From Hydrogels to Graphene: Innovation overcomes adversity

Naseer Basma Written by Naseer Basma
Published on 24 November 2021
4 min. read

In a now familiar location, research enthusiasts and entrepreneurs gathered in Kro Bar on Oxford Road to participate in the latest edition of Pitch in a Pub, hosted by Innovation Forum Manchester, on the 28 October 2021.

The event marked the return of the team to in-person events, and the early buzz that built up in the main room was a reminder of what online events cannot reproduce. As the ever-present Manchester rain poured down on a dark Thursday evening, attendees were able to get comfortable in the vibrant pub environment, and with refreshments in hand and everyone seated, three fantastic speakers were able to delve into detail about their start-up stories.

First up was Dr Muhammad Umar, a Senior Scientist from AEH Innovative Hydrogel Ltd, a success story that the Innovation Forum knows all too well. AEH Innovative Hydrogel was founded by Dr Beenish Siddique, who was a participant in a previous edition of the Innovation Forum’s IMAGINE IF! pre-accelerator program and her venture has gone a long way since. Dr Umar described the company’s ambitions of utilizing their GelPonics hydrogel technology to help shape the future of agriculture and UK farming. The product facilitates improved sustainability of crop production, is recyclable and can be reused as a soil amendment to sequester carbon. AEH innovative hydrogel’s innovations have received substantial support in their quest to level up agriculture including funding support exceeding £1 million from the UK government. The start-up is also attempting to combine the GelPonics technology with a graphene-based IoT device for smart monitoring of crops in a collaboration with CHAP. As the world shifts its attention to battling global warming, companies fostering sustainability like AEH Innovative Hydrogel will play a pivotal role in overcoming this ongoing threat.

The audience were then able to hear from Dr Karen García Rodríguez, who co-founded Simplex Molecular, an early-stage start-up hoping to revolutionize molecular diagnostics. Karen’s story extends all the way to Mexico, where early conversations with her fellow co-founder, Maribel Montufar-Martinez, about the lack of convenient and rapid molecular diagnostics testing for point-of-care pathogen identification, inspired the two to start their venture. The company aims to develop and apply a portable cassette-based system that would detect pathogens more rapidly and at a higher sensitivity than the current gold-standard diagnostic tests. Karen was able to describe the challenges the pandemic posed for the young company, but also the successes that have helped them through this period, including the company’s Venture Further funding award by the University of Manchester.

Finally, we heard from Jason Laing, who founded Promake Ltd, a materials science company that specializes in the development of medical innovations. Jason’s entertaining pitching style and fascinating backstory certainly captivated the audience. Jason’s tragedy-turned-triumph personal story inspired him to utilize his 3D printing expertise to design and manufacture custom prosthetics and bone-replacement components. Since then, Jason has moved on to working with graphene, and his company received funding in two lots under the UK’s Public Health England National Microbiology Framework to develop graphene-based applications. Jason hopes his versatile tech can be applied in a variety of industries such as healthcare, med tech and diagnostics devices.

The event was supplemented with lengthy Q&As and followed by an active networking session. The level of engagement seen here was fantastic to observe and is the reason the team is excited to be back in person. This event was not possible without the contributions of all our speakers, and the Innovation Forum Manchester team is hugely thankful for their hard work.

The Innovation Forum is a global grassroots network of students, researchers, entrepreneurs, and professionals who aim to drive innovation in science and technology forwards by connecting academics, private companies and investors. We support our local innovation ecosystem by organising events, networking sessions and through our IMAGINE IF! Program; an accelerator and mentoring program for science ventures.

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Don’t miss our next event ‘Data science in genomics’ in Manchester in February 2022! We will be discussing current and future directions for Next-Gen Sequencing, AI in genomics, and personalized medicine. Stay updated on future announcements related to this event by following us on our social media channels.

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