MRes student and startup founder Vishal Kumar talks about the support he’s received from UCL Innovation & Enterprise through skills workshops and the Hatchery startup incubator programme.
Vishal is studying for an MRes Spatial Data Science and Visualisation at The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA). His startup Photogram.ai is based at the Hatchery, UCL’s dedicated startup space at BaseKX, King’s Cross.
Photogram.ai is a computational photography startup specialising in AI-accelerated hardware and software for modern photography.
We’re building an AI-accelerated computational camera: the Alice Camera™ will give creatives tools to enhance their creativity and push the photographic art form forward.
For example, one of the early features will use AI to understand the contents and context of a scene so exposure and lighting settings can be adjusted to suit difficult conditions. We also plan to use computer vision models such as Densepose to maintain continuous focus on moving objects and Superresolution to increase the image resolution beyond the capabilities of the optical system.
Importantly, we plan to open source the development so developers around the world can build for the Alice ecosystem.
Our target customers are semi-professional photographers all the way up to the 40 million income-generating content creators on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.
Our plan in the short term is to release an MVP (minimum viable product) of the Alice Camera™ on Kickstarter in 2020.
Developing skills and meeting people through UCL Innovation & Enterprise
Last year I attended both SPERO 2 and 3 (free entrepreneurship skills workshops for PhD and doctoral students run by UCL Innovation & Enterprise).
Both courses were very helpful in reinforcing some entrepreneurship skills I already had. But, most importantly for me, I had the chance to apply these skills to case studies and within team role-plays. Working together in teams, listening to each other and pitching our ideas helped me in a practical way for real-life applications.
I was able to leverage what I learnt on SPERO to help me reach the semi-finals of the Mayor of London's Entrepreneur Competition 2019 and win a place on the Entrepreneur First programme.
I’ve also been to First Mondays (a regular networking event held at Base KX) a few times where I always meet interesting people, including a speaking coach who I still use.
Support from the whole UCL Innovation & Enterprise team
Various members of the entrepreneurship team have helped me in different ways.
Bao Tieu (Acceleration Manager) has been very kind in introducing us to people and investors in his network. One of the most fruitful introductions landed us a place on the NVIDIA Inception programme, a virtual accelerator for AI startups revolutionising industries.
Janette Junghaus (Programme Officer) and Doug Stidolph (Business Acceleration Advisor) have frequently informed us about opportunities to showcase our ideas and product. They invited me to the NACUE 2019 dinner where we demoed our camera for the first time.
Jo Townshend (Senior Partnerships Manager) told us about the Beyond 2019 Conference, an R&D conference for the creative industries exploring the intersection of AI and creativity. This led to us presenting our business on the main stage at the conference!
Our business advisor Peter Haycocks has also helped refine and meet our monthly goals to ensure that we stay on target.
Being part of the Hatchery
It’s really encouraging that UCL provides entrepreneurs the facilities and resources they need via the Hatchery to begin their entrepreneurship journey.
Since joining the Hatchery in August 2019 we’ve been very happy and grateful. The facilities are great and free office space has been a boost to us. Access to brand and design innovation consultancy and free legal advice have been unbelievably important for Photogram.ai.
Being able to work in the King’s Cross Knowledge Quarter and close to UCL, as well as the brand association of being a 'UCL startup', has many positive externalities.
Advice for potential entrepreneurs
This is a really good time in history to be getting into deep tech. If you’re a researcher and you have a scientific discovery or meaningful engineering innovation, I think there’s a very valid and clear opportunity to go and test your ideas in the marketplace. Software and hardware infrastructure, products and solutions have become much more accessible for you to use.
However, you really need to be sure that entrepreneurship is what you want to do with your life. A very good way to test this is to make use of all the programmes UCL Innovation & Enterprise offers such as SPERO. It’s a long, risky, uncertain and very difficult road ahead so you better know what you’re getting yourself in to!