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Software to make science cheaper, faster and greener

Software to make science cheaper, faster and greener

Bristol-based start-up Molydyn is working to make computational chemistry more accessible. Launched by Matthew Bone a PhD student from the University of Bristol, Molydyn’s Atlas software helps users test hundreds of molecular combinations in a week, negating the need for a lot of early lab work.

Matthew Bone, Founder of Molydyn signed up and has joined the fully funded SETsquared Sustainable Business Support Programme – we caught up with Matthew to chat about his entrepreneurial journey.

 

What is the background of Molydyn?

Molydyn is an early-stage start-up working towards making computational chemistry more accessible for material scientists. The Pharmaceutical industry really shows the strength of this kind of chemical modelling and its ability to improve drug design, but material science lacks the expertise to take full advantage of these tools and there is no reason to say that it shouldn’t use these tools! Molydyn is trying to help laboratory scientists spend less time running experiments that fail, giving them a bit of direction and showing them where more novel materials lie.

The hope is that this new software will help scientists do more chemistry experiments on the computer and less time in the lab saving time, money and reducing negative impact and waste.

Scientists can try combinations of up to 30,000 atoms and see them interacting in a 3D model. I  believe that transferring work from the lab to the computer will save huge amounts of time and money spent on testing chemicals. Meanwhile, running fewer machines for less time and disposing of less dangerous chemicals will make science more sustainable.

 

What stage is the business at?

We have just released the first version of our platform which helps computational chemists work faster – we’re trying to get more value out of the people with simulation skills at the moment.

We are looking at developing the platform further and using it to generate our own material IP. We aim to show the world how well these tools work and use them to solve some really big sustainability problems like new materials or wind turbine blades, protective coatings for pipes – that sort of thing.

It’s very early days – we have big goals and we are still only a small team with just two-three of us at the moment.

 

What are you hoping to achieve with Molydyn?

To show material scientists just how good these modelling tools are, that they are worth the investment and can really revolutionise the way that people do materials discovery.  The ethos that underpins all of that is a need to drive more sustainable research, both at the point where you do the research and development (R&D) and the output of that R&D making sure those materials are not going to last forever in the environment, or to solve key green technology problems.

 

Why did you want to start your own business around this and what influenced you to choose this pathway?

I discovered these tools at the end of my chemistry degree and I really loved them – it felt like a fun way of doing research and the process was a lot faster than working in a laboratory. It makes you look at chemistry in a different light, which I found really interesting and was surprised there wasn’t a bigger uptake. It was at this point I started to think about building a company that helps people get into these tools and have the same sort of pleasure doing research that I got.

Both my parents have been business owners and my Dad still runs his own business. Growing up in this environment I’ve always seen business as the way to do things and I’ve always wanted to have a company and follow them in that regard. Molydyn was an idea that has a nice commercial backbone to it and supports the research interest that I have. Academia can be a challenge to get the same kind of impact for your research so the commercial approach feels right to help scale and grow the idea.

 

What were your motivations for engaging with SETsquared and the University of Bath Sustainable Business Support Programme?

I was exploring avenues as to how we as a business could support other people’s sustainability efforts, which is when I came across the West of England Sustainable Business Support Programme.  I think it is important for us to consider our impact on the planet, but as a software company we have quite a limited footprint at the moment, so it’s more how can we frame what we’re doing to help reduce other people’s footprints. Getting into the programme I realised that there was a lot more value there than just that.

Also having access to expert-funded support is vital, particularly for start-ups and SMEs. Business support of this nature is invaluable to help support the development and growth for any organisation.

 

What support have you received and what feedback do you have about the programme?

So I signed up for the 12 hours of funded support through the 2-day Sustainability Workout as I could see the value of spending time at a workshop that not only focused on the business model but linked sustainability into the core values. It was a lot more useful than I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be mainly about how can we be more sustainable. What I really liked about the workshop was the whole holistic approach to how to grow your business and have a commercially sustainable business whilst also being environmentally and socially sustainable – so that was really useful.

The workshop was framed in a very interesting way, the course facilitators were incredibly experienced which came through and it was great to be able to lean on the experience and have engaging discussions. The content and pace was excellent with some highly interesting case study examples which were key to demonstrating what we were talking about.

 

How will you utilise your learnings and adapt to your business?

It has really changed the way we are going to do our business model now. We are moving away from just selling software and more into how we’re going to use that software ourselves and prove that it works for people. This will allow us to focus on key sustainability topics that we are interested in.

Attending the workshop has been instrumental for us in that move, but it was also useful to see how we can have an impact in terms of our environment – not just in the technology we develop, but the way that we operate and how that can appeal to both potential staff and potential clients – as well as the need to get involved socially an area we are pushing on is the educational side.

Do you have plans to expand your platform and make it more accessible to a broader user audience?

We are driving to make the whole platform easier to use – the accessibility side of things really is key for the whole of Atlas. We are trying to make it so people can pick up these skills quicker – if you’re a lab chemist or in a related field such as physics or engineering you can learn through Atlas and get useful results quite quickly. We are going to build some of that accessibility by offering plenty of tutorials and explanations on the different parts of the simulation process.

As an aside I’m working at the moment to start a charity to raise the awareness of computational chemistry amongst A-level students – trying to show them that there is a career path there that is very varied when you get into it but also has a huge scope coming out the other side with the degree.

 

What have been your biggest challenges and what are the next steps for Molydyn?

The ongoing challenge is proving that these tools are useful and can be applied to these different situations. We have just been awarded a £25,000 innovation prize from QantX, a local VC. This will allow us to do some more empirical testing and to start generating a database of materials that we can use to optimise and validate our simulation tools.

For us, it is a very exciting time to actually get hold of good formulation data and use it to show that our models can do what we say they can do. It is vital that we can be impactful when it comes to real commercial technologies and commercial materials. 

 

And as for next steps?

We have Atlas out now and we’re looking at that generating some revenue, that will allow us to not have to chase too much in the way of prizes and early investment over the next 6 months.  We’re going to be looking for seed funding towards the end of next year – with an interest hopefully in showing that we’ve got technology that works and then scaling the more commercial aspects of the business – expanding sales and marketing and getting what we’ve got out there.

 

The Sustainable Business Support programme is funded through the European Regional Development Fund and run through SETsquared and partnered with the University of Bath.

 

Find out more about Molydyn and their driving materials discovery through simulation: https://www.molydyn.com

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