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A new generation of thoughtful ventures-spotlighthero ;

A new generation of thoughtful ventures

By Julie Devonshire, Ben Mumby-Croft and Jerry Allen.

Leading entrepreneurship at King’s College London, Imperial College London and University College London.

12 September 2019

The UK has been looking for its “Mark Zuckerberg” for some time now but, as Facebook scales and evolves, is this still what we want? Zuckerberg is the most famous university entrepreneur in the world but, in recent years, his reputation has deflated. Is there a new generation of successful university entrepreneurs in the pipeline and will they do things differently?

Universities across the UK are working hard to support the next generation of entrepreneurial people, helping them to develop their ideas, to learn entrepreneurial skills and to attract the resources they need to start better and to scale. 

We are lucky enough to see hundreds of new entrepreneurs and their start-ups each year. All three have seen an explosion in knowledge-intensive businesses along with businesses driven to deliver impact and, at the same time, fewer propositions like Facebook which purport to do one thing but do another, disingenuously claiming to be all about connecting us to our friends when they are practicing surveillance capitalism and simply finding new ways to advertise to us.

New start-ups are more ‘purposeful’ businesses. The new generation of university innovators are motivated by change, solving problems and sustainability in all contexts. Their ideas are fundamentally about positively challenging systems, and delivering change and impact. They value integrity and base their commercial models around helping people, not fooling people.

But don’t think for one moment that these ventures aren’t commercial. The best amongst them are sustainably and materially commercial because they deliver, and will be modeled to continue to do so going forward.

The start-up world is changing, and the established order is being replaced. Is it any wonder that the new generation of university entrepreneurs and innovators don’t use Facebook, drive petrol cars or transact with non-challenger banks?

While universities are highly competitive, they are also deeply collaborative. London Demo Day is a perfect example of deep collaboration created for a vibrant network of global investors, to bringing new investment in innovation to London.

According to Tech Nation, from late 2018 to present, London scale-up firms grew by over 56%, more than anywhere else globally. With this in mind, our three great London universities are delivering London Demo Day, a first-of-its-kind collaboration to showcase some of the best, new entrepreneurial talent in the UK.

The new generation of ventures due to pitch at London Demo Day include King’s venture, Panakeia, who are using machine learning, specifically deep learning, to make cancer diagnosis better, cheaper and faster. Led by Dr Pahini Pandya, Panakeia has won four awards and has raised £2.1m in investment.

From Imperial, sustainability venture, Polipop, will be pitching their innovative, flushable, 100% biodegradable sanitary pads. Polipop was the idea of Dr Olivia Ahn who went on to win three awards and has raised more than £100,000 in investment despite being an early-stage venture.

Oxford Heartbeat, from UCL, was founded by Dr Katarina Spranger and has won five awards and six grants.  Oxford Heartbeat supports cardiovascular surgeons to deliver more effective and less expensive stent surgery through pre-surgery simulations to test stent fit and behaviour.

So, should the UK still be looking for its “Mark Zuckerberg” and its me-too Facebook or should it move on and leapfrog onto what’s coming up next. Perhaps the UK should optimise by spending less energy looking for its Mark and its Facebook, and focus more on supporting game-changing, commercially skilled, problem-solvers like Pahini, Olivia and Katarina. Oh yes, they are all women founders too.

And one last point, although there’s no question that US universities are leading the way when it comes to producing innovative, highly scalable start-ups, the UK’s progressive educational institutions are catching up – FAST. 


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