Brighter ideas

C&I Issue 5, 2023

Read time: 4 mins

Sharon Todd, SCI CEO, looks back over five years of Bright SCIdea – SCI’s own entrepreneurial contest for young scientists

Over the years, SCI’s annual Bright SCIdea competition has covered an impressive range of problems. From developing more environmentally friendly, sustainable concrete to addressing cardiac health, making solvents greener, displaying environmental impact on food packaging, removing heavy metals from contaminated soils and tackling stress.

Now in its fifth year, the international competition is open to budding student – undergraduate and postgraduate – entrepreneurs with scientific business ideas to address societal problems. Entrants receive training and mentoring in the key areas of running a start-up company – from marketing and pitching to investors to protecting IP and managing finances. Along with the opportunity to win £5000 in prize money to help launch a business.

Winning formula

As the Bright SCIdea Challenges in March 2022 and 2023 demonstrated, the competition is more global and diverse than ever, having encompassed young scientists from 28 countries – from Iran to Portugal and Brazil – 84 universities and nine judges. The 2023 winner – University College London team Phagel – has developed a new way of treating burn wounds, designed to prevent infection. The team is designing a hydrogel mix containing a combination of bacteriophages – a type of virus that infects bacteria – held in stasis and focusing on burns that could develop septic complications. The treatment could greatly reduce the length of hospital stays and potentially slash NHS costs.

Like the Earthshot Prize contest, SCI’s annual Bright SCIdea competition also recognises the best in tangible scientific solutions to today’s issues and rewards ‘global innovators’. But while the Earthshot Prize ‘searches for extraordinary solutions to the world’s greatest environmental challenges,’ Bright SCIdea is longer established and covers more diverse topic areas. Although I can’t compete with HRH Prince William as lead spokesperson, we can both agree: ‘People can do great things.’

There is also another link with the Earthshot Prize. Founded by three materials scientists, Durham based LCM – the 2019 Bright SCIdea winner – is shaping the green construction sector with its science-based, low carbon building material OSTO. In 2022, LCM was one of the three international finalists in the Earthshot Prize’s ‘Fix Our Climate’ category.

LCM CEO and Co-founder Natasha Boulding, who completed a PhD in chemistry at Durham University, has described winning Bright SCIdea as ‘a real springboard for us. We received invaluable training and business advice and expanded our industry network which helped us attract business funding. Investors have been impressed by our thought leadership which has included being invited to take part in SCI’s COP26 panel debate’. Boulding is now a mentor to other Bright SCIdea finalists, while LCM delivers training around business lessons learned and developing a winning strategy on the final day of the Bright SCIdea competition.

Boulding went on to receive support from BEIS, the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and others and received $2m in investor funding. She also won Innovate UK’s ‘Women in Innovation Award’ and has recently been included in the Forbes list of 30 under 30 – Europe – in the Manufacturing and Industry category.

And Boulding is not the only Bright SCIdea winner turned mentor. 2022 winner CardiaTec is developing technology to address the global killer cardiovascular disease. The drug discovery company was co-founded by two University of Cambridge alumni and an academic. Following its success, the company went on to raise £1.4m in a pre-seed round of funding. Traditionally, cardiovascular disease is an area of under-investment. CardiaTec’s innovation centres on using AI to deliver new insight into patient need.

Addressing the finalists at this year’s final, CardiaTec’s CEO Raphael Peralta stressed the need for speed in business success, ‘learning as much as you can, as quickly as you can, and moving as quickly as you can when bringing your product to market’.

Judging by success

Over the five years, the judges and sponsors have been diverse too. Sponsors have included SCI corporate partners Synthomer, Croda, Unilever, Johnson Matthey, Givaudan and BASF. Synthomer’s Robin Harrison, VP Platform Technology and External Innovation, has been a judge for the whole duration. So too have Victor Christou, former CEO, Cambridge Innovation Capital, and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, founder of Genius Foods. This year we also had guest judges Jonathan Hague from Unilever and Emily Wilson on the panel. Emily was previously at The Guardian and is now Editor at New Scientist. Earlier judges included Accenture’s Inna Baigozina-Goreli, Croda’s Dave Freeman (now at Cargill), CHARM Therapeutics’ Sarah Skerratt and Unilever’s Ian Howell.

Evolving the programme

As the final commences each year, previous winners such as LCM (Low Carbon Materials which won as Plastech Innovation in 2019) and 2022 winners CardiaTec, join the judges to provide last minute tips to the nervous finalists about to pitch to experts. This year’s event was a hybrid one, combining online and in-person pitching, judging and delegate attendance.

Looking back to five years ago and our initial objectives, we set out to support the development of entrepreneurial skills in young scientists and engineers and to inspire some of them to set up their own businesses. We also aimed to strengthen our Early Career activity, promote STEM graduate employability and engage with academic partners. The SCI themes of Energy, Materials, AgriFood, Health and Wellbeing and Sustainability and Environment have been well represented.

Recently, the UK Government has launched a Science and Technology Framework outlining how the UK can improve productivity and prosperity through innovative science and technology. Coupled with a robust industrial strategy, this could help the UK achieve its ‘Science Superpower’ ambition. Bright SCIdea finalists will be at the forefront. SCI works to accelerate scientific innovation out of the laboratory and into industry for societal benefit – the multidisciplinary approaches showcased by Bright SCIdea entrepreneurs are doing just that.

Bright SCIdea 2024

In 2024, the Bright SCIdea contest will take place on Tuesday 19 March 2024 at SCI’s Belgrave Square offices. We are looking forward to further expansion of the programme – with universities involved from even more countries, more sponsors, more judges and more brilliant ideas. So, all budding 2024 Bright SCIdea entrants, please come forward and make the most of the free training and potential prize money to grow your business. In the words of Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne at this year’s final, ‘just make sure that you share a really clear vision’.

For more information on entering Bright SCIdea Challenge 2024 or for sponsorship opportunities, please contact Bryony Parker on

All photos: SCI/Andrew Lunn

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