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Innovation Optimiser’s game-changing women


As the world steers towards International Women’s Day 2019, a day for global celebration, unity, reflection, advocacy and action, now is our chance to boast about a few game-changing women we’ve had the pleasure to work with and see nurture through UMIP’s Innovation Optimiser programme, and flourish into the innovative entrepreneurs that they are today.

First up, we introduce you to…

SOMAYEH TAHERI, Founder and CEO of UrbanChain Ltd

The idea for UrbanChain was based on Somayeh’s discovery on how to integrate and automate various business processes in different utility services, and to eliminate the middlemen with blockchain/AI technology. Focusing on the energy market, UrbanChain aims to reduce energy bills by up to 50% for consumers and bring renewable generators to the mainstream market. Not only is it inspiring that she discovered such a revolutionary concept, but she is one of a few female founders in the blockchain industry. She approached UMIP shortly after completing her PhD in 2016 at The University of Manchester and participated in the Roadmap and Momentum programmes. She was later accepted into the Innovate UK’s ICURe programme and received £50k funding to explore the world market opportunity for UrbanChain’s products. Having won numerous awards, invited to export to five countries, and led a fast growing business, Somayeh is certainly a lady to watch.

We asked Somayeh how it feels to be one of a few women in the blockchain industry:
“My time travelling the world to pitch the business proved gender disparity. I am here to empower women that believe they have something of value to add to the blockchain industry. I believe, diversity in general and gender equality in particular, is the key to the success.”

Next up…

GAIL MILLIN-CHALABI, Director & Technical Lead of EnviroSAR

EnviroSAR is a cutting-edge Earth Observation business incorporated in 2017 to ultimately manage wildfire disturbance in moorlands and heathlands. We first met Gail when she approached UMIP during her PhD with her innovative idea. We supported her to refine her idea into something commercially viable and sustainable through our Roadmap Programme. Gail advanced quickly and in October 2016 won the Copernicus Masters Sustainable Living Challenge with EnviroSAR. The Copernicus Masters award of €10,000 provided customer validation support/ mentoring along with business development support by the Science Technology Funding Council (STFC). EnviroSAR has received European wide exposure by featuring as Copernicus start-up of the month. In 2017 Gail was awarded a total of £5,000 in development funding and joined the UMIP Momentum programme. EnviroSAR continues to be market leader in solutions for UK moorland and heathland wildfires using radar and other satellite technology to deliver all-weather wildfire burned-area products. The work of EnviroSAR attracted much media attention in the summer of 2018 when there was an unprecedented wildfire season in the UK. Gail was interviewed to discuss the maps and satellite data generated by EnviroSAR for the Saddleworth and Winter Hill wildfires on BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 Live. She also pre-recorded a short documentary for the prime-time BBC One Show which explained how satellite data can be used to help manage wildfires in the UK. Gail successfully manages her growing business whilst being a mum to her 17-month-old son and working as the GIS and Remote Sensing Officer for the School of Environment, Education and Development at The University of Manchester – remarkable!

We asked Gail how she found her journey from academic to entrepreneur:
“It has been an incredible journey which has provided lots of exciting and new opportunities along the way. I have been able to network at the European level through events such as the Satellite Masters Conference. It has been an excellent experience to learn about setting up a new business through the valuable support provided by UMIP, STFC and the Satellite Applications Catapult. As a new entrepreneur it is great to start working with our clients in the wildfire community and to co-develop products; this ensures our team extract the key information clients need from the satellite data available for wildfire events.”

And last but certainly not least…

RUTH DANIEL, CEO of In Place of War

Ruth Daniel, an award-winning cultural producer, activist, and social entrepreneur started her global organization 15 years ago during her time here at The University of Manchester. We met Ruth when she came forward with her idea, In Place of War; a project to empower and support young artists to develop creative communities within sites of conflict. Ruth has created social change through creativity and demonstrated the value of the arts to public space, public life and public debate. She has developed extensive international networks of creative artists making theatre, street art, music, and spoken words in response to war. This is done through the creation of cultural spaces, supplying recording and film equipment to deprived areas and providing entrepreneurial programmes.

Who can tell the story better, than Ruth herself:

Since filming this video, Ruth has progressed to receive over £1.5m in funding, engages with around 1 million people a year and has spanned in 24 countries!

We asked Ruth if the success of In Place of War is what she envisioned 15 years ago with her initial concept:
“In Place of War has grown from a major piece of academic research, led by Prof. James Thompson to a charity serving those we encountered through time. It’s been an incredible journey – to see the powerful impact of the arts in some of the most challenging setting in the world. We never knew it would take us to so many places and touch so many people’s lives. It’s been a rollercoaster – bring on the next 15 years!”

Whilst we’re fully aware that gender parity won’t happen overnight, the positive news is that across the globe, women like these are driving change Every. Single. Day.

If you’re a staff member of The University of Manchester and have an innovative idea that you’d like to discuss, then get in touch with us today and let the Innovation Optimiser team support you on your entrepreneurial journey: InnovationOptimiser@umip.com