Seven businesses awarded grants through the Knowledge Gateway Innovation Fund

  • Date

    Thu 24 Aug 17

Davide Valeriani and Ana Matran-Fernandez

A device, which enables you to control your smartphone with the wink of an eye, could soon be in full production thanks to a £15,000 grant from a new innovation fund, set up to help ensure bright ideas become a reality.

The EyeWink is the brainchild of two senior research officers at Essex and promises to provide a hands-free, voice-free means to completing everyday tasks.

It has numerous applications, from the fun – enabling joggers to change their music on the move, to the more serious – helping to make life easier for those with disabilities, for whom even the simplest of tasks can be a challenge.

Through their work, Davide Valeriani and Ana Matran-Fernandez are working on brain-computer interfaces, a technology that allows users to control external devices with their brain. They came up with the idea of EyeWink and soon built a working prototype which was showcased at the London Science Museum and appeared on ITV News.

Now, thanks to the grant from the Knowledge Gateway Innovation Fund, they hope to produce their first batch of EyeWink devices.

Six other fledgling businesses, based on the Start-up Hub at the University’s Knowledge Gateway have also been awarded grants, totalling nearly £30,000 in this first round of funding.

The Start-up Hub, which opened earlier this year, provides practical help and support, as well as hot-desk space, to budding entrepreneurs. It is currently home to 14 businesses.

Incubation Manager, Simon Mead, explained: “For some time we have been providing business advice to our students – over 400 have benefitted from our programmes, covering everything from financial planning, to registering a business and building a website.

“In January, we opened the start-up hub, which also provides them with office space. Now through the innovation fund, we are able to offer much-needed funding, to help them move their businesses to the next stage.”

The other businesses to be awarded funding were:

  • Enrikas Balsys – Tyron (£3,000)
    Enrikas has designed a shopping app, aimed at empowering people to love the way they look and making it easier for them to buy clothes online. It allows the user to surf all their favourite brands in one place, save and build outfits and eventually share them with others. He’ll be using his grant to launch his product.
  • Claire Parry-Witchell – Healthy Body and Mind Community (£2,000)
    Claire will use the funding to develop and launch a website to provide free, reliable health and well-being information and advice. Her inspiration for the website – which will feature real people with real life experiences – came after she lost 14 stone in weight  and gained a passion for supporting others looking to make lifestyle changes to improve their health.
  • James Sesay – Glamville (£3,000)
    James has set up a cosmetics company to supply fun, budget and animal-friendly products suitable for all skin tones. He hopes to start trading early next year.
  • Emmanuel Ferreyra – EvologIt (£2,500)
    Emmanuel has developed an artificial intelligence device to help people with failing eyesight. The money will be used to complete the algorithmic work needed to progress the idea to prototype.

Martyn Hinson and Johnathan Fisher are both computer games designers, who have been supported by the Games Hub programme, based on the Knowledge Gateway. They’ll be using the funding to market their latest products.

  • Martyn Hinson – Nysko Games (£2,000) 
    Currently developing The Dwarves of Glistenveld – a real-time strategy game about digging holes and beating up goblins. An early prototype received very positive feedback at recent games festivals in Colchester and Norwich.
  • Johnathan Fisher – Waywood Worlds (£1,760)
    He specialises in short-play action and adventure games for the web.