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Nothing Ventured, nothing gained
Venturefest, York’s annual science and technology exhibition, is a showcase of the region’s innovative young businesses and entrepreneurs. Business editor Julie Hayes meets a few of these shining stars.
York 3D Ltd
PROMISING great advances in prototyping or even just for printing your own gizmos, 3D printing is all the rage.
And a university technician has developed a home version, which hobbyists can even build themselves.
Aidan Lucas, a technician in the product design department at York St John University, spends his days assisting students with technology to make their creations a reality.
In the evening, he goes to his own office in the university’s business incubator, The Phoenix Centre, where he builds and sells build-your-own 3D printers.
Aidan, who spent 12 years working in industry, engineering “interactive toys” for visitor attractions, started to build the 3D printers after buying a low-cost, open-source rapid prototyping system for himself.
“I didn’t like the chassis, but kept the electronics and all the good bits and designed this.”
He received funding from the Whyte Knight fund to help turn his design into a business. The 3D printer uses a biodegradable plastic derived from corn starch, so it smells like cooking rather than giving off potent fumes, he said.
“It’s to allow product designers or tinkerers to have an idea and actually make it real,” he said. A lot of his customers are retired, and hobbyists have set up websites to share designs, such as mobile-phone cases, which other hobbyists help to develop.
“I’m making ten of these at a time,” he said. “Ideally I’d like to make 1,000 at a time and flood the market with them.”
Aidan said he had attracted a lot of attention at Venturefest, with businesses also keen to find out how they could use the equipment.
ANOTHER business built on a passion for electronics is Seggy Segaran’s Custard Pi.
The former managing director of York PAT-testing equipment manufacturer TeleProducts showcased his range of add-ons for the Raspberry Pi, a not-for-profit organisation which has developed small and affordable computers which people can programme to have a range of practical functions.
Seggy, who is to release a book in April for people, particularly young people, who want to learn electronics through projects, said Venturefest introduced him to educational organisations, and he will be presenting to university students as a result.
He also collected interest for a Raspberry Pi jam session for like-minded people to come together to play and trade ideas.
APTAMER Solutions, winner of the Investment Competition last year, returned to Venturefest this year to build on the support it has received.
The company, which develops medical testing processes using aptamers, a synthetic alternative to antibodies, was founded by Dr Arron Tolley and Dr Dave Bunka.
Dr Bunka said: “This time last year we were in Aaron’s basement, doing it on a really small scale. Within a year, with support from Venturefest and the people we have met at Venturefest, we’re now based at Fera and have lots of projects in the pipeline. It’s all moving forward at such a rate and we’re doing better than we expected to be at this point.”
The business has already secured two rounds of funding from the Technology Strategy Board and at Venturefest 2013, Dr Bunka said it was talking to people interested in investing in the business as it eyes new technologies it hopes to acquire.
The Law Wizard
TECHNOLOGY business The Law Wizard, which has developed an online platform to enable people to do simple legal processes themselves, won the Innovation Showcase this year at Venturefest.
The company, set up by a former probate solicitor Tom Hiskey and technology specialist Rob Blake, launched its first product, The Probate Wizard, last year to help to make the legal process after a bereavement easy, quick and cost-effective.
The do-it-yourself option, which allows members of the public to complete probate and tax forms accurately and automatically, has already been described by online legal magazine Legal Futures as “groundbreaking”.
In November, the business, based in The Catalyst at the University of York, launched its product to the legal profession and it has already landed Kings Court Trust, one of the biggest providers of probate, as a client.
The judges said Law Wizard had developed a truly “disruptive, innovative technology” and the company has won £13,000 worth of business support.
A new business run by graduates of the University of York launched a new social media management application at Venturefest.
Iquara, which specialises in bespoke web, mobile and cloud-based applications, QueuedIt is a social media management application to help small teams and businesses manage their Facebook and Twitter accounts, by enabling a manager to approve the activity of its employees on social media.
It launched the project with a free trial for businesses.
Chris Rowell, co-founder, said: “It is the first time we have done an event like this and the response has been really great.”
A BUDDING entrepreneur with an eye for engineering impressed business people at the Venturefest Yorkshire gala dinner.
Alex Youden, a 17-year-old A-level student studying physics, maths and ICT, is a finalist for the Young Engineer of Britain after winning the regional Big Bang Inspirations competition for his GCSE projects, a golf swing training aid.
“I have always been interested in engineering from a young age and wanted to know how things work. I have grown up around engineers and problem solving all my life and creating new products and problem solving is what I enjoy and want to do when I’m older.
“I have been playing golf for a number of years as a hobby, so I knew the target market very well,” he said.
He developed the tool based on two lasers, which measure the speed of a swing to the nearest mile an hour.
Since winning the competition, Alex has had a week’s work experience placement with BAE Systems in Brough and developed the product, with a more powerful chip and LEDs which change colour according to the swing speed.
He said: “I will be aiming for good A-level results. I’m undecided which university or even in which country I want to go to university, but what I’ve done so far has been an incredible experience. I wouldn’t swap it for anything else.”