Interview with Devon Lewis – the University of Southampton’s Engineers in Business Competition First Prize Winner
Devon Lewis, a final year PhD Student in Neuroscience, won a £1,500 Engineers in Business Prize for his new business, Inpulse, which is developing smart clothing that increases strength and corrects muscle imbalances for any sport. Devon talks to us about participating in the university's SEED Start-Up Funding Competition and what it means for Inpulse.
Why did you take part in the competition?
I started developing smart clothing that enhances muscle activity during my PhD and managed to get on the University’s Foundership Scheme as I was finishing. This gave me the chance to work full time on the company, but the product development was still prohibitively expensive. The competition seemed like a great opportunity to get a viable product together and validate the idea before seeking investment.
Has the experience inspired you to take your business idea further?
I have been able to take my business idea so much further than I could have on my own. I don’t think I ever would have dropped the idea, but I definitely would have had to get a job to fund the project. I almost have a launchable product and it could have taken years without this experience.
How do you think the skills you learned in the competition will help you in the future?
The competition has given me a far more comprehensive understanding of the requirements of running a company. So many people are unnecessarily limited by the control they have of their muscles. I think that the skills I’ve learned in the competition will allow me to build a viable company and develop technology which could completely change the way people think about the limitations of their bodies.
Apart from winning the Engineers in Business cash prize, what were the other benefits of taking part in the competition?
The process completely changed my mindset on how accessible starting a company is. I really struggled through my degree to support myself financially and money seemed like a sparse unattainable resource. Starting a hardware company is incredibly daunting without any financial security. This competition and the support from the University’s Student Enterprise and Future Worlds teams made it seem possible to develop new technology without the resources or backing of a large existing company.
Can you tell us three key things that you learned from taking part in the competition?
First, I learned that it’s possible to overcome the financial barriers to starting a company even if you’re too early-stage to seek investment. Second, I gained insight into how to reframe the proposed value of the company from consumer to investor focused. The competition also helped to clarify the steps I need to go through before launching.
What elements of the competition did you find most challenging?
Without doubt, the market research. I found it really difficult to find legitimate sources for market valuations especially as what I’m working on isn’t directly comparable to any existing products or market segments.
Will you be taking any more business courses to increase your knowledge of how to bring an idea to market?
I’m doing everything I can to learn how to learn how to bring an idea to market and run a sustainable business. I have amazingly talented technical people around me. It has always been clear how to build technology to solve peoples’ problems so now all my focus is on accumulating the knowledge and skills required to layout a clear path to market and build an environment for the team to thrive.
Would you recommend it to other students?
I’ve spoken to loads of people who are developing incredible technology at the university but don’t have the financial support to pursue it. Way too much promising technology never gets past the idea or prototype phase and fades away. Startup culture needs to be pushed much harder at universities and if more students realised there was support like the SEED Start-Up Funding Competition, the world would not miss out on all this innovation.
We wish Devon Lewis great success with Inpulse and will be watching the company's progress in the coming years!
Engineers in Business provides prize funds for university enterprise competitions. To apply for funding visit this page.