Business awards help engineering graduates to optimise their success

1 November 2011

Frustrated that academic research involving algorithms in computing wasn’t being used to benefit business and industry, Daniel Hulme (UCL EngD candidate) and Alastair Moore (UCL Dept of Computer Science) launched Satalia, offering a software package using algorithms to carry out complex optimisation.

Satalia

They needed help in commercialising the technology and turned to UCL Advances for advice on writing a business plan, on the basis of which they won several awards. UCL Business (www.uclb.com) then took Satalia through the Proof-of-Concept stage to launch. Now attracting interest from Silicon Valley, Satalia is still assisted by UCL Advances in the form of resources.

It’s a source of disappointment to academics that much of the cutting-edge research that takes place in universities often doesn’t enter the business arena for at least a decade – if it makes it in at all. UCL doctoral graduates Daniel Hulme and Alastair Moore didn’t want that to happen to their hard work. So they launched a new venture, Satalia, offering a software package that uses algorithms to carry out complicated optimisation (mathematical programming that involves choosing the best element from a set of available alternatives) across a number of industries, from banking and finance through pharmaceuticals and bioinformatics to security and defence. They dubbed it “the solve engine”.

“The idea came to us while we were taking some electives in emerging technologies at London Business School,” explains Daniel, who has an MSc and EngD in Computational Complexity from UCL. “A lot of the optimisation solutions that are being used in the workplace are way out of date, as most companies simply don’t have the expertise to program complex algorithms into their software.”

But while the two were comfortable with the technology, when it came to turning the idea into a scaleable business, “we didn’t know how best to commercialise the technology” says Daniel. He turned to UCL Advances, who helped him to develop a business plan that saw Satalia win the London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge in 2008.

The idea also captured the attention of Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Dean of Engineering Sciences at UCL, who suggested Daniel and Alastair talk to UCL Business. UCLB provided £30,000 of Proof of Concept funding the same year, which, along with a Bright Ideas Award of £20,000 from UCL Advances, enabled them to develop a more robust prototype.

Satalia has attracted considerable interest from hi-tech firms in Silicon Valley and Daniel says he has got used to spending a lot of hours on planes. The company is now supported by UCL’s technology transfer office, UCL Business, where one of the partners, Marina Santilli, is a Business Manager. UCL Advances has continued to assist the fledgling company by supplying interns and a Knowledge Exchange Associate.

Anthony, who is also Scientific Officer at the start-up, says: “UCL Advances’ assistance in the process has been absolutely critical to Satalia’s success. They provided training, access to funding, networking opportunities and all-round excellent business advice. They are a very effective bridge between student innovation, academic staff and business people.”

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