It is a competition that brings cutting-edge science to the real world, with projects that can tackle societal challenges – and it’s something Will Barton looks forward to every year.
Dr Barton has been a judge since the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition began in 2013 and has no intention of stopping any time soon.
With 45 years of experience in the chemical sciences industries, he brings a wealth of experience in manufacturing, technology and business leadership to the table.
The non-executive director and consultant – who works closely with early-stage technology companies – finds it exciting to hear about projects with the potential to change the world every year.
Previous winners have produced ideas including creating meat products in the lab, stabilising vaccines without refrigeration and finding a safer and lower impact way to tackle corrosion.
The subsequent press and support given as part of the Emerging Technologies Competition prize package has led to profiles being raised, overseas expansions and industrial-scale trials taking place in addition to significant investment being raised.
Entrants submit written proposals for their projects, which are then shortlisted by the judging panel – with constructive feedback also given to each team prior to the live pitch final.
Dr Barton, who received an OBE for Services to Innovation and Manufacturing, said this is what makes the competition stand out from others and so enjoyable.
“I really like the process,” he said. “Some competitions you haven’t had any background and you have to learn about all the technology in ten minutes, but here we have the opportunity to review written submissions and give feedback ahead of the pitch.
“We hope to see the candidates learn from that if they get through to the final.”
Dr Barton, a judge in the Energy and Environment category, is chairman of two past competition winners: HydRegen, offering cleaner, safer, faster chemical production and Oxford Biotrans, which produces high-value chemicals using patented enzyme technology. He is also supporting Viridi CO2, which is re-purposing emissions to close the carbon loop.
The first two companies approached him after the competition to ask for his help, while he was already chairman of Oxford Biotrans when it won in 2018 (outside the category he was judging).
Dr Barton said he supports early-stage tech because he finds it inspiring to help technology ideas emerge from research and into applications around the world.
Over the years, many ideas created by university research groups have been pitched, and some have won, which excites Dr Barton.
He said: “I really believe these days that university research groups should be working on things that make a contribution to society. Sometimes it’s really enabling tech that allows other researchers to work on something that can be commercialised.
“You just have to look at the work that has been done around Covid-19. This is fantastic research coming out of UK universities and I think we are among the best in the world.”
In fact, the two winning projects that Dr Barton is working with directly emerged from universities. Oxford Biotrans and HydRegen spun out – to become an active companies with investment and a licence to use the university research – with Viridi CO2 rapidly approaching this milestone.
Speaking about the competition, Mr Barton said: “After spending 45 years in the chemical industry, it is an opportunity to give something back as well. It is really enjoyable and that’s why I return to the panel every year.
“The competition forces entrants to think about how their technology is going to be commercialised.”
Questions posed by the panel mean applicants need to have thought about the size of the market, how would they would get it to market and think about what an investible business plan might look like.”
His tips for the finalists are simple: make sure you cover the advice you got from the judges beforehand, ensure you tell judges enough about the tech for them to decide whether it is exciting enough and don’t present slides the judges can’t read in the time they are on screen.
This year’s virtual final was open to the public, allowing them to see first-hand some of the most cutting-edge ideas and innovations that could help shape the world of tomorrow.
For more details about the competitionvisit the website.