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UCL toasts the best and brightest of its student/business collaborations

18 October 2011


It started as an idea picked up at a conference in the US. Two years later, around 400 students and academics from UCL and London Business School are or have been involved in a variety of projects for more than 100 SMEs across 30 different industries under the auspices of UCL Advances’ HELO (Higher Education London Outreach) programme. To date over 150 businesses have signed up to the HELO programme.

On 17th October many of these students and start-ups gathered together at UCL to the background sounds of BBC DJ Devon Daley, to raise a glass in celebration of HELO’s unqualified success and applaud and reward some of its stars for their contributions to helping the capital’s start-ups to solve specific business problems.

Tim Barnes, Director of UCL Advances and UCL Enterprise Operations and one of the judges, says that the collaborations were of “real, meaningful value. They are nothing to do with a student’s course, or gaining credit towards a degree. They are nothing to do with companies exploiting free labour.”

“Instead they are part of a bigger series of events, where startups have access to the specialist knowledge and intellectual capacity of two of the world’s top universities, and in turn students gain valuable business experience and skills and, sometimes, inspiration to become entrepreneurs themselves. It’s a two-way conversation that often continues way beyond the initial project time.”

Dr Dave Chapman, Vice Dean of Enterprise - UCL Faculty of Engineering and another judge, adds: “I am constantly surprised by the range of projects, from consultancy to prototype building to software testing to website design. HELO has reached out beyond the expected MBAs and Masters in Management students to those in science, engineering and technology as well as arts and humanities.”

Despite tough competition, three winners, or winning teams, were eventually chosen.

The prize for Best Project was awarded to Edward Byford and Matthias Link for their market research for Satalia, a UCL spinout that has developed algorithms to carry out complicated optimisation across a number of industries. The two conducted an in-depth analysis of business opportunities that could bring in new revenue streams to add to Satalia’s work with verification of semi-conductor chips in the US.

Using market research reports, academic papers, interviews and public information, Edward and Matthias focused on financial services, and specifically hedge funds, as the most appropriate area for Satalia to enter. Satalia CEO Daniel Hulme says: “The team exceeded all of my expectations…producing a thorough and comprehensive report with critical primary market research.”

The award for Best Technical Project went to Sunny Emmanuel for his 3D-CAD pictures and rapid prototype model of an innovative form of a mail box called the DropBox, which has an electronic lock and communication device based on wireless technologies. Inventor Bill Outram, founder of Original Ideas Ltd, says he envisages “a continuing relationship with UCL Advances over the years, whereby I am able to stimulate young entrepreneurs into adopting best possible practice to get an idea from concept to market.”

The award for Best Impact went to Asma Al Taee, Amir Bendjazia, Samir Seetal, Nicolas Ulloa Olguin, who created a pricing strategy for social enterprise DoNation (www.thedonation.org.uk) to allow the start-up to approach potential companies and thus ensure profitability. The DoNation is an online sponsorship tool with a twist – replacing cash with a ‘green’ action like eating less meat or cycling to work. The DoNation then calculates the CO2 saved.

The team generated a risk analysis model to determine the financial impact to a company of implementing the DoNation programme. They recommended targeting companies with at least 2,500 employees that value green initiatives, such as large consumer-oriented corporations. Essi Niittymaki, HELO’s Project Manager, says: “Without a significant finance background, the team – a mix of UCL and LBS students - created easy to use, albeit complex calculations which The DoNation could use for providing CO2 savings for their clients. Everyone participated equally and worked to their strengths.”

Essi also made a few awards of her own, to Alexander Foster, Mashhood Rastgar, Thet Mon Aye and Burcak Alp for their contributions which, she says, “went way beyond what they were originally asked to do.”

Commenting on the judges’ choices, Dave Chapman says: “It wasn’t an easy decision. But eventually we chose the winners we did because they represent aspects of UCL and HELO that we are most proud of. Edward and Matthias tackled a very difficult subject in mathematical algorithms and carried out due diligence in their research, spanning the boundary between finance and engineering. Sunny made use of UCL’s physical resources which would normally be beyond the reach of a small company. Asma, Amir, Samir and Nicolas showed that success cannot always be measured in terms of money, that social engagement and sustainability are important to us too.

“All show great promise for the future. We look forward to hearing about what they do next.”


HELO (Higher Education London Outreach) Project

MSc Management students win HELO Awards

Business awards help engineering graduates to optimise their success - Download [PDF/86KB]