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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Meet the Venture Further 2016 Business category finalists

Maximum Wind 

During his study at the Power Networks Centre for Doctoral Training, Niall Coogan recognised that the majority of wind turbines are not placed in optimal positions; resulting in reduced productivity and return on investment.


In response, Niall and his team founded Maximum Wind, which is currently developing software that will accurately predict wind patterns and take into account buildings, trees and other extrusions from the landscape, to ensure the best possible wind speed reaches the blades.


Niall explains: “Current software predicting the effects of the landscape on wind turbines only measures the obstruction as a rough block. Maximum Wind will predict the effect using the exact dimensions. This is important as an increase in wind speed of just 0.5m/s hitting the blades means a significant increase in productivity. 


“At Maximum Wind, we can advise on the optimum placement of turbines to maximise either power generation or return on investment, or a balance of the two. We also consider other factors such as the cost of connecting to the grid, which can add millions to the cost of a project.”


Wind is currently the fastest growing renewable energy source, expected to grow tenfold to 30% of global energy production by 2030. 


Niall says, “Initially we hope to target developers of new wind farms – with this rapidly growing market there is no shortage of new business to be had. However, wind turbines have approximately a 20-year life span, so eventually older turbines will need replacing, giving us the opportunity to make sure the replacements are in the optimum position as well.”


The team are bringing together six different software programmes that will make their proposition unique and the most effective on the market. Niall hopes to use Venture Further funding to build case study evidence, prove their concept and demonstrate their technological superiority over the competition.


“We plan to approach developers and show how using a competitor would improve the performance of their turbines, and then show how much more effective Maximum Wind is.” Niall continues, “These case studies will effectively be our sales and marketing material that will drive new customers to our business.”


Connecting Neurons 

Astrophysics graduate Susana Fernandez is passionate about design. She recognised that innovative products have the potential to help make people’s lives better, providing creative solutions to today’s problems.


Working alongside Project Design graduate Hemanshu Amin, Susana founded Connecting Neurons. The company’s first product is ‘Pegged In’, a board game predicated on customisation, quality design and short game play, specifically created to adapt to people’s modern lifestyles. 


“We wanted to create something that would encourage social interaction,” says Susana. “Technology is an integral part of our lives, and has become essential to driving progress, but one significant downside is that it encourages isolation, and people are starting to avoid face-to-face interaction. We all play with gadgets on the go and spend hours in front of our screens, but that means we miss out on human interaction, which has been proven to benefit people’s mental and physical health. We wanted to bring people back together through our design.” 


Players of Pegged In start with 10 pegs, and the aim is to move as many pegs into the board as possible. A game that combines chance with strategy, the player who gets the most pegs into their section of the board, wins. 


Susana and Hemanshu met when they were working at Fab Lab London. It was here that they realised that by combining their skill sets and using the facilities available to them at Fab Lab, such as laser cutters and 3D printers, they would be able to take advantage of a significant gap in the market.


“Humans have been playing board games for thousands of years, but recently interest in them has waned. The most popular board games at the moment are themed games, so we wanted to develop a more traditional game that was fun to play but also solved the growing problem of the ‘single person’ environment created by technology.”


Currently, Susana and Hemanshu are targeting their product at the customisation market, as they recognised that people are willing to pay a premium for bespoke products. Eventually, they hope to move into mass production, but without compromising on the sustainability and high-quality manufacturing process of their product.


“Sustainability is often not taken into account when it comes to design,” Susana explains. “We took the decision to use plywood as the base material, obtained through responsibly managed sources, and by using laser cutters we do not have to use harmful glues anywhere on our product. In addition, we make sure to treat our board with care, avoiding harmful substances such as varnish or paint, and treating it only with oil. Design for the sake of design has no purpose, but our game seeks to tackle a growing social problem as well as considering the environment.”


Bouh 

When his bike was stolen for the third time, Electrical and Electronic Engineering student Obaidah Sheikh recognised a practical and robust solution was needed to ensure that urban cyclists, like him, felt at ease when traveling through towns and cities across the UK.


“I’ve been one of those unfortunate people to have had their bike stolen when they’re not there,” says Obaidah, “but I’ve also had my bike stolen in person, and actually saw them cycle away with my bike! To watch someone ride off into the distance with my bicycle made me feel helpless and powerless – you can’t outrun someone on a bike.”


And Obaidah isn’t alone. In the UK over 300,000 bicycles are stolen every year, from train stations, university campuses, parks, bike racks and other inner city areas. 


“Three million bicycles are bought every year, which means that for every ten bicycles that are bought, one is stolen,” he explains.


The high sales reflect a growing trend in people choosing cycling as a means of transport in urban areas across the UK. The National Travel survey estimates that 5.3 million people in England and Wales now cycle three or more times a week.


In response, Obaidah and his team have designed a dual-purpose bicycle accessory that will give cyclists an additional level of security, which they hope will put bicycle commuters at ease.


“The product we are developing is very relevant. You can see how popular cycling is getting when you look at inner city transport infrastructure. Cycling is on the rise as people recognise that it’s not only good for the environment, it’s good for our health."


“Our mission with this product is to make sure cyclists do not fear using their bikes and to empower people to use them more.”


With the concept still in early stages, the team at Bouh have developed a prototype that demonstrates their concept and have recently applied to a patent to protect their idea.


“The prototype has given us a clear route to manufacture, so when we’re ready to start producing, we have a clear vision of how to do this technically.


“Later this year, we want to launch a crowd-funding campaign so people can back our initiative and support our first product through its first round of manufacture.”


Eventually Obaidah and his team hope to make Bouh a global bicycle accessories brand that is focused on innovation and uniqueness, brand quality and simplicity in design.


“My inspiration is Elon Musk, founder of Tesla,” explains Obaidah. “He is someone that has created a brand around a product that serves a genuine purpose. We want to sell something that is actually going to benefit people, which is why security is the area we’re starting with.”


Tracon

MBA student Satya Sitorus has developed Tracon, a cloud-based solution device that aims to increase productivity by 20% across industries including oil and gas, manufacturing and logistics

The idea for Tracon was conceived against a backdrop of economic turmoil and low oil prices, when Satya and his colleagues realised the potential of working with companies to help them improve efficiencies, to ultimately increase their margins.

Satya says: “The increasing pressure on companies within the oil and gas sector to find ways to cut costs and become more efficient, presented us with an opportunity to offer a unique way of providing intelligence to help these companies make more informed decisions.


“Tracon is set to revolutionise the £51 billion progress efficiency improvement sector, utilising cutting edge digital and IoT technology, helping businesses significantly boost their productivity.”

The device, which is worn by employees, tracks the movements of staff to identify productivity. The information is then translated into reports that provide a snapshot of movement for managers to access. This snapshot can be used by managers to review the time spent on systems and processes and identify ‘bottlenecks’ to make more informed decisions as part of their wider productivity strategy.

This solution is not limited to the oil and gas sector; with the co-founders believing Tracon has the capability to improve productivity across the healthcare, logistics and retail industries, too.

The team has developed their business plan and strategy and is seeking funding for the development of the device to reach their goal of reaching £24m revenue in the next five years.




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