COVID-19 Update - 24 March 2021

Imperial College London Team Reaches the Final of the Engineers in Business Innovation Competition

On 26 October 2020 Marlene Pinzi, a Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate, and Riccardo Secoli, currently studying an EMBA, both at Imperial College London, will compete against nine other university teams to win a prestigious Engineers in Business Competition (EIBC) Award, a share of £10,000 and business mentoring from a Sainsbury Management Fellow.

The EIBC supports and promotes the idea of a combined engineering and business education and provides prize funding to universities to help them encourage more engineers and technology students/graduates to get involved in innovation and entrepreneurship. In a world that is moving and developing so rapidly, these skills are vital to help tackle challenging global problems and to improve our lives. 

This year, Marlene and Riccardo caught people’s attention when they entered Imperial’s competition, We Innovate which is supported by an EIBC prize fund. The team pitched Neoptera, a minimally invasive, robotic-driven endoscopic tool that could revolutionise neurosurgery. They then entered and won a place in the national EIBC Champion of Champions Final where they are competing for a Business Start-up Award and a further £3,000. The cash prize will go towards the ongoing development of Neoptera.

Neoptera: Revolutionising neurosurgery

This innovation will provide neurosurgeons with a unique, precise method to deliver treatment and perform diagnostic measurements in deep brain locations with minimal damage. The catheter is completely passive and features a bio-inspired reciprocating mechanism allowing it to steer within the brain tissue, avoiding fundamental functional and anatomical brain areas. Neoptera offers a multi-purpose ecosystem that is composed of pre- and intraoperative planning, as well as robotic guidance, packaged into a comprehensive setup that is fully integrated into the operating theatre.

Riccardo explained: “Endoscopic robotic-assisted surgical systems have become the new standard for minimally invasive surgical methods, providing superior flexibility to the surgeon in planning and navigation, compared to conventional tools. Yet despite these advancements, the field of neurosurgery has only seen small technological steps in terms of smart flexible tools for surgery, mainly due to the complexity of brain structure and the risks involved. There is a need for minimally invasive tools that can follow curved paths, steer to avoid vessels and structures, and access precise areas in the brain with limited tissue damage. Neoptera offers a robotic-assisted flexible tool that takes its inspiration from the structure and functioning of the ovipositor - the egg-laying channel - of certain parasitic wasps.

“Our bio-inspired catheter can steer in the brain like no other tool on the market, reducing surgical complications and making the surgery process more accessible and more cost-effective.“

The Awards Presentation Ceremony – 26 October 2020

The live online dragons’ den style competition will be compered by TV presenter and engineer, Kate Bellingham. Competing against nine other teams, Neoptera will have just six minutes to convince the judges, through their presentation and Q&As, that they should be crowned Champion of Champions and take home a £3,000 Business Start-up Award. Amongst other criteria, the judges will be assessing just how much of an impact Neoptera might have in the field of neurosurgery, and how it could help solve the challenges experienced by neurosurgeons and their patients.

The prestigious judging panel comprises: 

●    Ana Avaliani, Associate Director, Enterprise, Royal Academy of Engineering

●    Gareth Trainer, Chair, Enterprise Educators UK

●    Henning von Spreckelsen, Director and Investor in Plastecowood

●    Steve Cleverley, CEO, Oxentia Ltd, Global Innovation Consultancy

As a Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate now steeped in entrepreneurship, and leader of the Neoptera team, Marlene is passionate about business education for engineers and technologists. She commented: 

“I believe the knowledge of fundamental business concepts is extremely valuable to anyone working in technology, especially for student or graduate engineers that often lack the basic tools to understand and exploit the potential of their research outside academia. There is a need to encourage the best talents, especially the ones with a very technical background, to consider the entrepreneurship journey as an exciting possibility rather than something outside their expertise. Business and innovation skills will teach them a different perspective and priorities that combined with their technical experience will create a recipe to facilitate the translation of research product into the market.”