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Researchers explore routes to impact

29 September 2022

3 minutes to read

Researchers explore routes to impact

A group of researchers pitched their innovation ideas to a panel of industry experts recently, as part the University of Exeter’s latest Entrepreneurial Researcher Programme (ERP) cohort.

Researchers on the programme received feedback from an expert panel – which included Royal Society Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Investment Director at the Clean Growth Fund Susannah McClintock, SETsquared Exeter’s Technology Manager Colin Dart, Creative Industries lead Joanne Evans, and IIB Assistant Director Neil Hayes – who provided participants with constructive feedback and suggestions on how to develop their ideas further.

In this blog post, we look at the wide range of potential innovations – from wildflower planting and offshore wind turbine technology, to innovative play and healthy eating.

Healthy habits and better treatment

Responding to the difficulty of switching to a healthy diet, two researchers from the Department of Psychology presented their healthy eating app Food Trainer (FoodT), which features a brain-training game that is scientifically proven to help people eat less and lose weight, by reducing cravings.

The app, designed by cognitive neuroscientists Dr Natalia S Lawrence and Dr Lucy Porter, helps people build up positive associations with the foods they want to eat, and negative associations and avoidance responses with the ones they don’t.

Having already rolled the app out to users, Natalia and Lucy spent their time on the ERP identifying new potential customer bases and testing potential revenue streams to develop the app into a sustainable business model. Described as a “mind-blowing achievement” by panellist Susannah McClintock, the app has been downloaded 133,000 times across 176 countries.

On the topic of health, engineer Jingyi Wang presented an innovative testing system which can simulate the conditions inside a human body and, therefore, measure the potential health risks of metal bone implants, such as those used in hip and knee replacement surgery.

Similarly, LSI Research Fellow Akshay Bhinge presented his early-stage innovation: a new process that changes the way pharmaceutical drugs target cells in the testing phase, which could have the potential to speed up the process of testing and developing new drug treatments. During the ERP, both Akshay and Jingyi started to identify networks of industry experts and partners who could help develop their concepts further.

Wildflowers and wind power

Grace Twiston-Davies, a NERC-funded Research Fellow at the Environment and Sustainability Institute, presented her Wildflower Collective – an initiative which aims to reverse biodiversity declines and reconnect people with nature, by offering people and businesses a way to sponsor wildflower meadows for the first time.

Driven by her passion for biodiversity and wildflower conservation, Grace had conversations with key partners and potential customers during the ERP, developing a consultancy offering for landowners and farmers who want to make a difference in their community. She also tested out different sponsorship options on her potential customer base of local residents.

Through its community, a meadow-matching database and public-facing events, Grace hopes the Wildflower Collective will encourage people to take action on biodiversity decline, while making their local area beautiful. Panellist Susannah McClintock agreed, viewing the project as a “huge opportunity”. Following the ERP, the Wildflower Collective is now being taken forward as a community interest company.

Another participant, Prof Richard Cochrane put forward his idea for a new design for offshore wind turbines. While the UK has huge potential to generate renewable energy from offshore wind, it currently takes much more energy to produce an offshore turbine when compared with onshore turbines. With this new design, Richard hopes to drastically reduce the carbon emissions involved in producing a wind turbine, encouraging more investors into the market, and is now taking this forward with further market research.

The genius of play

Maarten Koeners, a biomedical researcher with a passion for the creativity and wellbeing benefits of play, presented the business idea behind Innoplay. Inspired by the power of play in developing creativity, lateral thinking and problem-solving skills, Maarten and his colleague Adam Lusby have developed a range of tools to facilitate playful learning in educational and workplace settings.

Through the ERP, Martin has identified several prospective partners who would benefit from his workshops, training programmes and playful labs. He is now continuing conversations with elite sport consultancies, science parks and coworking spaces to develop his concept of ‘innovation through play’ into a sustainable business model.

More information

Applications for the next Entrepreneurial Researcher Programme are open until Friday 7 October. If you’d like to find out more about the programme and apply for the next cohort, please visit the website here.



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