Startup Stories from Engineering Design students and graduates
Over recent years, many of our students and graduates have either created their own companies or played a leading role in developing innovative startups. Please click on the following links to be taken to a brief roundup of what they are doing and their future plans:
- EngX - Jack Pearson, Alex Michaels, Glen Cahill, Ed Cooper (MEng 2016)
- Genius IP (QUADSAW) - Mareks Zevalds (BEng 2018)
- Hazy - Harry Keen (MEng 2014)
- Huxlo - Matt Mew (MEng 2016)
- LettUs Grow - Ben Crowther and Charlie Guy (MEng 2016)
- Lightbug - Chris Guest (MEng 2015)
- No More Taboo - Chloe Tingle (MEng 2015)
- Sprout - Harry Garstka, Ryan Pugh, Tom Mallett (MEng 2018)
- Swytch - Dmitro Khroma (BEng 2018)
- Consequential Robotics - Izzy Barnes (MEng 2017)
Jack Pearson, Alex Michaels, Glen Cahill, Ed Cooper (MEng 2016)
EngX is an Engineering Design (EngDes) spin-out founded by 4 Engineering Design alumni and together they are developing the factory of the future. EngX has designed the first process to integrate additive manufacturing, assembly and electrical wiring into a standalone automated machine. Their process will reduce the costs and set up time of low volume production, opening up a new world of custom products.
The team has been working hard for the last two years, winning grant awards from both JISC and the University of Bristol. They have also been recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) through a prestigious Enterprise Fellowship Award, providing both funding and support to bridge the gap from academic research to commercial enterprise.
EngX has had international exposure through their development work in China and early investment from SOSV, a US-based venture capital fund. The Founders spent 6 months in Shenzhen developing their technology after being accepted into Hax, the world’s top hardware accelerator. Working with Hax gave the team fantastic opportunities to present their technology around the world: Hong Kong, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Lisbon.
The technology originated from a joint research project that all four founders undertook whilst studying Engineering Design. The two-year research project, which is a key differentiator between Engineering Design and other courses, was sponsored and supported by an industrial partner - the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC). This gave their project real-world relevance, as it originated from a genuine industrial need and therefore was a viable candidate for commercialisation.
Engineering Design has been a large factor in the team’s success, giving them a broad set of skills with which to survive the tough transition from education to enterprise. The course ensures that alumni have a strong technical background suitable for developing innovative technologies, alongside fundamental leadership and group-focused work skills. The course's projects help develop the transferable skills necessary to successfully launch an enterprise; from project management to communication. Additionally, the Faculty staff consistently go above and beyond to support the students, providing introductions to potential clients as well as technical advice or grant-writing support.
Currently EngX is progressing through the RAEng Enterprise Fellowship and is preparing to launch pilots in 2019.
Genius IP (QUADSAW)
Mareks Zevalds (BEng 2018)
QUADSAW is the world’s first tool that cuts square holes. Helping the builder, this tool ensures a faster, cleaner and more accurate way of cutting sockets for electrical and light installations. I was introduced to QUADSAW by one of the class members in the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (NEF) programme, a prestigious programme for training promising entrepreneurs, which I was accepted on whilst completing my degree. The Engineering Design course was a real benefit to my application, putting me in a position to demonstrate both engineering and commercial awareness. The work ethic and broad understanding of design engineering that I’ve developed manifests itself in a portfolio of work that impresses more experienced professionals. The course’s links with industry were amazing, enabling me to gain relevant experience through placements and projects, which acted as a springboard for other projects and freelance work.
I plan to complete the NEF programme and hopefully combine my Design Engineering and business knowledge to start a company, either linked to QUADSAW, or independently, in the next couple of years. By summer 2019, I hope to demonstrate a product for potential investors before graduating from the NEF.
Harry Keen (MEng 2014)
Hazy is helping companies treat data responsibly. We use machine learning to find personal information in data and anonymise it. This means businesses can use their data for analysis, testing and software development whilst respecting the privacy of the people in that data. I started Hazy with my co-founder in 2017 having worked together at our last company and seeing the problem first-hand when trying to share sensitive data with remote developers. Since then, we’ve gone through two rounds of funding, raising £2.5m from investors including Microsoft, Notion and Nationwide. This year we’ve built the team up to 14 people and launched the first version of our product.
Engineering Design provided the grounding of my technical understanding and instilled a level of curiosity that’s helped me start a business based on a technology I had little prior experience with. The ability to learn new concepts quickly has helped me lead on all areas of the business. Being able to collect worthwhile commercial insight, distil that into a sensible product road map and communicate it clearly to the rest of the team are all skills I developed at Bristol. Above all, Engineering Design teaches you how to deliver complex projects efficiently as a team which is the core challenge we now face every day.
We’re building up to another funding round in approximately 12 months' time. Working back from that, we need to lock down our product, define exactly who it has the most value for and how we reach them. This will involve working closely with our initial customers such as Nationwide to help steer the direction of the product in the short-term, then we’ll look to replicate these case studies with new customers.
Matt Mew (MEng 2016)
Huxlo aims to use technology to bring simplicity to the built environment. We design, manufacture and distribute architectural products. Our focus is on products that the customers can customise. Our unique digital manufacturing approach allows customisation at an affordable price by removing human elements.
Matt started Huxlo in his masters year (2016) of the Engineering Design course. He initially won grant funding from all three rounds of the New Enterprise Competition and later won grant funding from UnLtd, The Environment Now and School for Social Entrepreneurs.
Huxlo has developed a modular construction product. Having built a strong business foundation, we plan to build an automated supply chain and increase the quality, reliability and affordability of modular buildings and other architectural products.
Ben Crowther and Charlie Guy (MEng 2016)
LettUs Grow provides efficient technology and services for the indoor farming industry. Their integrated offering of hardware, software and high-value research capabilities positions LettUs Grow as the go-to technology supplier for the rapidly growing indoor and vertical farming markets.
LettUs Grow's patent-pending aeroponic technology and farm management software, Ostara, provides average yield increases of 80% compared to hydroponics. Ostara makes indoor farmers' lives easier through automated data collection, operational planning tools and cloud-based optimisation from data collected across a network of farms.
Charlie and Ben founded LettUs Grow with Jack Farmer (University of Bristol Biology graduate) whilst in their final year of the Engineering Design course, leveraging their experience in industry and sustainable design to create environmentally efficient growing systems. Over the last 12 months, LettUs Grow has expanded to 11 full-time employees, brought to market their first product and are currently building europe's first aeroponic vertical farm.
As a team they have been acknowledged by Business Insider and TechSpark, and the RAEng as a part of the flagship SME Leaders programme. LettUs Grow has raised funding through crowdfunding, private equity, grants and Innovate UK, has been selected as a finalist of the international Green Challenge Competition 2018 and works with the UK Digital Catapult, STFC and Harper Adams University.
Over the next 6 months, LettUs Grow aim to continue their expansion into the greenhouse and vertical farming markets and bring their first mass production product to market. The team then expect to begin moving into international markets and make true on their goal to ‘Feed the next generation’.
Chris Guest (MEng 2015)
Ligthtbug is an ‘Internet of Things’ company providing full stack services (Hardware, Connectivity and Platform). Our primary focus lies in the design and manufacture of miniaturised tracking devices capable of operating worldwide with a battery life of up to 15 years. These devices have applications in asset management, child care, elderly care, livestock management and monitoring, theft prevention, business optimisation and research to name but a few. Thousands of our devices have been deployed across more than 40 countries, providing valuable data to individuals, businesses and research institutions alike.
Last year, LightBug was awarded a grant by the ‘Environment Now’ programme to create a level sensing device designed to help optimise waste collection operations as well as monitor drainage systems. These devices are now in trial in a number of UK councils and when deployed, will allow councils to reduce the number of waste collection vehicles on the roads and proactively manage and reduce flooding, cutting emissions, gathering valuable data and reducing costs.
Engineering Design and my experience at the University of Bristol provided the foundation for a number of skills I would need to run a business. Learning how to approach and manage technical projects and teams requires a lot of trial and error; experience which the course regularly provided through projects. These projects were generally open-ended enough to encourage innovation whilst maintaining enough structure to allow for failures to be constructive learning experiences. The interdisciplinary nature of these projects has also provided me with an invaluable breadth of knowledge, generally allowing me to jump into a technical discussion with someone on the other side of the world about a completely new product in an industry I might not have heard of before, already having an understanding of the core concepts or technologies in the field (examples include firing a probe into a tornado or designing a “Fitbit for cattle”).
Looking to the future, Lightbug is growing and gaining more traction. The next 12 months will likely involve hiring new staff, expanding our operations and pursuing larger customers to bring about optimisation at scale. Our products have now matured to a point where large multi-nationals are enquiring about device deployments in the millions of units, and scaling to meet those demands is the next challenge on the roadmap.
No More Taboo
Chloe Tingle (MEng 2015)
No More Taboo is a not-for-profit social enterprise that creates long-term, sustainable solutions which tackle period poverty, challenge taboos around menstruation and empower people to build a period friendly society.
Period Poverty means that females do not have the resources to manage their periods effectively. This doesn’t just mean financial resources, it’s about not having access to appropriate products or not having sufficient knowledge, due to a lack of education.
When I finished my MEng in Engineering Design I spent time volunteering for an inspiring Bolivian charity, called Fundación Sodis. They said “You’re a female engineer! Great we have a project we would like you to work on!” It turned out that they knew that menstrual health and hygiene was a huge issue in their community but they weren’t sure what to do about it. I was shocked by how little knowledge the teenage girls I was working with had about periods, combined with poor hygiene facilities and limited access to sanitary products. Despite these setbacks, the Bolivian people had such concern for “Pacha Mama”, or Mother Earth, and were appalled by the damage disposable products can have on the environment. I was already concerned about our own disposable culture, meaning thousands of tonnes of contaminated menstrual waste are dumped into landfill or burned each year, all over the world. So it made me think, why aren’t we doing more here? When I returned to the UK I decided to set up No More Taboo as a not-for-profit social enterprise. I have since worked on the issue in both Uganda and Nepal but the current focus of our work is working with disadvantaged people here in the UK. As an engineer, my passion is problem-solving. This is a problem that absolutely fascinates me, with links to feminism, equality but also basic human rights, fighting poverty, access to water and sanitation, education and empowerment to make a choice.
Many people say to me it’s a shame you aren’t an engineer anymore but to me that is just not true. On a day to day basis I use my project management and organisational skills to plan and run the business, I use communication skills constantly when applying for funding, pitching my organisation, doing talks or advocacy work and working with my team of 3 staff and 12 volunteers. I use my technical and product design skills, financial, negotiation and budgeting, all skills honed during my Engineering Design degree. Along the way I’ve had to use my imagination, adapt, research, manage risk, quality test, validate and innovate, all essential engineering skills.
Over the last 3.5 years we have grown and developed as a social enterprise. In 2016 I was Start-Up of the year at the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, we have raised over £18,000 through successful crowdfunding campaigns, taken part in both Start-Up and Trade-Up courses provided by the School for Social Entrepreneurs and been awarded funding from the Big Lottery and the FORE foundation. We have worked with over 150 vulnerable people living in period poverty in Bristol and eradicated over 10 tonnes of menstrual waste through sales of sustainable sanitary products. This year we plan to expand our workforce from 3 to 5 and really invest in our trading income, which mainly comes from consultancy research work and events.
Harry Garstka, Ryan Pugh, Tom Mallett (MEng 2018)
Sprout, a social enterprise, was founded by the three of us in our final year on the Engineering Design course. It became clear to us that local businesses were striving to make positive changes in their operations that were more sustainable (whether that be socially, environmentally or economically) but were hesitant to do so due to the associated costs. The Bristol population, however, look favourably on businesses that are sustainably conscious, and take this into consideration when making purchasing decisions. Sprout is being developed as a platform that encourages businesses to implement positive changes to their operations through the support of their customers. This is achieved by committing the business to a specific improvement once a certain threshold of customers register their purchases from the store on the Sprout app. This positive cycle will help customers make more sustainable purchasing decisions and companies to continuously improve their environmental and social credentials, making Bristol an even better place to live. We were fortunate to raise £10,000 from the 'Environment Now' programme to support this project.
Engineering Design was critical in enabling Sprout’s progression. The ability to identify a real-world problem, break it down into its constituent parts and then work in co-ordination as a team were all skills developed on the Engineering Design course, honed through years of group design projects. A major skill learned on the course is the ability to marry both technical and non-technical solutions so that the final output is optimised as a whole, not as separate entities. In addition, Engineering Design recruits and develops ambitious students, so being able to work with curious and driven course-mates makes the whole experience very enjoyable.
Our next steps at Sprout are to continue working with local businesses in order to understand their sustainability objectives, whilst simultaneously designing and developing the Sprout platform before our big Bristol launch.
Dmitro Khroma (BEng 2018)
Swytch is a unique electric bicycle conversion kit that turns any bike into an electric bike. It is designed for simplicity at a price much more affordable than other electric bikes. Our aim is to make electric transport accessible to everyone and reduce our reliance on less environmentally friendly forms of transport, especially in congested cities. I met my co-founder during my placement year at Cambridge Consultants.
We launched our product through crowdfunding and raised over £500,000 with backers throughout the world. 8 months later we successfully developed the product and shipped to our customers. We are raising a further £1M to grow our team and accelerate our growth in the market.
The skills I learned through Engineering Design and my placement year have been key to my contribution to Swytch. The hands-on prototyping and manufacturing experience gave me the confidence to manage the entire hardware development. This led me to relocating to China for 8 months to oversee our product’s electromechanical production and assembly. We now have a strong supply chain and are building our own factory and engineering team dedicated to supplying our current and future products.
In 2019 we plan to crowdfund a new improved product based on all the feedback and our experience with the current version. We have also partnered with a large European bike share operator to develop a kit specifically for share schemes. I plan to stay directing and working at Swytch as we continue to shape this rapidly growing and exciting new market.
Consequential Robotics - Izzy Barnes (MEng 2017)
Developing Social Robots for Assisted Living
After working at Sebastian Conran Associates for 9 months following graduation, I have since moved to its sister company, Consequential Robotics, which is a robotics startup primarily focused on the development of MiRo, a fully programmable autonomous robot for researchers, educators, developers and healthcare professionals. With six senses, eight degrees of freedom, an innovative brain-inspired operating system and a simulation software package, MiRo is a flexible platform suited for developing companion robots.
I am the Product Manager and member of the Senior Management Team, running all aspects of developing the product and bringing the new MiRo to market. The role is giving me some fantastic experience – my organisation, technical knowledge, creativity and personal skills are used every day and my position allows me to talk to people and go to events that I would only have dreamed of (David Attenborough, Richard Branson and the founder of Raspberry Pi to name a few).
Consequential Robotics Website
Sophie Sladen (MEng 2013)
Synthetic Biology is the interdisciplinary application of Engineering and Biology to build artificial biological systems for research, engineering and medical applications. Evonetix is a biotechnology start-up set to revolutionise de novo gene synthesis (‘building’ genes artificially) to facilitate this fast-growing and exciting field.
With the huge increase in DNA sequence information available to mankind over the past ten years, there now exists an unprecedented opportunity to engineer metabolic pathways and organisms, improve industrial processes, engineer genomes with new and improved traits in the field of pharmaceutical and drug discovery, and use DNA as a medium for digital data storage.
At present, these opportunities cannot be fully realised because of the limitations of existing methods of synthesising DNA. A highly disruptive technology such as ours is likely to achieve the significant improvements in DNA synthesis required to enable and facilitate these opportunities. We therefore believe that we will be well placed to capture part of the growing multi-billion dollar synthetic biology opportunity.
I joined the company in April 2018 as the first in-house mechanical engineer, following several years working in product design consultancy. The Engineering Design course and my industrial experience so far has equipped me well for the role, which requires me to work closely and collaboratively within a team to design, build and test the mechanical equipment and interfaces required for the technology to work.
In particular, the multidisciplinary aspects of the Engineering Design course provided me with the skills required to work closely every day with a team of electronics engineers, software engineers, physicists, biologists and chemists.
LettUs Grow head to the final of the 2018 Green Challenge in the Netherlands