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Inside the Imperial College Enterprise Lab
As Enterprise Week launches at Imperial, we look inside the new College facility where students come to meet and develop their ideas.
Some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs were university students who never finished their degrees and dropped out to follow their business destinies – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg.
While few would criticise their epoch-making decisions, students today needn’t leave university to pursue a business idea or social enterprise – and indeed research intensive universities like Imperial provide the perfect environment in which to develop innovative ideas and new ways of thinking and problem solving.
Over the past few years, Imperial has been building its support for entrepreneurially-minded students and early career researchers with several schemes, initiatives and facilities – including the Venture Catalyst Challenge ; the Althea-Imperial Programme ; Imperial College Advanced Hackspace ; and the Imperial Enterprise Lab.
In the innovative spirit of repurposing and hacking, the slick and modern Enterprise Lab was built from storage space in the basement of the College Library – creating our very own slice of Silicon Valley here in South Kensington.
It offers state-of-the-art digital tools, techniques and training to help students build better business plans and improve their performance at pitching to potential clients, partners or investors. But it also gives students the knowledge, skills and experience to compete for the best jobs and make a real impact in companies that hire them.
Bruno Cotta, the Lab’s founding Director (and Engineering and Business School alumnus), said: “Our aim is to support students and others to maximize the impact of translating ideas into practice – whether it’s through innovation in organizations they join, or entrepreneurship in organizations they create themselves.”
Now that the Lab has been up and running for several months, we went along to meet some of the regulars, who are using the space to develop their ideas and skills – and help others do the same.
“Imperial is in the unique position of having a Business School attached to a wider College famous for technical and scientific innovations − it is this reason that I chose Imperial College Business School to do my full-time MBA. However, the challenge for Imperial is to connect the many entrepreneurial-minded people across the entire campus and to foster relationships between different departments to help develop more successful Imperial born start-ups. The Enterprise Lab is an amazing example of a solution to this challenge, being a place that encourages and develops many of the exciting ideas born every day across the College.
From a personal point of view, the Enterprise Lab has helped an initiative I started in 2016 called MBA Connect. I approached staff members from the Lab, including Liz Choonara and Chris Corbishley, with an idea to form a group of Imperial MBA students from a variety of professional backgrounds and nationalities who would support and mentor start-ups across the College. The team at the Enterprise Lab were hugely supportive in helping MBA Connect become an established programme. The people who are part of MBA Connect have helped many start-ups across Imperial with expertise in business planning, marketing, pitching and other relevant skills − it is this ethos of collaboration that the Enterprise Lab encourages, which will ultimately help more people to create viable and successful businesses in the future.”
Maya Pindeus, Raunaq Bose, Leslie Nooteboom; Current students, Innovation Design Engineering; Co-founders of BLINK
"We first visited the Imperial Enterprise Lab looking for advice on how to take our project ‘ BLINK: Humanising Autonomy ’ forward. Since then we have joined the VCC 2017 cohort and the Enterprise Lab is giving us support through business coaching, legal advice and pitch training. Over the past few weeks our project has evolved from an idea with a working prototype towards building the foundation of a future business.
Our vision is to build a communications device that redefines the relationship between pedestrians and self-driving vehicles. Current street level interactions are mainly between pedestrians and drivers through eye contact, gestures and sound. With self-driving vehicles we have to redesign these interactions. BLINK is a communication device that creates a two way communication between pedestrians and autonomous vehicles. It visualises the vehicles’ intent and allows communication through machine learning of gestures.”
Pae Utoomprurkporn Natwilai; Alumnus (MSc Global Innovation Design, 2013–2015); Director & Founder of GetTrik
I originally trained as a mechanical engineer at Chulalongkorn University – a research-intensive university in Thailand – then enrolled at Imperial and the Royal College of Art on the Global Innovation Design Masters course. Whilst at Imperial I got involved in the Althea-Imperial programme for aspiring female entrepreneurs, and although my idea for controlling drones wasn’t shortlisted, it really got me thinking about innovation more. I won a place with Entrepreneur First, a highly technical accelerator in London and started to develop my ideas more. I’m now really progressing with my start-up GetTrik, which utilises drones to scan structures and create digital maps of surfaces for inspection purposes. Manual inspection using traditional scaffolding or rope access takes days or weeks to complete, and can cost thousands of pounds. I am hugely proud to have recently won the Innovate UK’s £50,000 Women in Innovation Awards.
The Enterprise Lab at Imperial has been hugely beneficial for me as an alumnus as it provides a focal point and I can still network with some of the world leading expertise at the College in drones and software development. I can also see how beneficial it is for the next generation of entrepreneurs at Imperial – it’s used as a training base for the Althea-Imperial programme now.
Find out more about acitivies and events taking place in Enterprise Week.
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