Innovation & Enterprise


UCL startup receives funding to accelerate social care worker training in response to coronavirus

24 June 2020

Digital health startup Oslr plans to help train social care workers in preventing the spread of coronavirus after securing a £50,000 government grant from Innovate UK.

Social care worker talking to a patient, both wearing face masks

UCL based Oslr is currently repurposing its digital health platform in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Initially developed to help train hospital doctors, the technology will be adapted for use by staff in care homes and social care workers in the community, so they can be trained more efficiently to prevent contagion in these settings.

Supporting startups during the pandemic

Innovate UK has worked with the government to invest £750 million to support innovation in the country’s most research-intensive businesses during and after the coronavirus pandemic, and to support new ways of dealing with global disruption.

Among these initiatives, the Fast Start competition, which opened in April 2020, received an unprecedented response from the community with over 8,500 applications. In total, £40 million has been awarded to around 800 ‘cutting-edge’ startups including Oslr.

Welcoming the award, Dr Adam Pennycuick, Oslr’s CEO and Clinical Training Fellow at UCL, said: “Social care workers are facing an unprecedented challenge to continuously learn emerging practices to protect both themselves, their family and the people they care for during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“With restrictions halting face-to-face training, there’s a clear requirement for remote training and we believe our validated digital health platform could help in delivering and capturing that training.”

Adapting the business approach

Prior to the current crisis Oslr was developing a digital platform to connect medical students with doctors to enable valuable bedside teaching opportunities.

The company was  about to finish a pilot of the platform at a London hospital as the pandemic emerged (with pilots and interest from several other NHS trusts nationwide). Roll-out plans were put on hold as face-to-face teaching was suspended and hospital resources were diverted to the emergency Covid-19 response.

Located at UCL’s entrepreneurship hub in King’s Cross, London, Oslr has previously worked closely with both the entrepreneurship team and the Global Innovation team, part of UCL Innovation & Enterprise. 

When Innovate UK put out a call for funding applications for startups to drive forward new technological advances, Oslr worked with the Global Innovation team, through the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), to consider options for pivoting the business towards support for social care during the pandemic.

Oslr’s Chief Operating Officer Alan Pooley comments: "With the support of our EEN advisor, we looked at numerous options researched by our Business Development Manager Thao Nguyen, such as coordinating NHS volunteering opportunities and even training couriers and delivery drivers. But social care seemed the most pressing need and the closest fit to our technology platform.”

“It’s a large sector. There are more beds in care homes than in hospitals, yet the staff generally have limited options for professional development. So we want to bring a solid evidence base to this on a dedicated platform.”
Oslr is currently in the research phase of developing the new platform functionality, and is trying to understand the learning needs of social care workers. CEO Adam is a respiratory doctor working in the NHS, bringing the latest thinking on suppression of Covid-19 into the app.

Support for an innovation-led recovery 

Alongside Innovate UK’s package of grants and loans, the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) is supporting businesses affected by Covid-19 disruption to understand how to navigate the crisis. Some companies, like Oslr, are being encouraged to pivot their business proposition and repurpose technologies to tackle emerging societal or industry needs. Oslr is being supported to maximise the use of the Innovate UK grant by EEN advisors.

The Global Innovation team at UCL works with Innovate UK to provide support to businesses through the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). 
Margherita Marini, Programme Manager for Global Innovation at UCL Innovation & Enterprise, said: “Clearly this is an incredibly challenging time for the economy and the whole SME community. We have a network of highly innovative and agile companies that are willing and able to adapt to put their skills to use for the benefit of society.

“Oslr is a prime example of this and I congratulate them on their recent award. We’ll continue to support their aspirations and those of other startups as we plot a path to an economic recovery based on innovation.”


Find out more about:

Photo by Dinis Tolipov / 123RF