The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition will see 24 projects tackling the world’s most pressing issues pitching to industry heavyweights for the opportunity to bring cutting-edge science to the real world.
This is just one of the reasons judges like Dr Jason Harcup became so enthused.
“Some of the ideas they come up with are almost magic,” he says.
As Vice President for Research and Development at Unilever, Dr Harcup is usually concerned with return and investment but the point of this competition, he says, is very much about societal impact.
“There is so much innovation out there,” he adds. “ I love that fact that people care enough to have a go and are doing it for things that matter.
“It fills me with enthusiasm to see that there are good people in the world who want to do constructive good things and also that the science just keeps on giving.
“The imagination and lateral thinking that somebody will take, maybe taking an archaic chemical procedure which might have had its day a long time ago, but they will discover there’s a completely new application for it which is very current and very relevant.
“I don’t know what nerve it tweaks but you just love it.”
Now in its eighth year, the competition is a programme identifying some of the most novel, innovative and promising chemistry across its core categories of Energy & Environment, Enabling Technologies, Food & Drink and Health.
This year’s competition attracted over 90 applications, with the final shortlisted 24 representing a diverse range of proposals from tech innovators, start-ups and spin outs from across the continent.
Entries include projects that tackle climate change, environmental pollution detection, food shortages, and brain health breakthroughs.
Each category winner will gain £20,000 prize money as well as one-on-one mentor support for 12 months and a further £20,000 available as a business acceleration grant.
For many, the prize funding helps to bridge the gap between concept and proof while international exposure from the prestigious competition can help attract investors and customers.
Winners have significantly raised their profiles, expanded overseas, entered commercial contracts, conducted clinical and industrial scale trials, and collectively doubled their staff.
Emerging Technologies Competition winners from previous years have gone on to raise a combined total of over £51m in equity investment and grant funding, with one company subsequently being sold for £28m.
Many of the entries this year came in just as lockdown was starting and the standard was particularly high, continues Dr Harcup.
He says: “Maybe people were unable to do their lab work easily so they were at home polishing their submissions and decks and the quality of the materials coming through was fantastic.”
He is part of a highly experienced panel of 19 judges across the four categories with over 450 years’ collective experience in their fields.
Their organisations have an annual turnover of over £250bn, representing just under 600,000 employees in almost 500 locations across the globe.
But with so many innovative and worthy ideas, how do the judges choose the winners?
“That’s what makes the judging so enjoyable,” continues Dr Harcup. “It’s like choosing between apples and oranges, that’s when you look at the merits of the work and see if the chemistry can help us discriminate and find a winner.
“It’s also about how much difference the funding will make towards the end goal. If it is something that will help open the gateway for venture capital funding then you might go for that because that will keep it going.”
The finalists will pitch to their category’s judging panels at a virtual event on Monday 28 September and the winners will be announced on 30 September on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s social media channels.
For more information about the event go to www.rsc.org/competitions/emerging-technologies/