The Innovation4Growth (I4G) funding offers grants to businesses in the West of England wishing to develop an innovative project. The current I4G round of funding is offering £1 million for SMEs in the region.
Interactive Scientific is a previous recipient of I4G funding. The education company’s CEO Becky Sage explains how the grant helped it develop the Nano Simbox digital platform.
A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), a graduate, and a financial services firm in Bristol has developed a smart system that will help customers decide how to invest their money. KTP is a UK government programme that supports companies in implementing innovative solutions to grow their business.
Rowan Dartington (RD) is building a cyborg. Or at least this is the way the financial services firm describes a user interface it hopes will revolutionise how clients invest their money and enable it to attract more millennials to set up portfolios.
RD is one of the UK’s leading providers of personalised wealth management services. With expertise in providing advice to investors, it is also putting a lot of work into developing the algorithms behind its online service. To ensure its new interface towered above competitors, Phil McHenry, RD’s Head of Software Development, wanted to complement its developers’ skills with specific academic knowledge in data science and user experience (UX). It therefore turned to UWE Bristol.
Together, RD and UWE Bristol began collaborating on a KTP, a programme spearheaded by Innovate UK that helps companies improve their productivity and competitiveness via a partnership with an academic institution and the recruitment of a recent graduate with specific expertise. Academic expertise was provided by Dr Paul Matthews, a senior lecturer in the Department for Computer Science and Creative Industries, and Bala Goudar was recruited for the two-year project.
Goudar, who has a PhD in Climate Physics (RD colleagues came to refer him as ‘weatherman’), had a particular skill in analysing data and a keen interest in financial markets. RD introduced him to fund management, helping him adapt to the company’s way of working. “KTP helps move people from the academic to the business environment,” says RD Chief Operating Officer Ben Cooper, “but the pressures in both worlds are different.”
To cater for clients with smaller amounts to invest, many fund managers’ online systems offer ‘robo-advice,’ algorithm-generated information about how to invest. RD’s new platform, once fully developed, will also offer such a service, but it wanted to take this one step further – by making the interface ‘intelligent.’ The KTP provided the innovation and knowledge a to achieve this.
During the KTP, which began in 2015, Goudar grew his skills in data analysis in a business context. In his second year, he began designing the algorithms, which RD’s software development team implemented. By having a data expert apply his knowledge to their business, RD began to look at data in a new way. “Data is an asset that is becoming increasingly important and Bala helped us realise that you can bring together seemingly unrelated data but still find a correlation,” says Cooper.
The KTP experience at RD also gave Goudar insight into the financial services industry. “I have had to learn the way a wealth management company firm such as RD operates before building anything,” he says. “These are all skills we don’t necessarily use in academia.”
Overseeing the project from an academic perspective, Paul Matthews brought to the table, among other skills, his knowledge of UX, ensuring that the system is highly intuitive for users. He also set up focus groups between UWE Bristol academics and RD directors around machine learning. “The KTP has also given UWE Bristol a foot in the Fintech [financial technology] world, which is becoming bigger and bigger, and where there is a lot of scope for us to be further involved from an academic perspective,” says Matthews.
With the new interface, still in development, if someone new to investing approaches RD to enquire about investment, they will first carry out a search through the online system. In the next step, the enquirer meets with an adviser to set up their portfolio. The data generated from this interaction then loops back into the platform to help feed the information provided to future investors. Through machine learning combined with human feedback, the ‘cyborg’ therefore teaches itself to yield even better advice next time.
This Partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP). KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. KTP is funded by Innovate UK along with the other government funding organisations.
Thanks to an Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) government grant made available by way of UWE Bristol, Gilcrest Manufacturing was able to develop an extremely strong ceiling panel for use on cold storage rooms and other enclosed areas such as hygienic environments. In this video, the company’s Engineering Manager Stephen Griffiths explains how the funding, as well as support from UWE Bristol, was critical in bringing the project to fruition.
Far from Brexit creating a sense of doom and gloom for SMEs wanting to export, leaving the EU could provide opportunities to sell to emerging markets. That, at least is the view of two economists who are setting up a project to bridge the gap between SMEs and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which provide a link between local authorities and businesses.
Cai says SMEs in the UK often think locally and either tend not to think about exporting or, if they do, invariably consider European countries. Exporting to emerging markets like the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is still quite a new idea.
By developing working practices with the LEPs and providing workshops in the South West, the economists plan to help businesses think about how to penetrate and position themselves in these new markets. Their knowledge will also help companies understand the logistics of exporting and how to protect their intellectual property rights.
The project is set to begin at the end of 2017 and, initially lasting one year, will focus on two industries: creative and manufacturing.
In 2013 Bob Griffin was ushered through the gates of Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. The entrepreneur who set up Tomcat, a company in the south west, was there to collect his Queen’s award for Enterprise in Innovation. The company manufactures trikes for children and adults with mild to severe disabilities, whether learning, visual or physical.
Based near Gloucester, Tomcat is known for its bespoke trikes, the unique design of which means carers accompanying the rider can control the vehicle from behind using a steering and braking lever.
Just a year after shaking hands with the monarch, Bob was looking to design a new wheelchair product called ‘Sunfly’ and was successful in receiving a grant through the University of the West of England’s (UWE Bristol) Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) scheme, which supports SMEs in the South West to develop innovative products.
Inspired by families whose children sometimes became severely disabled because of illnesses like meningitis, Sunfly has multiple purposes. Due to launch in 2017, users can modulate it to allow a child to nap, eat, and sit in different positions. Its clever design means the structure can house various types of specialised seats and can be broken down into separate, easily transportable parts. Sunfly also doubles as a trailer to carry a child behind a bicycle.
The R&D took over a year, as there was an intense focus on safety. “Turning Sunfly into reality was a real challenge, but without UWE Bristol’s I4G funding, it would have been even more difficult and perhaps unachievable,” says Bob.
The story of Tomcat goes back 20 years. Bob’s stepson, Tom, had severe learning difficulties and was keeping the adults awake at night because of surplus energy he was unable to expend during the day. Although Tom had a trike, it was hard to control and so it gathered dust in the shed.
Bob, at the time a Merchant Navy engineer, realised tricycles were very basic. “In terms of blindness, learning difficulties or spatial awareness, there was nothing out there,” says Bob. While on a posting, he used the ship’s workshop to build a system to add onto Tom’s existing trike. Tom and his mother, Anne, were delighted.
Usually Tom would walk for 100 yards and get bored but, thanks to the trike, Anne could control it from behind and he was able to ride up to three miles. “To see him achieve that was quite emotional,” recalls Bob. After a subsequent visit to the school Tom attended, other parents asked Bob to build trikes for their own children.
Two decades later Tomcat products (the firm’s name is derived from his stepson’s name) are as popular as ever. Bob is now developing new products thanks in part to a second round of funding from UWE Bristol’s I4G. The grant is helping with the development of both an adult trike and a semi-recumbent tricycle. The products will target those with mild sight, balance and age-related difficulties, as well as people with profound and multiple disabilities. A major feature of the new machines will be the way they enable users to get on and off more easily.
The semi-recumbent trike, due for release in February 2017, will be more upright, with higher seating and a straighter back than competitors’ products. Another objective will be to incorporate a swivel, or height-adjustable saddle, on the pedal vehicles.
Of course developing these products has once again presented Bob with a number of challenges, like how to achieve greater transportability with such a large machine. Again, support through UWE Bristol’s I4G programme will help him overcome those issues.
The collaboration between West Technology and UWE Bristol is a fantastic example of the University’s involvement in the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme. Since West Technology recruited a graduate through the programme, sales of its fingerprint-detection machines have gone through the roof. Managing Director Ian Harris also says the KTP further boosted the company’s credibility in the forensics world.
A machine that has helped solve numerous cases by revealing fingerprints on evidence could help catch even more criminals thanks to a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the world-leading manufacturer of this forensic fingerprint development equipment.
In May 2007 serial killer and rapist Peter Tobin was sentenced to life imprisonment after he murdered Polish student Angelika Kluk and buried her body under the floorboards of a church. Subsequent fingerprint evidence found on the tarpaulin covering her remains helped put Tobin in jail for life. The machine enabling police to identify these prints was built by West Technology Systems, the leading manufacturer of these devices.
West Technology, based in Yate, realised it lacked crucial forensic science expertise to develop the system. The VMD (vacuum metal deposition) machine works by evaporating metal particles onto an evidence exhibit to reveal fingerprints. This method has proven successful in developing palm prints on fabric and this can aid in targeted DNA recovery.
But while the VMD method was successful, the company wanted to learn about the science behind it and optimise the machine. “The process was a black art and not even the Home Office knew entirely how it worked,” says Managing Director Ian Harris. He needed someone with specialist forensic knowledge to research and extend the equipment’s capabilities on black bin liners and polymer banknotes, both notoriously difficult surfaces for revealing finger or palm prints.
Finding the right expertise
The firm therefore looked for these skills externally and approached UWE Bristol. Together, the company and University began collaborating on a KTP, a government-backed programme that connects skilled graduates with businesses and universities. Funded by Innovate UK, this is a great opportunity for a company to develop its business by benefiting from additional know-how and academic support. For West Technology’s purposes, UWE Bristol forensic science graduate Eleigh Brewer proved to be the perfect match.
“Since Eleigh started, our orders on the forensics side have gone through the roof and she has been critical to the success of the company,” says Ian. The KTP meant Eleigh spent two years between the University, where West Technology supplied a VMD machine to use for testing, and the company itself. “This was a fantastic opportunity for me and we were able to get results from our research that the company could use,” says Eleigh
Metal and money
The forensic scientist tested the system’s functionality with different metals. The most common method uses gold to cover the piece of evidence, then zinc to highlight any fingerprints. But gold and zinc are not necessarily the best metals to use according to some experts – especially on certain polymer materials like banknotes.
Knowing the UK was due to release a new polymer five-pound note as legal tender, Ian asked Eleigh to test and adapt the machine for use with these notes. With samples provided by the Bank of England, Eleigh set to work, forming a working relationship with the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) along the way.
Dr Carolyn Morton, Eleigh’s academic supervisor throughout the KTP, says her research was beneficial to UWE Bristol and has cemented its reputation as an important centre for forensic research. “By linking us with CAST and connecting us to a national network of fingerprinting research teams, this KTP has put UWE on the map,” says Carolyn, who is a senior lecturer in forensic science at UWE Bristol.
With Eleigh’s help, Ian now wants to make it easier for the VMD to highlight prints on fabric, another notoriously hard material to work with in criminal cases. “If we could determine the strength of an assault by looking at grab impressions, we could make a big difference,” says Ian.
And perhaps help catch and convict more high-profile murderers like Peter Tobin.
If you are interested in finding out about KTPs with UWE Bristol, please get in touch or leave a comment.