A see-saw that could solve some of remote Africa’s energy problems, a famous Stoke-on-Trent fine china producer and a biomedical specialist pioneering new treatments for genetic diseases have celebrated success at this year’s Lord Stafford Awards.
The awards, which showcase and recognise the best of collaboration between universities and businesses in the West Midlands, were held at Worcester Cathedral.
Winners included 24-year-old Daniel Sheridan, who saw his groundbreaking see-saw secure the plaudits in the Entrepreneurial Spirit category, after judges were impressed with the product’s ability to generate electricity for remote African villages.
The former graduate used his links with Coventry University, Stadco and the Manufacturing Advisory Service-West Midlands to develop a way in which young children can use the art of ‘play’ to help light classrooms and power low wattage appliances, such as radios, mp3 players and communication devices.
The see-saw, which is on the brink of final production, will be supplied in kit form with local materials used to build the main structure of the unit, reducing logistical costs and the carbon footprint of transportation.
Mr Sheridan took a prototype to Uganda earlier this year and saw for himself the potential for the device to improve quality of life. In addition to encouraging play sessions, the electricity generated by the see-saw is returned to the children to benefit their education.
“It is amazing to think that this idea has now helped to win the Lord Stafford Award, which will be hugely helpful in helping to generate further interest in the Energee-Saw product as I seek to establish it in the marketplace,” said Mr Sheridan.
“Our initial focus will be helping to provide low wattage LED lighting, in order to reduce the detrimental health effects of the use of candles and kerosene lamps. Enabling communication between schools and providing up to date training and curriculum via an mp3 format may also help teaching methods to develop.”
Two North Staffordshire companies in contrasting sectors were also among the winners.
While nanoTherics, a company established on the back of complex genetic research developed between the Universities of Keele and Florida over the last decade, took the Impact through Innovation award, nearby traditional manufacturing company Aynsley China took the Achievement in Innovation prize.
Aynsley, which dates back more than 200 years, linked up with Staffordshire University through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership to secure the input of talented design graduates Adele Barnes and Claire Renn, who have revolutionised many of the products and lines sold around the world by the company.
Head of design Paul Hulme said the knowledge transfer associates had made a major difference to the design and development of products.
“I think most people – especially those in and around North Staffordshire – are aware of the way that the market for china has changed dramatically over the last few decades as a result of the rise of low-cost economies producing goods like these. While we can never expect to compete on price, we can compete on design,” he said.
“Claire and Adele, working with myself and with the research and development facilities at Staffordshire University, have made a major difference to what we are doing here.
“Our casual dining ranges Camille, Mimi and Marine have been developed along with extensions to some of our existing ranges with particular focus on the export market including customers in Italy, Japan and Korea.”
He added that the knowledge transfer partnership had led to an increase in the number of new products into the tableware and giftware market. This had enabled Aynsley to become a competitive company within the ceramics industry.
The final award winner was John Bailey, who secured the Knowledge Transfer Champion accolade in recognition of more than 30 years working at Aston University to improve links between academia and business.
During that time he has set up the university’s industrial placement programme, which helped place more than 400 students each year and worked on a number of pioneering initiatives with the Business Partnership Unit.
This has secured more than £30 million from a diverse range of funds and has seen the creation of 10 spin-off companies, 65 active patents and over 100 knowledge transfer partnerships over the past five years.
Patron of the awards, Lord Stafford said: “In the current economic climate, it is more important than ever that companies look to the future and seek the support that is available from universities and other research institutions, in order to enable them to become stronger and better able to adapt.
“Ultimately, this will lead to more jobs and greater wealth, not to mention boosting the West Midlands’ reputation as a world leader when it comes to ingenuity and innovation.”
Alan Collins, director of business development and enterprise at the University of Wolverhampton, received a special recognition award for his work in creating the Competitiveness Centre, which has boosted the fortunes of 2,000 SMEs.