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#MakingitWork – how the SETsquared community is going above and beyond during COVID-19

The world has changed, perhaps forever; the impact of the global pandemic sent ripples through every sector. But that disruption has been met head-on with proactive resilience by our SETsquared start-up and scale-up programme members. They have responded to the crisis with great agility, allowing them to reimagine their offering and prosper.

There are broadly three different ways in which member companies have stepped up, and here I’ll explain how they met the challenge to not only thrive themselves but also support others.

  • Opening up services to support people

It is a very challenging time for the social care sector and AutonoMe, a SETsquared Bristol member, was quick to extend their support for vulnerable people. Their innovative app combines educational technology with one-to-one support to help people with learning disabilities overcome barriers to independent living. When the crisis hit, AutomoMe set about providing its technology for free to help ensure people with learning disabilities do not feel disconnected from society.

Their service is particularly pertinent because the one-to-one support is delivered through video content – providing the perfect solution to the challenges created by social distancing. The app guides the service user on how to for example, change their bed sheets or cook a meal. And, local authorities also utilise the app to gain insights on how well the individual is developing their independence, allowing it to focus on specific outcomes and therefore be more efficient with each person’s care package.

TravelTime, an alumnus of SETsquared Surrey, offers an app that searches maps and data by travel time. They adapted their business at lighting speed to repurpose their data and then provide unlimited free access for the government, charities, healthcare and NGOs so they could better plan their COVID-19 responses. TravelTime is also providing financial help for start-ups by enabling them to reduce their costs on geocoding or map tiles by at least 75%. SETsquared and others have helped TravelTime on its way – and they saw this difficult time as being their opportunity to try and do the same for others.

SETsquared Bath alumni MoveGB has generated more than £1m for fitness, yoga and dance instructors across the country since launching its lockdown-inspired Move At Home service. MoveGB pivoted its business to help reduce the economic impact the coronavirus would have on its partners by quickly adapting its subscription-based fitness platform to run completely online.

  • Delivering new or using existing technology to help test for and prevent the spread of COVID-19

It is incredible to see that the first-to-market COVID-19 antibody blood test kit with 98% accuracy has been launched by SETsquared Bristol member, Forth & Forth Edge. It is an Abbot CE marked test that indicates if your body has developed IgG antibodies to SARS-COV-2 in response to a past infection of COVID-19. Forth & Forth Edge is providing an end-to-end service that includes a mobile nurse to visit users in their homes to draw the blood sample, analysis in their accredited laboratory, and online secure access to the result.

Another great contribution to the healthcare sector is our Scale-Up Programme member Lifelight, based in Southampton. The company’s technology provides safe contactless clinical observations to help patients feeling unwell. Their innovative platform allows any smartphone or tablet to measure blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate via its built-in camera. This has enabled patients in Winchester with suspected COVID-19 to gain the professional advice of their GP in the comfort of their home helping to prevent the spread of the disease.

SETsquared Exeter member, Emtec, has received Innovate UK funding to develop a contact proximity tracking application which can be used by hospitals manage the impact of COVID-19. The Emtec software development team has extensive experience of vehicle tracking using location data and Bluetooth and will be able to deploy people tracking technology onto its existing platform using apps installed on mobile phones. The technology is being trialled with a number of hospitals in the US.

  • Accelerating or extending services to support businesses and communities

SETsquared is an amazingly capable community of innovative businesses that have shown during this time how determined they are to support wider society or the community in which they operate.

A great example of this is LettUs Grow, a SETsquared Bristol member, which has accelerated the build of two vertical farm modules in the city and is donating food during COVID-19 to those locally who need it most.

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the fragility of the UK’s just-in-time food supply chain. The UK only produces 50% of the food it consumes, which leaves it vulnerable to shocks in the global supply chain – like COVID-19, which has caused closures and enforced lockdown. LettUs Grow is set to provide a consistent, predictable and climate-resilient food supply to the local community all year round.

The loss of community interaction due to COVID-19 has left many vulnerable people at risk. In response, Neighbourly the award-winning giving platform, has been ramping up their incredible connective work and have created a new fund for community organisations to support those most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The SETsquared Bath alumnus secured a Neighbourly Community Fund and through its partners, committed a combined total of almost £500,000. This allows Neighbourly to provide immediate micro-grants to community organisations to help for example, the elderly and families on low incomes.

Gapsquare, a Bristol SETsquared member, launched a collaborative COVID Workforce Management Insights Dashboard. This information hub shows live changes to the workforce as a result of COVID-19, including insights and trends by sector and predictions on how it will change over time. Gapsquare aim to use the dashboard to see how the UK can re-shape its workplace for a better fairer future for all companies and their employees.

How is SETsquared helping during the crisis?

In order to maintain the same level and quality of business support whilst keeping everyone safe, we worked quickly to move all of our programmes and events online. From our GradInvest Investment Showcase for student entrepreneurs to our Innovation Workouts for our scale-ups companies – we’ve engaged with 400+ entrepreneurs, businesses and investors online during lockdown.

Equally our Business Acceleration Centres moved seamlessly to deliver their services online in order to thoroughly support member companies through this challenging time. Business Review Panels and workshops have taken place virtually as well as SETsquared Bristol’s flagship showcase event Tech Xpo which attracted an audience of 200.

The University of Surrey created a COVID-19 SME Grant Scheme to support its innovation ecosystem in this time of crisis. 60 SMEs received funding from this scheme, including Play Well For Life which is using the funds to contribute towards product printing.

Our Scale-Up Programme supported six companies very rapidly to apply for Innovate UK funding, titled Business-led innovation in response to global disruption, which offered a share of up to £20m for projects responding to new and urgent needs during COVID-19.

Accelogress was one of these companies and we’re pleased to announce has successfully secured the funding for its solution to the urgent need for transport operators to be able to efficiently implement social distancing on their services amid current Covid-19 restrictions. An additional five SETsquared Surrey companies (plus Exeter company EmTech mentioned above) have also been awarded funding from this Innovate UK call.

Our Scale-Up Programme also supported BJS Biotechnologies (BJS) working alongside Cardiff University on a submission into the Welsh Government COVID-19 Digital Solutions Fund competition in June. BJS is using its expertise in qPCR thermal cycling to develop a fully automated system for quicker and more accurate sample testing, working with Cardiff University researchers from Biosciences, Engineering and Computer Science, to provide NHS Wales with a cost effective mass testing programme for COVID-19.

If successful, this technology has the potential to safeguard Wales against a future pandemic and be adapted to test other health conditions.

SETsquared is very proud of how its members have responded to COVID-19, they have not only adapted and thrived themselves but brought their resolve and expertise to society as a whole.

Times like this really bring home how important it is to keep pushing the boundaries of science, technology and engineering and why we need to help bring innovations to the forefront.

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SETsquared is a partnership between

  • University of Bath
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Surrey