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Innovate Space Festival in Leeds

I had a brilliant time at this event organised by the Space Hub Yorkshire team. They invited me along to connect and talk to other early-stage entrepreneurs and innovators in the space sector, also learning from the different presentations and panels during the day.

It was two years to the day since opening an email from the UK Space Agency about my success with SatelLife, so it was great to meet people that I’ve been working with online for the first time.

I hear people emphasising that careers in space are more than becoming an astronaut and the festival was an eye opener for me with the range of roles and specialisms. So good to see beyond GNSS and environmental solutions for a day! I started out very niche in this sector so it was brilliant to get the chance to learn from the Leeds Rocketry team and their latest mission!

Great to share my work with others at the event and for Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, to recognise my achievements and plans with Galileo Masters and now the GNSS incubator programme. The Innovate Space Festival was also an amazing opportunity to join her in trying out some new VR experiences!

Images from the Mayor’s team

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Galileo Masters UK Challenge Winner 2021

Really happy to say I was encouraged to enter the Galileo Masters programme this year and won the UK challenge set by GRACE at the University of Nottingham.

What does it mean for me and my roadmap? I was successful in the UK Space Agency’s SatelLife competition last year after realising that satellites could be the answer to some of my technical difficulties. Still, I hadn’t been able to move on with those developments. Since finding out about winning in September, I’ve refined my plan because Galileo Masters gives me access to specialist help that I need for GNSS integration with the team at GRACE. Last night’s awards evening means we can now share the news and start to work through hyperlocal positioning developments on my roadmap!

Galileo Masters UK Challenge Winner 2021

Thanks to Ines’s guidance and encouragement and the AZO’s organising team, I got through a few extra rounds of judging during this Autumn term. At the end of the awards evening, a big surprise was the announcement that Perfect Sense AQ was one of the final six companies chosen as GNSS incubation winners.

In 2022 I’ll be working with GRACE, my chosen incubator organisation, to embed GNSS into my pin badge. At the same time, I’m continuing to develop the pollution sensor and pin badge with the team at Graphene @Manchester. This year I have also been working with Dell Technologies UK, who have supported me with technical coaching, including app development, data and security. So I’m looking forward to a new year of news about everything coming together!

Age matters, but why should it be a barrier?

Over time, I am fortunate to have found a group of people and organisations that can help me now, so we don’t have to wait until I’m a certain age.

It’s been a few years now sinceI’vee been developing the pin badge. Recently though, my age has come up in a couple of conversations about my work, so it feels like a good time to write about experiences and how it has affected the direction of my plans.

Sensor development and Bridging the Gap

I chatted about my progress with the team at Graphene@Manchester in January, and it got turned into this blog post. The surprising thing that came out was my thanking them for always working with me as”Av” and my work ideas, rarely mentioning my age. I have to remind them of how old I am at times, but other than that, it’s not talked about as we move through the roadmap and my own training. It was a surprise for them to hear that not everyone can support young people in the same way. Bridging the Gap is a programme for SMEs that has made a difference in my work and helped me progress with the roadmap as we completed phase one in December 2021.

Galileo Masters and incubator programme

The other recent instance when age became a factor was in the final judging round for Galileo Masters. Being incorporated, I’d taken my submission through to winning the UK Challenge and then got invited to more judging for the Galileo Incubation programme. Again, the team assisted me through the process with sensitivity when they realised how old I was.

Things like scheduling interviews and judging early in the morning with the help of the CET time zone made a difference so that I didn’t miss school lessons or maybe just a little bit of registration time. Some mornings were a bit bizarre, like fielding questions from 30 judges across Europe and then getting into school before the first lesson – for my form teacher to tell me not to make a habit of it!! Having confidence in me like that, that he thinks it could happen again, also matters! Just being flexible, really, and helping me to access the entire programme. Adults have other commitments that they need to move around, right?

I struggled to prepare for my final pitch because I worried about making the most of the opportunity if I got through. However, I’ve learnt from others in a similar situation that we often need to put together our training and support programme, so being transparent with goals and ways of working is super important. James Baker has a lovely way of saying that to people he works with through Graphene@Manchester, saying to “make your own luck”.

So here’s part of my introduction after meeting with Paul Bhatia from GRACE at the University of Nottingham and knowing they could work with me throughout 2022. I led with my age, which was definitely nerve-wracking for me, but after a lot of practice, it seems like I said what I felt I needed to speak with some conviction.

“Today I’m asking you, as judges, to believe in me once more and support me as I take my start-up forward again into a scalable and commercial venture. It’s timely now to mention my age. A first for me during this Galileo programme. As I share details about the partners and advocates that I’m working with, gaining traction over the last 3 years, it might NOT be obvious that their flexibility has been key to my successes. They all understand that flexibility is crucial when working with me as a teenager. Not everybody does!!!!”

It worked! Selected as one of the 6 companies on the programme across Europe and with my first choice incubator partner to embed GNSS into my design. This was huge for me after winning SatelLife back in July 2020. I hadn’t been able to access other spaces-based initiatives, to do what I needed to do because of my age. Funding tied to office rental space and technical support is a no-go when I need to be in school over 70 miles away, but I am grateful for the coaching conversations I’ve had along the way. I’ve learnt that networks are vital, and being introduced to different ones in the space sector has been really useful. Back to sensor development, I was welcomed into the Graphene Flagship, and as my first experience of being in a network, I know how much it has helped me.

Technology considerations

Starting with entrepreneurial support after incorporating Perfect Sense AQ, I learned much about leading a startup from a brilliant mentor in Leeds. Her support guided me through the same things that she helps other SMEs with, and one area we looked at was technology and data integration.

Since April 2021, I’ve taken the opportunity to learn about what we identified and more, with support from different teams at Dell Technologies UK. This is about training and helping me to move from school and self-taught programming and digital tools to what’s used in commercial settings. And that’s been hard at my age in the technology field, so I’ve saved the most challenging of barriers until last for this blog post.

It took Dayne Turbitt half an hour to put the first steps in place to help me with what I needed at the time. From that, I’ve worked with a great team, including engineers who can show me how to make a difference in my work. We’ve made the most of Microsoft Power Apps, free with my school 0365 account, to look at commercial use cases and take on network architecture and cyber security. We’ve also done wonderful things with presentation techniques in remote meetings with VR and design using PowerPoint – I presented with what I’ve learnt. Finally, I talked about progress with plans in the Galileo judging rounds. Next, we’re linking my contribution at COP26 with future steps for Perfect Sense AQ to look at green tech solutions and sustainability.

I’m fortunate to have had the chance to learn this way. Beforehand, I’d experienced a glass ceiling with age that I couldn’t break through, and that was a trigger to look again for an organisation that could help me at that time and not a few years into the future. I’d been rejected because of my age for a technology programme with another company when age wasn’t mentioned in the eligibility criteria. I’ve even been asked to get some mates to join me so another organisation could help us as a team. I rejected that offer and came away with more of an understanding of young people’s challenges in accessing what they need. Things do get easier at 16 when boot camps and online courses start to open up, and that’s something else to think about when you’ve got a summer birthday like me, and we want to get started straight away!

Finally

I’ve learnt from it all and the different directions it’s taken me to find exactly what I need to make progress. There is support for people like me with an idea, a product and a business plan, but it’s sometimes harder to find straight away. In my friendship group, I’ve also become more aware of others in the same situation with tech-enabled entrepreneurship. Age doesn’t have to be a barrier, and one day soon, I hope it’s easier for everyone with a plan to find their way. For now, I’m grateful I’ve got the support around me from people who know how to help me today and will continue to learn and network with other entrepreneurs, whatever their age.

Header image by @slidebean on Unsplash

Developing my new pollution sensor with the team at Graphene Manchester

As the end of the year approaches, it’s been time to think ahead about the next steps in the new year to further develop my new pollution sensor. It’s been a busy term seeing how the literature review was brought together, with the team taking the time to make sure I understood everything along the way and where each part of the design fits into the research.

I started the year agreeing with Stephen Fry’s thoughts on graphene, and look where I am now with the pin badge at the end of 2021!

The Bridging the Gap programme has allowed me to make this happen, and although confidentiality means I can’t say too much at the moment, the future DOES look bright, and it DOES have graphene in it!

Talking in the blue zone UK Pavilion at COP26 with the Department for Transport

The Future of Mobility Through Local Innovation and Transport Solutions.

Being a panellist and talking about the future of mobility, local innovation, and transport solutions was amazing! So pleased I could add my own views, work and links with partners in this latest stage of development. It was also a brilliant chance to listen and learn from the others on the panel and hear about their work in government, universities, local authorities and industry.

Here’s the summary for this event on Transport Day and who we all are.

Leading voices will discuss how we need transport systems which reflect local requirements and an understanding of the interdependencies between transport and infrastructure to tackle poverty, emissions, health, and other challenges.

World Leaders Summit at COP26

It’s been another exciting week after I was invited to contribute to a film which will be shown to global leaders on the second day of COP26. I’ve finished my recorded pieces and can’t wait to see the final version when all of our voices come together.

Update!

You’ll see my short contribution at about 1 hour 9 minutes. I’ll also share my messages at the panel event in Glasgow with the Department for Transport on 10th November – Future of Mobility Through Local Innovation and Transport Solutions.

Signed onto an R&D programme for SMEs with The University of Manchester and Graphene

This month I was accepted onto one of the University of Manchester’s programmes for SMEs, giving me unique opportunities to continue and accelerate our R&D work.

Yesterday I was back working with the team in the GEIC Building and setting out how graphene and advanced materials can add even more potential to my pin badge.

Watch this space!

Young green leaders roundtable with the Department for Transport

The Cabinet Office connected me with Ministers at the Department for Transport to help me share my views on the development of Perfect Sense AQ. They want to add the voices of young people to decision-making about the future of transport and continue these meetings in the run-up to COP26.

To mark Net Zero Week, I was invited to join the roundtable by Rachel Maclean MP to give a view on the government’s newly launched Transport Decarbonisation Plan, what’s important to me and an idea of using transport as a teenager. We also got the chance to talk about how more young people can get involved in conversations about policy and climate ambition, but also to say what we need now to progress with our work. Here are my thoughts on the themes from yesterday’s first roundtable.

On what policy idea or new innovation would best help the UK reach net zero transport

I’d like active transport added to the hub for green transportation, technology and innovation. With my own invention and user stories for people who want to protect their health, including asthmatics, I see science, technology and data as enablers to make changes in our daily lives. 

Providing better data and information helps people to make better decisions about their journeys, and everyone deserves the healthiest start to each day. That meant collecting my own data on my walking route to school because that wasn’t available from the DEFRA monitoring sites in Leeds or at a hyperlocal level from an app on my phone, for example, the air quality index from Apple maps. 

On trends, I see amongst young people today that are going to affect how we all travel and get around in 2050

Public transport is expensive for my friends in the city and me at the moment, so we tend to walk as much as possible. The bus is a more viable option for getting into the city centre, but the infrastructure isn’t in place today so that I can use more direct routes to go across the city. So if I want to visit my friends or go to the cinema in another part of Leeds, we tend to go into the city centre first and then get another bus. The public transport system needs to be a lot more efficient. 

The other thing is that we all have bikes, but we choose not to use them to cycle to school or get around the city. So, on the one hand, it’s great to see more segregated bike lanes in the centre of Leeds, but until we can ride in them where we live, we’re making a decision based on safety concerns not to use our bikes for active travel. I also think it’s essential that our local council continues this work alongside the central government because they know our city best. 

By getting more young people involved in the UK’s efforts to reach net zero transport

Based on the statistic that 98% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK in 2020 used a smartphone, I believe that technology can drive progressive changes in transport. Young people are influencers. We model change, set trends, influence each other and can be a significant influence on family members at home. The government needs to leverage that and link it to the technology in our pockets.

In the same way that tackling air pollution is often talked about as ‘making the invisible visible’, we also need to share examples of how the UK will look 10, 20 and 30 years from now if just a tiny percentage of the population changes today to decarbonise. This country-wide effort needs immediate action, and everyone needs to make changes for a sustainable future.

Some people find it hard to imagine a future decade away, and my latest work is to immerse myself and others in the future using extended reality. Aggregating different datasets lets people see what their community will look like if they DO, or DON’T, make the necessary changes today. More to come on this work!

taken from Perfect Sense AQ and XR

What innovation means to me

I’ve been asked about this a lot recently, so here are some of my thoughts. Innovation, to me, means doing something different. In the context of climate action, science and technology is just a catalyst to help people understand how their changes will accelerate overall progress. So my preferred and novel approach is empowering everyone to turn their data into information instead of relying on information shared by governments or other central organisations.

I have found it challenging to encourage everyone to change their behaviours today. Some people find it hard to imagine a future that is decades away, and this is a significant problem that needs immediate action. In the same way that tackling air pollution is often talked about as ‘making the invisible visible’, we need to use data and build models of how the planet will look 10, 20 and 30 years from now if just a tiny percentage of the global population make the changes needed now.

Climate change is an energy issue. Decisions taken today by the world’s population will be the making of all our futures. On a personal level, the energy we put into our everyday lives and our commitment to make changes will affect future generations immensely. Personal energy, pledges and action are crucial to preserving our planet and addressing issues around the consumption and production of energy as a commodity. To me, innovation is helping people understand their impact on the climate crisis by collecting personal data to tell their own stories, allowing everyone to become change-makers and contributing to the collective effort needed to make a difference.

At the November countdown to COP26, Boris Johnson noted the urgency to act as “climate change will remain the most enduring threat to the futures of our children and grandchildren”. This is my generation. We can catalyse the rate of response. We have the power to change the world, therefore, helping everyone to innovate and do things differently in their everyday lives. 

Leeds in Conversation podcast

The next episode in this podcast from Leeds City Council is about innovation, and I’m excited by the invitation to contribute with my own experiences as an entrepreneur. My age has made a difference at each stage of my journey, so I hope to share the best bits and some of the challenges I’ve had to overcome.

Update: the recording is now live and available here.