The Ufi Voc Tech trust awarded iSci the inaugural Ray Barnes Award for innovation. I was proud to win the award with the team, and I was even more happy that it came with a funded project. Most importantly, I am glad that we were able to use it to focus on the viability of potential new avenues for business and we learnt a lot by doing that. Ufi stated in their official release:
The prize was founded in honour of our late-Chairman and aims to continue his legacy promoting innovation-led skills development. The criteria for the winner reflects Ray’s vision for Ufi and his commitment to using advanced technology to deliver tangible benefits for the UK workforce.
Ufi Voc Tech Trust
Interactive Scientific (iSci) emerged as the project that the Ufi trustees felt best exemplified Ray Barnes’ vision. While all Ufi’s 100 projects have worked hard to advance the standard of vocational learning in the UK, iSci’s Nano Simbox stood out for its work in combining scientific rigour and advanced technology to make complex science training accessible to scientists, academics and students.
This award was particularly important to me because of what it represented. We didn’t apply for it, in fact I didn’t even know we were in the running, so the day I found out I was overwhelmed with emotion. Ufi have supported some incredible companies so for us to stand out for innovation was incredible.
It also came at an opportune time. We had been through a summer of difficult shareholder negotiations and changes to the team that were very draining. Our fundraising through investment was stalling because of the governance challenges and I was completely burnt out. The Ray Barnes prize came with the opportunity to apply for a £100k project, which we ultimately achieved.
The project we scoped was to further develop our science learning tools for use by applied science college students and the science industry. We also used it to carry out some market research in the corporate chemistry sector. The research showed that this was not a viable market for us at this time given the resources that we had and it helped us to realise that the main target customers needed to be universities for the time being.
The project findings also helped me to realise that iSci requires some fundamental changes in 2020. Innovation is not easy and the baseline is a moving one. What was previously a product based company needed to shift to service based, purely due to the slow pace of the market, we would need a lot of investment money to get product traction and to get a lot of money we needed product traction. There are many ways to break out of this catch 22, including project based work that enables proof that we can sell and deliver to customer needs whilst developing the product and carrying out thought leadership work to educate the market.
We now have some exciting developments on the cards. I can’t say much yet only to say I am getting a lot closer to achieving my goals.