Posted: Thu 8th Dec 2022
First launched in 2011, the Santander X UK Awards are one of the nation's largest student and graduate business pitching competitions. They recognise the most innovative and disruptive businesses to come out of UK universities.
This year's programme had two categories: Launch (for new businesses) and Accelerate (for growing businesses). The eventual winners were picked from a rich pool of 120 businesses following an intensive six-week training programme in October and November.
Those businesses then pitched to a high-profile judging panel at the national final in London. The panel of entrepreneurs included Timothy Armoo, who himself founded a tech firm called Fanbytes while at university aged 21 – and sold it for an eight-figure sum six years later.
In the end, six ground-breaking university start-ups won a share of £150,000 in seed funding from Santander.
They will now go through to the Santander X Global Award, Santander's international university entrepreneurship competition, where they will compete with the best university start-ups from Europe and South America in spring 2023.
Here's how the final day played out…
First prize (£15,000): Kitt Medical
Founded by London-based Zak Marks and James Cohen, Kitt Medical's product is like a defibrillator, but for allergies.
Its all-in-one anaphylaxis prevention and treatment system combines life-saving medication with easy-to-follow instructions, an online management system to replace out-of-date and used supplies, and training resources.
Zak graduated from Loughborough University in 2020 with a BA in Industrial Design. Having struggled with a severe nut allergy throughout his life, he'd become frustrated with traditional adrenaline injectors.
"They are bulky and easy to forget, and emergency supplies – in schools, for example – are overly bureaucratic to procure and dispense and complicated for educational professionals to manage. Supplies can easily go out of date without anyone realising."
The company provides a subscription service and equipment that tackles the stigma associated with allergies. It manages the medication, logs incidents, collects data, and replenishes for free.
"Data on adrenaline auto-injection usage doesn't exist – how many pens, how often things happen. It's not at all monitored. We want to develop a system that will help us understand it more effectively.
"Obviously, when we speak to schools they have a lot going on. We can take a few of those things off their hands by automating them.
"The investment and training support from Santander has come at such a good time for us – it's so good to be getting this sort of support at this stage. It's rocket fuel for the launch, fuel to the fire to help us get our kits out there."
Second prize (£10,000): Team Repair
Team Repair is a sustainable subscription service that teaches children science and technology through fixing electronic gadgets with planned faults.
Once a child finishes a repair, they send the gadgets back to Team Repair for reuse. But they get to keep the tools, and gradually build a toolbox across the 12-month programme.
Megan Hale and her five co-founders started the project in 2021 while studying mechanical engineering at Imperial College. It launches in April 2023 following trials.
"We knew we were onto something, so we came up with the idea to teach children to fix electronic gadgets. We felt it could give them the confidence to want to take electronic gadgets apart.
"It was great to have the recognition, and the investment and support offered as part of Santander X means a lot for our business."
Third prize (£5,000): Wateraware Collective
Wateraware produces cutting-edge portable equipment and software to test water quality. Water companies and citizen scientists can use it to collect data to track and analyse the quality of our inland waterways.
Luisa Charles and Ryan McClure founded the company earlier in 2022, having met as students at Imperial College. Still at the development stage, their product will eventually be able to detect pollutants like nitrates, microplastics and E.coli.
"The implications of making it easy to collect and analyse water quality data are huge. This investment and support from Santander makes me feel hopeful for the future. It's been a game changer. Give us another six months, and just see how far we're going to make it by then!"
First prize (£20,000): Milbotix
Milbotix is a care-tech start-up developing wearable 'MPATIX smart socks' that help carers of people with dementia and other conditions that affect communication to detect and manage challenging behavioural symptoms.
The socks use sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect when a person is in distress. This allows carers to intervene sooner to alleviate the wearer's pain and anxiety before it escalates into distressed behaviour that requires more complex intervention.
Founder Dr Zeke Steer studied for a PHD in robotics and autonomous systems jointly with the University of Bristol and University of the West of England. He launched the business in 2020 while studying, motivated to develop the MPATIX technology after seeing how dementia affected his great grandmother.
"Winning the Santander X awards is an amazing outcome for Milbotix and will enable us to make the MPATIX smart socks available early next year. We're also raising investment, which is never easy in the middle of an economic crisis.
"We hope the award will increase Milbotix's visibility with impact-oriented investors who want to be part of the future of social care."
Second prize (£15,000): UNI SIM
UNI SIM is developing new teaching methods for the next generation of dental and medical professionals – haptic and VR simulators that students can use to practise dentistry and medical procedures such as lumber puncture or anaesthesia simulation.
Portsmouth-based entrepreneur James Markey started the company in 2019 while he was studying for an MBA in Technology Management. His invention's incredible potential has already been recognised by the industry.
"Most courses rely on books and theory, but this system allows for a hands-on approach. It holds a student's hand before they go onto patient practice and can help improve their technique and confidence sooner.
"I was over the moon to win the award! The prize money will help us bridge the gap in production run early next year. It also means we can for now resist raising loans or selling equity."
Third prize (£10,000): STAXY
STAXY is a mobile app that safely connects people who want to carpool and reduce their carbon footprint in the process.
It works with communities of users such as students, businesses and sports clubs, providing them with white-labelled apps or software that they can integrate into existing platforms.
Founded by University of Exeter graduates Will Line and James Campion in 2020, the business has benefited from the training and support Santander and Enterprise Nation have offered over six months.
"Both the investment and the training have been incredibly helpful. The funding goes a long way to help us engage users and the training has given us the expertise to grow.
"Santander has offered us some truly incredible opportunities since we engaged with them as second-year students with an idea."