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Edge Awards: Open Bionics founder measures success by social impact not wealth

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Written by: Gavin Thompson | Posted 01 March 2016 18:33

Edge Awards: Open Bionics founder measures success by social impact not wealth
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Samantha Payne isn’t looking for the big pay day. Unlike many tech start-ups, she measures her success in the difference she makes, not pound signs.

Samantha, 24, is co-founder of Open Bionics along with engineer Joel Gibbard. The company, based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, is developing bionic hands for amputees using 3D modelling and printing techniques to dramatically cut the costs.

“The big goal we have is make a sustainable business that makes these products accessible,” said Samantha. “I’ve got lots of friends who have built and sold companies. They are on their third or fourth successful exit and their main goal it to make enough money to become an angel investor.

“I’m not interested in that. I would rather have a social impact.”

That passion for her work helped Samantha to win the Young Innovator of the Year title at the Edge Awards, run by the Bristol Post in association with the University of the West of England.

Samantha didn’t start out looking for a career in tech. She wanted to be a journalist and, growing up in Knowle West, used to read her neighbour’s copy of the Bristol Post.

After graduating in English Literature and Journalism at Chester University, she started working at Knowle West Media Centre and it was here she met Joel.

“I could see the potential of what he was doing so we decided to join forces,” she said.

Open Bionics was born in 2014, starting with an impressive runner-up slot in Intel’s global Make it Wearable competition. That secured sufficient prize money to grow the team.

2015 continued in equally impressive fashion when they won a place in the Disney Tech Stars accelerator, a prestigious programme for which only one per cent of applicants are successful.

The team spent four months sharing a house in LA, sleeping on mattresses and sofas, while honing their business and gaining insight from world-class mentors.

It was there that Samantha secured a ground-breaking royalty free licence agreement to produce Disney hands for child amputees - based on characters from Marvel, Star Wars and Frozen.

And if ever Samantha and the team lack motivation, they look further then the potential customers who are waiting eagerly on progress.

“It puts a real fire under you,” said Samantha. “We’re open source so we give back to community, we want people to take our work and develop it themselves so we can progress together this very old industry.”

The finalists

Tom Carter (Ultrahaptics)

During his final year as a computer science undergraduate, Tom (pictured on facing page) became intrigued by the possibility of generating haptic (touch) feedback in mid-air using focused ultrasonics, and subsequently enrolled on a PhD to explore his idea. His dream was to create virtual buttons, switches and shapes in mid-air that you could touch, that didn’t exist. The company he founded is now engaged with a number of carmakers, gaming companies and computer manufacturers, with significant engineering and royalty revenues on the horizon. He hasn’t yet finished the PhD!

Tom Dewhurst (Ordable)

Tom started his first business aged 17. His latest venture, Ordable, aims to change the way we order food and drink using technology to simplify the ordering process and to save the most precious commodity – time. The vision for the company is that to be the mobile ordering interface for every cafe, coffee shop or quick service outlet with a menu board above their counter.

Robert Hall (Wriggle)

Rob Hall is a former corporate lawyer who is now the Founder and CEO of Wriggle - a Bristol-based startup founded in 2014. Wriggle is a mobile and web-based marketplace revolutionising the way that independent restaurants, cafes and bars are discovered and make sales. Rob launched Wriggle singled-handedly in 2014, raising initial investment, project managing creation of the app and gaining initial traction before raising £160,000 on Seedrs.

Category sponsor: Renishaw

Sammy Payne and Chris Pockett

Pictured: Samantha Payne collects the Young Innovator prize from Chris Pockett of Renishaw

Renishaw has won multiple international awards, including 18 Queen’s Awards, the latest of which was awarded for innovation in April 2014 for its inVia Raman microscope.

The company is also recognised for its manufacturing excellence and in September 2012 its Woodchester assembly site near Stroud, was named the UK’s Best Electronics & Electrical Plant.

In May 2014 Renishaw hosted the Prime Minister David Cameron, who praised staff for their contribution to the re-balancing of the UK economy: “Thank you for all that you are doing here at Renishaw to drive a great industrial revolution and a British revival of manufacturing, technology and exports.”

To continue its success Renishaw is highly committed to developing its own skilled staff and this year recruited a record 70 graduates, and has a record 120 apprentices in training.

In December, Lucy Ackland, who joined the company as an apprentice aged just 16 and went on to achieve a 1st Class Engineering Honours Degree, won the national Women’s Engineering Society Prize for her work to inspire young students to follow STEM-based careers.

Edge Awards

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