, teaching and commercialisation support.” Professor Ramana Nanda, Lead for Institute in Deep Tech Entrepreneurship

Research Platform – creating a research platform to inform evidence-based best practices specific to Deep Tech.

Research Platform

take technologies out of university labs and bring them out to the point where investors are willing to finance,” he explains. “A common refrain you hear Venture Capitalists say about a Deep Tech venture is ‘it’s a great idea but it’s not a business, it’s a research project’. As such some great innovations don’t get funded because they are not mature enough to be viable businesses but too applied to be called research projects.” The hope is that a new funding approach can help bridge the valley of death, and alongside this a new teaching model can develop entrepreneurship skills to enable founders to overcome challenges. Again this will involve distilling elements that are common to Deep Tech ventures, whilst still recognising that each has its own very distinct journey which, in some respect, also relies on timing and luck. “We want a teaching approach that is

abstract enough that it can cover a wide range of ideas,” says Professor Nanda. “But also specific enough so that it maps onto the ways in which venture capital investors and other investors are actually thinking about the problems.” With the ongoing challenges of the current pandemic and the unrelenting requirements to meet targets around zero carbon and sustainability it’s clear that Deep Tech innovation has an important role to play now and in the future. Find out more about the Institute for Deep Tech Entrepreneurship here:

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To scale or not to scale?

A new space in White City is making the decision easier. Whether it’s a noun or a verb, the phrase ‘scaleup’ is used a lot in entrepreneurial circles to explain the time when a company really starts to grow. And, although there’s relatively clear definition around when scaling up begins, there’s less clarity around when the process finishes, meaning that it’s often a time of uncertainty and challenge.

To scale or not to scale?

What is a scaleup? • It’s a company going into a distinct phase of growth that will take it to the next level. • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definition of high growth is a company that’s achieved a 20% or more increase in either employment or turnover year on year for at least two years and a minimum employment count of ten. • The company has generally been through its first rounds of funding and has reached Series A or similar.

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To scale or not to scale?


t’s a commonly held misconception that, due to their impressive growth and exposure, scaleup companies no longer need help. In reality, it’s often during this phase that they’re at their most vulnerable, requiring more support than in their initial startup stage. Scaling in the UK The UK seems to be an excellent place to start businesses but company growth can be a challenge. The region is in the top three in the world for startups, yet only makes the top ten for scaleups (source: OECD). This gap has been recognised by Imperial College London and venture builders Blenheim Chalcot. Together, they’ve formed a partnership to address this problem and one of the major outcomes is Scale Space – an impressive building at Imperial’s White City campus that’s purposebuilt to help scaleups grow. One size definitely does not fit all Mark Sanders is the CEO of Scale Space – a network that brings together venture builders, universities, corporate investors and companies to unlock the potential of UK innovation. It consists of an online community alongside a series of dedicated spaces of which White City is the first. “There’s a real challenge in scaling up businesses,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is help companies overcome this by enabling them to access three important forms of support: expertise and talent from within a worldclass university, business expertise from ourselves and partner organisations, and a peer community where people can share experiences of their scaling up journey together.” The Scale Space building at White City is impressive. Not only in size Issue 4 / 2021–22

If you were trying to build the best place for someone to grow their business – that would be Scale Space. Mark Sanders, CEO of Scale Space and amenities, but in its adaptability and provision of tailored space. Scale Space doesn’t just offer different categories of space, but a spectrum that spans across combinations of type, size and lease time – ranging from a hot desk for a day to a laboratory. One of the building’s initial residents – DNA-e – is a life sciences company developing pointof-need DNA sequencing on a microchip, while sustainability scaleup Puraffinity has recently moved in and will be developing their smart material platform to combat

pollution from persistent chemicals. Both have taken lab and office space. “There’s a myriad of different requirements in the market and we want to make sure we have flexibility to meet them,” says Sanders. “Some companies are well funded and established with a clear line of sight to where they’re going, so they can make longer-term choices about the space they need and how they want to personalise it for their business. Others are not so certain about their requirements and, for them, it doesn’t make sense to

The UK scaleup landscape


In 2020, there were 7,474 visible scaleups in the UK – a 37% increase on the previous year.


Visible scaleups have shown resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, with almost 80% in the UK showing indications of positive or only moderate impact.

£5.32 BILLION £5.32 billion was invested into visible UK scaleups in 2019.


The total number of female-founded visible scaleups in the UK has doubled in a year.

spend money on tailoring their space. So we never try to pre-judge people’s requirements.” This flexibility is instrumental in attracting a diversity of companies. Alongside a growing life science cluster, you can find deep-tech companies, as well as a range of digital ventures working on solutions to challenges such as digital transformation and interactive teaching. “I’m a big believer that diversity in our community is good for everybody,” comments Sanders. “It’s really exciting to have this vibrant community that stands for something and is a much bigger offer than just a desk within an office.” Communities and metacommunities As the building progresses, so too do the communities it houses and, from the outset, these have been established as an important part of the project. They work at many levels, with one community formed around leadership and providing a safe space for leaders to discuss their issues and challenges. There’s also a more general online community, providing a national reach for exchanges of knowledge and experience. As the number of companies increase, there are proposals for communities based around functions such as HR, technology and marketing. Talent clinics have already

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To scale or not to scale?

been created to support residents with recruitment and team building and to give access to Imperial’s talent and academic expertise. A living experiment An important resident in Scale Space is Imperial College Business School, which has a 12,000 square foot purpose-built space dedicated to teaching and research. Researchers from the Business School are already developing projects with the resident companies inside Scale Space including a diary study on how CEOs and founders use their time, and a project looking into how senior teams network. The Business School will also have elements of its MBA and Masters degrees taught inside Scale Space in new lecture theatres designed for multimode teaching. Students will have the opportunity to forge connections with the resident companies within Scale Space as well as the wider entrepreneurship community of White City. “In practice, this physical co-location of academics and companies is highly

“By having a presence within Scale Space, the Imperial College Business School is at the heart of the latest thinking to help businesses scale up. By providing a unique environment for our students and academics to forge important connections with the other Scale Space members, we’re bringing our world-class research, talent and expertise to these businesses and the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem of White City.” Francisco Veloso, Dean of the Imperial College Business School

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unusual,” says Sanders. “And it’s providing some fantastic synergies whereby academics are collecting really interesting data to support and refine their hypotheses and companies are getting some objective insight and perspective on their businesses.” And while the Business School will be collaborating on projects with the other residents and teaching parts of its degree programmes in the new building, the team at Scale Space is regularly surveying members to help shape the space so it remains purpose-built and adapted to their needs. The pandemic itself has necessitated changes, such as equipping the 120-seat auditorium with better acoustics, multiple microphones and top-ofthe-range audio–visual equipment so it can now host hybrid events where the audience can attend in person or watch via live stream. The venue has also recently installed a recording studio, as many residents are developing podcasts and video as part of their marketing strategy. Issue 4 / 2021–22


To scale or not to scale?

Puraffinity Puraffinity aims to fix nature’s threat of water shortage with nature’s capacity to make biomaterials that can remove chemicals that are polluting the environment. It’s brilliant, focused and time-sensitive – regulation will soon be introduced to limit levels of one of its target pollutants – which means it’s vital it receives the right support and accesses the right space at the right time in its growth.

Future outlook Scale Space was launched in July 2020 and, although the country was in the grips of the pandemic at the time, the uniqueness of its offer has meant it continues to be in demand. Puraffinity has recently moved in and taken 3,500 ft2 of office and lab space while the final 40,000-square-foot area, although it is yet to be completed, is seeing strong demand already. The hope is that this impressive space not only benefits members directly through Issue 4 / 2021–22

the networking and support it provides but, by doing so, highlights its companies as being stable and valuable investment opportunities. “There’s money in the UK to invest in these kinds of businesses,” says Sanders. “And the more we show they have access to the support they need to grow, then the more attractive this sector will be to investors, enabling the UK to keep hold of its scaleups.”


ow the most recent addition to the Scale Space community, the company is already well and truly embedded within the Imperial Enterprise ecosystem. Originally formed under the name CustoMem, the team took space at the Imperial Bioincubator at South Kensington in 2015 and when the Imperial White City Incubator launched in 2017, Puraffinity became the first member of its second shared lab. The company moved into its own lab there

mid 2018 and along the way the team have taken part in the 2014 Venture Catalyst Challenge and WE Innovate programmes. “As Puraffinity has grown we have been able to draw on the different elements of the Imperial enterprise ecosystem,” says CEO Henrik Hagemann. “And there has been a natural match between our needs and Imperial’s offer along the way. Our next step is Scale Space…. having looked at more than 30 properties in the area we instantly

fell in love with the peer learning community at Scale Space where we can engage and share knowledge with rapidly growing companies from different areas. Our goal for our time here is to become a leading material science scale up with commercial operations across three continents, manufacturing in the UK and deeply connected R&D efforts.”

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Imperial’s VC: 18 months of the Imperial College Innovation Fund

Imperial’s VC: 18 months of the Imperial College Innovation Fund


or almost 15 years – beginning with the opening of the Imperial Bioincubator at the South Kensington campus in 2008 – Imperial College London has been working to change this, deploying resources to support its innovators and entrepreneurs. The launch of the Imperial Enterprise Lab, entrepreneurial skills development offers and startup accelerators have strengthened this offer substantially in the past five years or so. “We’re no longer asking about how we build the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Brijesh Roy, Seed Investment Manager at Imperial. “The ecosystem is thriving and fulfilling its promise. The conversation has moved on, and now the question is ‘how can we best harness the ecosystem to build better companies?’” In 2019, Imperial’s Enterprise Division took the lead on technology transfer activity, adding new staff and key skills in intellectual property management, technology licensing, assessing commercial potential and startup support and fundraising. This brought renewed focus to a problem encountered by many new ventures – the startup investment gap – referred to in more intimidating terms as ‘the valley of death’. Lots of startups struggle when they first need money: they

may not have a product to sell, they may not yet have customers, and their business is risky so it can be difficult to find investors. Deep science and technology companies – the sort which regularly develop at Imperial – struggle even more. Govind Pindoria, Director of Startups and Investments, leads the Startup and Investment team at Imperial. “Our mission is to help companies founded at Imperial to excel. We provide support and advice, legal frameworks and commercialisation expertise. The next logical step was to build investment capability.” Imperial worked with ParkWalk Advisors, a leading Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) fund specialist, to raise a fund focused on investing in early-stage opportunities arising from the College community. Govind recalls that, “shortly after we launched fundraising in March 2020, the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent. But we found there was sufficient appetite among investors, and interest in our ecosystem, to successfully raise a £2 million fund.” With the funds raised, and the advisory board recruited, Brijesh and team began the dual task of meeting as many investment-seeking startups as possible and building a network of potential coinvestors. “It quickly became

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Startup investment is not a traditional university activity. Though universities are a regular source of innovation, other organisations have tended to provide the extra ingredients necessary to turning new ideas into businesses: capital, mentoring and expertise.

The Imperial College Innovation Fund A £2 million EIS fund backing early-stage startups developed at, or with a strong link to, Imperial. The fund is managed by Parkwalk Advisors, which has considerable experience running similar university funds in the UK. Imperial’s Startup and Investment team develops investment proposals for the fund. Based on these, the Investment Advisory Committee (made up of Imperial academics, expert entrepreneurs and company founders) makes recommendations to Parkwalk Advisors, which makes investment decisions for the fund.

Imperial’s startup scene is vibrant and bursting with ideas. Since the fund launched, we’ve spoken with companies looking to raise over £80 million of investment.

obvious that we were swimming with the tide,” says Brijesh. “Imperial’s startup scene is vibrant and bursting with ideas. Since the fund launched, we’ve spoken with companies looking to raise over £80

million of investment. Clearly, a company founder wanting money to progress their ideas doesn’t guarantee that there is a genuine opportunity. But we repeatedly encounter startups with innovative Issue 4 / 2021–22


Imperial’s VC: 18 months of the Imperial College Innovation Fund

business models, promising technology and polished propositions.” A company founder at Imperial has myriad resources to draw upon – from prototyping support at the Imperial College Advanced Hackspace, to customer discovery workshops with the Techcelerate programme, through to drop-in sessions at the Imperial Enterprise Lab. “It’s not a surprise that we’re meeting exciting startups! The concentration of support here is superb, and I think the fund adds to that. Now a founder can look around at all the programmes and mentors available, learn from them, and then talk to a friendly investor whose role is to get

We’re a truly agnostic fund – we’re interested in good opportunities regardless of the sector investment into Imperial startups.” Beyond the fund, the Startup and Investment team has built a network of over 300 investors who receive regular updates on new opportunities at Imperial, and who can participate in regular investor showcase events where Imperial startups pitch their business plan and funding requirements. It’s now around 18 months since the Imperial College Innovation Fund (ICIF) fundraising launch

(March 2020) and the fund is now committed in total, with seven companies receiving investment or commitment to invest. “These are all pre-seed or seed rounds,” says Brijesh. “The fund focuses on earlystage funding because less specialist support is required from Series A onward.” On reviewing the investments made, not only is the breadth of industry and technology area striking, but so are some curious similarities: two companies focused on Parkinson’s

disease – one on managing movement symptoms; the other on helping physicians monitor and manage disease progression. Three companies are in the electricity storage and delivery space: one building an ultra-green battery for grid storage from renewable energy; one developing realworld solutions for wireless charging; and another with aspirations to become a one-stop shop for electric vehicle drivers, managing their access to charging points and more.

Investments made At time of press (August 2021), ICIF has invested in the following companies:

Charco Neurotech



£205,000 investment into startup developing a non-invasive device to help manage Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

£250,000 investment into upper limb rehabilitation startup.

£250,000 investment for intuitive colour-change hygiene systems producer.




“I think that shows that we’re a truly agnostic fund – we’re interested in good opportunities regardless of the sector. But it also indicates the value of operating at a university which has put real effort behind its entrepreneurial ecosystem – there’s both breadth and depth of opportunity,” says Brijesh. What’s next? As the final investments for the first fund close out, the Enterprise team is looking forward to raising a second fund – this time under a slightly different name: the Imperial College Enterprise Fund. “We’ve done this once and now we need to do everything better,” says Brijesh. “All the evidence we’ve seen so far shows that there are plenty of opportunities, a strong appetite for co-investment and a long and growing pipeline.” Beyond the second fund, Brijesh is passionate about the retained and leveraged benefits of successful investment activity. “As with a lot of things in the startup world, iteration is important here. I’d love to see a situation arise in a couple of years where founders supported by our fund go on to raise more money, deliver products to customers, and then come back to the programmes they took part in here and say, ‘this is what I learned and this is what’s important’”. Further information on the ICIF and the Startup and Investment team’s activities can be found here:

Issue 4 / 2021–22

The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs D/srupt


What kind of entrepreneur are you?

What kind of entrepreneur are you? Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life and while there’s no such thing as a typical entrepreneur, many fall into certain categories. Take our test to learn what kind of entrepreneur you are.

Which of the following best describes you? A / B / C / D / E / F /

Ideas person Ideals person Resource gatherer Schmoozer Umm… just a student? Career-minded

Where do you write down your new ideas? A / B / C / D / E / F /

Back of a napkin In a manifesto Tablet or phone Social media or blog In the margins somewhere Personal planner

If you were to start your own company, which of the following would be most important to you? A / B / C / D / E / F /

Get my idea out there Change the world for the better Be my own boss Fame and followers Solve something that’s bugging me Maximise efficiency

How do you make tough decisions? A / B / C / D / E / F /

Gut instinct In partnership with my team With extensive research Based on whatever makes the most money Phone home In consultation with colleagues

What’s the basis of your business strategy? A / B / C / D / E / F /

D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

New ideas executed well Make money, make a difference Old concepts done better Monetising followers What’s a business strategy? Delivering shareholder value

Issue 4 / 2021–22


What kind of entrepreneur are you?

The results: Mostly As:

Mostly Bs:

Mostly Cs:

Visionary entrepreneurs combine new and innovative ideas with the drive and enthusiasm needed to rally people behind them and make them happen.

Social entrepreneurs are driven by a passion for solving pressing social or environmental needs and issues by using a commercial business model to drive sustainable change.

Serial entrepreneurs are equipped with an aptitude for solving problems, combined with incredible levels of personal motivation and the drive to keep pushing forward, no matter the challenge.

Think: Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS Shoes, or Salman Khan, Founder of Khan Academy

Think: Elon Musk, Co-founder of Tesla and Founder of SpaceX, or Martha Stewart, Founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

The Visionary Entrepreneur

Think: Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple, or Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon Top tip: Having a big vision is great, but don’t get lost in it. Always remember, successful entrepreneurs execute.

The Social Entrepreneur

Top tip: Don’t confuse social enterprise and charity. Both are important but social enterprises generate their social impact first and foremost by generating profit.

Mostly Ds:

The Opportunist Entrepreneur Opportunist entrepreneurs are enthusiastic go-getters who love life in the limelight and can spot money-making opportunities from a mile off. Think: Alan Sugar, Founder of Amstrad, or Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, Founder of Zoella Top tip: Don’t focus on short-term profits at the expense of building a valuable longterm brand. Think Amstrad versus Apple. Never heard of Amstrad? Exactly.

Top tip: Be careful you don’t bite off more than you can chew and beware the multitasking myth. Focus on one thing at a time and delegate tasks that aren’t top priority. Also, stop and think before you tweet (yes Elon, we mean you!).

Mostly Es:

The Accidental Entrepreneur Accidental entrepreneurs (sometimes also known as User Entrepreneurs) are driven by a burning passion or need to solve a problem; be it global warming, at one end of the scale, or a better way to meet people at events, at the other. Why accidental? Because they frequently don’t start out thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs. Think: Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz, or Thomas Edison, Inventor and Businessman Top tip: Don’t worry that you don’t have an MBA (assuming you’re not a business student, that is) and leave your preconceptions about what an entrepreneur looks and sounds like at the door.

Issue 4 / 2021–22

The Serial Entrepreneur

Mostly Fs:

The Intrapreneur Intrapreneurs, you guessed it, are entrepreneurial individuals who apply their creativity, innovation and drive inside larger companies and organisations rather than going it alone and setting up their own startup ventures. Think: Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, or Paul Buchheit, Creator of Gmail Top tip: Remember that startups aren’t for everyone. Lots of traditional companies are looking to recruit entrepreneurial individuals to help them reimagine their business models and stay relevant in a fast-moving world.

The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs D/srupt


Founder foundations: Building startups to last

Founder foundations: Building startups to last Illuminating the myths around team dynamics


aving recently finished reading his latest book, The Unicorn’s Shadow: Combating the Dangerous Myths that Hold Back Startups, Founders and Investors, we couldn’t resist catching up with him to get advice and insights for Imperial founders. These were his top tips: 1. Don’t believe the media hype ‘If you boil it down to one thing, it’s that there is a media view of what a successful founder looks like, and it doesn’t actually look like the most successful founder.’ We all have an image of a successful founder in our head: the Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerbergs and Elon Musks; the young Ivy League dropouts who somehow go on to create global powerhouses. Ethan sees this media stereotype as damaging. The evidence actually points to experience, networks and education (particularly at the undergraduate level) all being far stronger influences on the potential to succeed.

Ethan Mollick is an award-winning Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School, where he studies and teaches innovation and entrepreneurship. Prior to his time in academia, Ethan co-founded eMeta, and he currently advises a number of startups and organisations. So, if you’re comparing yourself to the obvious role models and feel you’re coming up short, ignore that in favour of looking at all the advantages you do have, and finding people who can help you on your entrepreneurial path. 2. Have hard conversations early Ethan stresses the importance of creating a founders’ agreement early on: ‘have the hard discussions as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the harder it is. Have vesting [where equity is earned over time], never just divide 50/50. Have a business plan, even if you throw it out, that is fine, just make sure you have it because it means you can surface any problems.’ We couldn’t agree more, having witnessed team struggles and splits – sometimes with heartbreaking acrimony and high emotional and financial toll. ‘Working in a team is tough and it’s likely you’re going to have lots of ups and downs over the course of

D/srupt The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs

your entrepreneurial journey. As such, it’s essential you sit down at the start and do two things: 1. Create a simple team contract*outlining how you’re going to work together and the kinds of behaviours and actions that are in and those that are out. Making your team norms explicit and transparent can be a really helpful way to navigate disagreement and conflict. 2. Think ahead and ask yourself the key “What if” question: “What if we all fall out and hate each other?” Agree the future terms and principles by which you’ll resolve conflict

and disagreements long before you need them!’ *See this book for more details: www.strategyzer. com/books/high-impacttools-for-teams 3. Being a sole founder can be powerful As we know from witnessing founders like Michael Moses of Donaco, who is working with UNICEF and Crisis, among others, and Livia Ng of Neucruit, who has completed initial validation across 12 universities and 63 research laboratories and has several signed

partnership agreements, sole founders can be powerful and effective. The current ‘wisdom’ of the majority of the startup ecosystem, though, is that to build a massively scalable company you need a cofounder. However, as Ethan points out, ‘Just because you are a sole founder, doesn’t mean you are all by yourself. It can be lonelier; you have to find people to bring on. The assumption has been that sole founders are bad but we don’t have the evidence at this point to support that.’ And so, much of what has been discussed above holds true, regardless of whether someone is a co-founder, that critical first hire, or a team member – they still need to be incentivised and aligned with your goals, and you still need to have the hard conversations with them.

Topics to discuss when creating a founders’ agreement • • • • • •

Equity division and how to use this to incentivise. Goals – both professional and personal. How to safeguard the company if someone wants or needs to leave. Commitment level – how much time and effort is each individual bringing to the company? Working styles. Skills gaps – does your founding team have all the skills you’re going to need to take you forward? Most startups take five+ years to realise any sort of exit. Do you have the skills, networks and commitment to get the startup there? If not, how is the company going to secure them? • You can get a free founders’ agreement at Seed Legals here: seedlegals.com/ resources/free-founders-agreement-for-uk-startups/

Issue 4 / 2021–22


Founder foundations: Building startups to last

Startup death rate

90% Globally, 90% of startups die within three years.


In the London ecosystem, this is reduced to 50%


In the Imperial ecosystem, it’s reduced to 30%.

Deliberate thought is something we don’t give enough time for. There should be a balance between shooting from the hip and strategic planning.

4. Spend time on hiring ‘It is painful, it sucks, but the more you can spend time on getting hiring right, the better.’ And as he puts it, ‘unstructured interviews destroy information’. So, make sure you have a plan for what you’re looking to hire (skills, attitudes and networks) and how you want to structure the interview. The bottom line is this: ‘You are shaping your organisation – do they fit your strategy?’. 5. Be deliberate I went with a classic for my final question: ‘Is there anything else I should be asking you?’ (top tip, any time you’re interviewing a customer, this is a great question to ask) and was rewarded with a massive grin because Ethan believes people are relying too much on lean methodology, worrying about how many customer interviews they’re doing, and jumping from one set of feedback to another, while letting that set the narrative of their startups. ‘I cover a lot in the book, but deliberate thought is something we don’t give enough time for. There should be a balance between shooting from the hip and strategic planning. There’s a role for education, deliberateness and action. Lean should be balancing all of this. It can’t all be improvised. Hypotheses and controlled experimentation: these are critical and incredibly useful.’ If you liked Ethan’s take on startups, try out the free, 90-minute entrepreneurship game he’s created at interactive.wharton. upenn.edu/experiences/ bluesky-ventures-game/ And let enterprise.lab@ imperial.ac.uk know what you think of it.

Issue 4 / 2021–22

The magazine for innovators & entrepreneurs D/srupt

Entrepreneurship in numbers (2020/21) 778


180+ Staff employed by Incubator companies.

Jobs created.





Teams accessed support from Enterprise Lab.

Awarded in prizes and grants through E-Lab programmes.

Growth of our members community.

No. of projects submitted at Hackspace.

Company's graduated.



Teams across two cohorts.

Raised in VC and grants.

Innovation Fund



823 Number of autoclave cycles.

Early Career Researchers supported.

Companies received investment or commitment to invest.






Raised in funding across entire student startup portfolio.

Student startups incorporated.

1,100 Members on slack.

Learning hours delivered.

Hours spent by members at the Hackspace.

Incubator companies.


Clinical and user trial.


Investment fund raised.

300+ Network of investors.

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