Seaweed idea helps Reading students win YES22 competition
09 February 2023
Reading’s entrepreneurs win prestigious national titles with ingenious business plans
Two teams of researchers and technicians from the University of Reading participated in the final of the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES), winning the overall competition, best finance, best intellectual property, and the People's Choice award.
The winning team’s hypothetical, but plausible, product, ‘AlgaeMino’, is a sustainable seaweed-based protein powder that requires minimal processing, is nutritionally complete, palatable, and suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets.
AlgaeMino team leader, Pradeep Vijaya Kumar said: “YES turned out to be a remarkable adventure and winning the finals was the happiest moment for all of us.
“We brainstormed ideas to find one we were excited to work with, and then implemented advice received from our brilliant mentors, all in a short time.
“This has given us confidence in handling the presentation of ideas to any audience. We’ve gained valuable skills applicable for any career path we might take in the future.”
Reading’s other winning team, MindX Lab, presented their idea for an alternative treatment delivery method for mental health conditions, winning the People’s Choice award.
MindX Lab worked on the idea that medications could be delivered via a film patch that is absorbed in the mouth. They explained that this offers both an improvement in the side effects from medications and is more environmentally sustainable than traditional tablets and capsules.
Team leader, Saumya Sood said: “YES has been an exceptional experience! We stepped out of our comfort zones to achieve something that was out of reach until we received mentoring, as part of the competition. It was a great learning opportunity on how we might translate research into marketable products.
“Ultimately, we have opened paths for our futures, through the amazing networks we’ve built. We are proud to have come this far, to deliver a winning pitch at the National Finals.”
YES has been running for 27 years, training more than 6000 researchers, with the aim of preparing scientists and engineers for future business endeavours. Teams are encouraged to take novel science and engineering ideas to address the big challenges we face, such as healthy ageing, food security, and climate change. From their idea, they are mentored – including, in the case of University of Reading, by the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship and the University of Reading’s Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence – to develop a business plan for their imagined start-up company.
Pradeep Vijaya Kumar said: "In a period of few months, we learned, unlearned and relearned so much business knowledge from our mentors.
“As a highly diverse team – including a technician – we had many ideas and perspectives to draw on. We learned to brainstorm novel ideas that could benefit society and environment at large.
“The guidance we received enabled us to translate our scientific idea into a business idea, which ultimately went on to win the YES finals.
“Our future career paths have just been widened far beyond any of our imaginations."
For the first time in the history of YES, the competition has officially opened to technicians, as well as PhD students. Dr Simon Cutler, from the University’s Knowledge Transfer Centre, which provided key support to the teams, said: “Technicians are often in a great position to spot opportunities for commercialisation. It made sense to include this group in YES and we were glad to field a winning team, from Reading, that included a technician. We hope they will go back to work with a new perspective on the potential impact of their research.”
Professor Malcolm Skingle CBE, GSK, chaired the YES judging panel. He said: “Having been involved with YES from the start, I have seen participants go on to spin out companies, work in business development, and become patent law specialists. YES genuinely has an impact on the lives of participants and for many has opened up a whole new trajectory for their careers.
“As ever, the competition was tough and there were many worthy candidates for the win. AlgaeMino impressed us by considering every part of their product lifecycle and its potential environmental impacts. They had a solid plan and a great idea to utilise an under used resource.
“MindX Lab took a different approach, considering one of the biggest challenges to health and productivity in the UK, and coming up with a new approach to improve treatment. Again, sustainability was a key factor, as well as taking account of patient experience, compliance, and other factors that we know affect the success of medical treatments.”
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert van de Noort said: “Congratulations to both winning teams! This is a tremendous achievement that gives me a great sense of pride.
“The University of Reading has strong links with industry. We are always thinking about how our world class research can be translated for positive impacts in society. The YES competition is a great way for bright minds to gain entrepreneurial skills and an understanding that they do not have to be permanently chained to the lab bench. We expect that they will use these skills to bring real life products to market, in the future.”