For the fifth year the Skoll Centre at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School held the final pitching round for the Skoll Venture Award.
On Thursday 15 June, three early-stage ventures pitched to a panel of judges and a live audience. Current Oxford MBA team, VRTU, were awarded the winning prize of £15,000, with each runner-up receiving £7,500.
Oxford MBA 2016-17 Candidates, Arfa Rehman (CEO), Scott Gorman (CTO) and Christopher Larson (CMO) are the team behind VRTU, a healthcare innovation using virtual reality in dementia care. VRTU delivers simulated time-travel therapy to dementia patients through story-based virtual reality content.
United by their passion, the VRTU team launched their idea for this venture in January 2017 during their MBA programme, and so far, it has been totally self-financed by the team.
‘We’re incredibly excited to have won’ says Rehman. ‘Especially as we have not been working on this venture that long, I feel validated that we’re going in the right direction. We’re trying to move fast to produce the VR content and develop our product so it can be out there as soon as possible. This grant is going to be instrumental in helping us to do that.’
Only three months into their development in March 2017, VRTU were unveiled as the most promising new app at the App Factor competition in London, winning 500 hours of design and development of their platform.
There are 47 million dementia suffers around the world and more than 850,000 of those are in the U.K alone. Patients often suffer from loneliness, depression, and loss of self-identity and current solutions can be suboptimal or too expensive. VRTU’s use of virtual reminiscence therapy will aim to improve the lives of sufferers, positively affecting their confidence, health, and ability to communicate.
The two runners up, Redbird Health Tech and PowerMarket were awarded a prize of £7,500, each.
Redbird Health Tech will operate in Ghana to offer a full suite of rapid diagnostic tests (pregnancy, malaria, diabetes, UTI, anaemia, cholesterol) via pharmacies so that patients have a more convenient and broader range of care than currently experienced. Co-Founder and former Skoll Scholar, Patrick Beattie (MBA 2014-15), explained that current primary care facilities in Ghana are not well equipped to deal with chronic disease diagnostics, neither are they convenient for patients who might have to lose a day’s work to travel to them. Beattie and his Co-Founder, Andrew Quao, found that pharmacies are great places to get advice, and they are allowed to perform rapid testing.
‘I was incredibly excited to be here as a finalist.’ says Beattie, ‘It was great to see what other people are working on and to reconnect with the community here.’
Runners up, PowerMarket, simplify the process (feasibility through construction) of switching to solar, through an online, machine learning enabled platform which overlays solar potential, local regulatory benefits, and cost inputs from local suppliers and financiers.
PowerMarket was a Founded by Oxford MBA (2013-14), Abhinav Jain, and represented at the Skoll Venture Awards final by PowerMarket’s Lead Scientist and University of Oxford alumnus in M.Sc. Computer Science (1992-96), Phil Worthington.
‘One of the main challenges for solar companies is the lack of conversation around renewables and the lack of knowledge’ says Worthington during his presentation. Solar adoption, particularly in the U.K is a lot lower than it should be, considering the growing renewable energy market. PowerMarket aims to break down barriers for both consumers and solar energy organisations. One way they are doing this is by offering consumers a free online assessment of how much switching to solar would save them financially, in the long term. It is estimated that the renewable energy market will be worth around £9 billion in the U.K over the next five years.
‘PowerMarket are delighted to receive this award, and will be using it to continue to improve our machine learning models for predicting rooftop orientation tilts for solar potential.’ Worthington said after they were awarded the runner-up prize of £7,500. He continued to say, ‘this [grant] will really help us to keep going with that work and boosting our ability to bring it to customers.’