“It’s a very intense period, but also potentially a very innovative period in the search for solutions across the board,” said Karen Wood, director of enterprise at Informatics Ventures.

“It really requires people to keep a strong focus. A focus on the future, on the world beyond Covid-19 and on being part of the recovery and the solution.”

Based at the Bayes Centre, the University of Edinburgh’s innovation hub for data science and artificial intelligence, Informatics Ventures runs a year-round investor readiness programme to support technology entrepreneurs. Since 2008, it has helped more than 500 start-up and scale-up companies who have gone on to raise more than £750 million in investment.

“It’s a significant economic impact that also drives job creation and wealth creation,” Ms Wood said.

The organisation’s annual technology investor showcase – Engage Invest Exploit (EIE) – was originally scheduled to take place on April 23 at the University of Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall, but has now been postponed until Wednesday October 14.

Medical technology – ‘medtech’ – is one of nine industry sectors represented in a cohort of 50 companies developing solutions to real world problems based on data analytics.

“In the current crisis, medtech is one of the areas involved in the search for a solution and some of our current EIE20 cohort, as well as EIE alumni, have been helping out during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ms Wood explained.

READ MORE: Monday Interview: Bank giant declares coronavirus will not derail £400m Glasgow project

For example, Sentinel, a software start-up that uses artificial intelligence to detect early deterioration in patients, is working with Scottish Enterprise to provide a version of its sensor for monitoring Covid-19 vital signs to the Scottish Government.

In Kinross-shire, social enterprise and EIE20 cohort member Know You More is using its digital technology to connect older people and those self-isolating with volunteers who can help.

“An example of an EIE alumnus in the medtech sector also focused on helping is Current Health, formerly snap40,” Ms Wood continued. “This is a great example of a Scottish health technology scale-up offering its product – in this case vital signs monitoring hardware – in the face of Covid-19.”

Across the wider University of Edinburgh community, researchers are working with commercial companies, including a major US manufacturer, to develop new technologies to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic and support the NHS.

Artificial intelligence, robotics, space technology, energy and financial technology – ‘fintech’ – are among the other sectors represented in the cohort of EIE20 companies due to pitch for ‘Series A’ (scale-up) investment of between £100,000 and £2m.

“Carbon emissions and the drive to net zero is a big topic and our companies include Mocean Energy, which is developing renewable wave energy converters to turn ocean waves into electricity,” Ms Wood said. “Another company, Boxergy, is developing a network of low carbon home heat and power systems to help customers reduce carbon emissions and energy bills.

“In the fintech space, Women's Coin Community is a blockchain and cryptocurrency community for social good and Money Matix is a family finance management app looking to transform lives by creating financially capable communities.”

READ MORE: Monday Interview: Covid-19 crisis ‘strengthens the case’ for ethical investment

For the first time in 2020, EIE applications have come from four continents. Alongside the 34 companies from Scotland pitching for capital will be entrepreneurs from Australia, China, the US and Switzerland, as well as Northern Ireland, Wales and England.

“Up until 2017, the EIE conference was funded in part by Scottish Enterprise and so was open only to Scottish-based companies,” Ms Wood explained. “When the EIE conference became a standalone event in 2017, we were able to open up the call for companies to those outside Scotland. There is now no requirement for EIE companies to have Scottish links, although most of them do.”

Born and schooled in Edinburgh, Ms Wood studied international law and languages at the University of Edinburgh and is fluent in German and French. The degree included a year at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, where she later lived and worked for four years as a freelance interpreter for NATO and other blue chip organisations.

“That gave me an interest in international governments and governance,” Ms Wood said. “I then came back and studied for an MBA (Master of Business Administration) here in Edinburgh. For my dissertation, I worked with Scottish Financial Enterprise looking at inward investment opportunities between Scotland and Germany.”

In 1993, she joined the founding executive team at Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where she went on to spend more than 20 years. As head of events, key highlights included organising the 1997 Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which involved 53 Commonwealth heads of state, the UK Prime Minister, five members of the Royal Family and a media contingent of 2,000.

“EICC was effectively a start-up business and from zero we built a conference centre initially able to take up to 2,000 delegates,” Ms Wood said. “It then went through a major scale-up exercise and more than doubled in size, with the ability to take 3,500 to 4,000 delegates. The centre now delivers more than £55m in economic impact into the Scottish economy.”

One of Ms Wood’s ancestors is Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle, who was also the University of Edinburgh’s second rector.

“The Enlightenment was very inspiring in the gifts it gave to the world,” Ms Wood said. “I think the current situation brings an open road and the chance to look at the world from a different perspective. Perhaps this has accelerated the opportunity for a second enlightenment to come from Scotland – in the sphere of technological innovation.”

Six Questions

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

Continental Europe has always been a fascination, be that France, Italy, Germany, Spain or Greece.  The people, the languages, the culture, the debates, the style, the music, and of course the food and drink.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I have always been drawn to a blank page, an open road, a clear blue sky.  Mix that with my essential ingredients of "international and fun" and I would say that all jobs I have been lucky to secure, have been my ideal job.

What was your biggest break in business?

Having the good fortune to enjoy a first-class education, studying at the Universities of Edinburgh and Heidelberg, to gain degrees in International Law, Languages and an MBA.  Harnessing that opportunity and combining it with serendipity and initiative has created business breaks that have led me to having the honour of working with some of the world's most interesting people. And seeing first hand some of the world's greatest innovations and achievements, across the fields of medicine, science, finance, economics, politics and the arts.

What was your worst moment in business?

In a career that spans working with NATO, 27 years in the international conference and events industry, aN international start-up and scale-up, as well as the world of high tech and investment, I have seen a fair share of things! 

Who do you most admire and why?

My mother Sally, a true lady of honesty, integrity and truth, with a love for family, people, history and politics.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

66 The House that viewed the World: The story of Edinburgh's New Town, the story of the Enlightenment, the Scottish masons who oversaw the construction of the White House and included the double rose of Scotland in its structure, the incredible gift of the anaesthetic properties of chloroform James Young Simpson gave to the world, and so much more, an inspiration!   

I enjoy the variety of Radio 2, with everything from pop and rock, to Bruno Tonioli at the Opera, or Claudia Winkleman on Sunday.


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