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InnovationRCA start-ups are making the world better with design

InnovationRCA is the Royal College of Art’s centre for entrepreneurship and commercialisation, helping staff, students and alumni transform new design ideas into successful businesses.

Founded in 2004, they have supported the 102 graduates to launch 71 start-ups. Last year, despite the impact of the Covid pandemic, their start-ups turned over £31 million pounds and raised £10 million in investor funds. Since the foundation of the InnovationRCA start-up programme and incubator in 2009, it has helped its start-ups create over 750 jobs. InnovationRCA start-up ideas range from portable auto-injectors for allergy emergencies to inflatable concrete water tanks.

Alongside their start-up incubator, their Creative Brands Accelerator offers business mentoring, commercial training and advice to creative small businesses founded by RCA alumni.

We looked at some of InnovationRCA’s most impactful start-ups old and new to find out how InnovationRCA is making the world better with design.

1. Ananas Anam

Dr Carmen Hijosa with pineapple
Dr Carmen Hijosa

The vision of a sustainable future through green supply chains is central to Dr. Carmen Hijosa’s successfully scaled-up company Ananas Anam. Their sustainable textile Piñatex® is made from waste pineapple fibres, which are the by-product of an existing industry providing another income stream for farming communities.

A former World Bank adviser and textile industry expert, Carmen came to the RCA to study for a PhD Textiles in 2009. Here she developed her ideas on sustainable alternatives to leather avoiding the toxic tanning process of traditional leather goods and embracing a circular economy model with reduced waste and enhanced re-usability. Her research led her to Piñatex® and with InnnovationRCA’s support a successful business.

Representing the first sustainable alternative to leather, the company has now worked with brands including H&M, Paul Smith, Hugo Boss and most recently Nike.

2. Petit Pli

Petit Pli
Petit Pli, Ryan Mario Yasin 2017

Inspired by aerospace engineering, Petit Pli make clothes that grow with your child. Founder Ryan Mario Yasin studied aeronautical engineering before coming to the RCA to study for our MA/MSc Global Innovation Design in 2015.

‘We’ve been inspired by space since the beginning, and everything we create has to pass the Mars Test.’ Ryan told us. In fact the concertina structure of Petit Pli clothing comes from an earlier project on space satellites. By applying aeronautical engineering to children’s clothes they are able to make sustainable garments that expand by seven sizes, replacing seven purchases with one.

‘We’ve been inspired by space since the beginning, and everything we create has to pass the Mars Test.’ Ryan Mario Yasin
Ryan Mario Yasin

Like many InnovationRCA start-ups, they also embrace a circular economy model. Their clothes are made from recycled fabric and have a mono-fibre construction allowing for easy recycling at end of use.

3. Revive

Revive Auto-Injector
Revive Auto-Injector

Auto-injectors are prescribed to people who are at risk of potentially life-threatening allergic responses. Despite this many patients do not carry their devices with them nearly as much as they should.

Revive make a lightweight, discreet credit-card sized device which can be slipped effortlessly into a pocket or handbag and carried around unobtrusively, counteracting medical stigma and in the process saving lives.

Revive was founded by Urshita Gautam (MA Writing, 2019) and Abhisheik Kamal (MA Design Products, 2019). Having obtained funding from Innovate UK, they are now testing the usability of their product to bring it to market.

4. Kwickscreen

Kwickscreen screens at a hospital

Founded in 2011 by our MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering graduate Michael Korn, KwickScreen make a versatile retractable screen that creates a temporary partition for hospital wards, controlling infections and improving patient privacy and dignity.

KwickScreen began as a student project. At the RCA, I learned to start with the impossible, then work backwards to a solution. I wanted to create a wall that could provide privacy to a patient and could appear and disappear.’

'At the RCA, I learned to start with the impossible, then work backwards to a solution.' Michael Korn
Michael Korn

Unlike curtains which are easily contaminated, screens are less likely to be the site of Hospital Acquired Infections – improving patient outcomes and the likelihood of recovery. Kwickscreens are also easily moved and flexible so spaces can be re-configured as needs change. They now work with 151 NHS Trusts and export their screens to 18 countries. 

5. Pentaform

Pentaform Keyboard
Pentaform (from above)
'In the information age, we believe everyone has the right to basic computing' says Pentaform co-founder Samuel Wangsaputra, who completed his MA Information Experience Design at the RCA in 2019. His start-up Pentaform make an affordable and bio-degradable hard-drive and keyboard unit that can be plugged into television sets providing an eco-conscious and accessible form of computing.

'We believe everyone has the right to basic computing' Samuel Wangsaputra
Samuel Wangsaputra

With access to the internet and IT skills becoming a basic need to operate in an information based society and only 50% of households worldwide currently having access to a computer, Pentaform have made it their mission to make computing more accessible.

Their computer-in-keyboard Abacus is priced at an accessible £98 and has a 65% lower carbon footprint than competitors – it's made of a biodegradable thermoplastic consisting of tapioca roots, waste cornstarch and sugarcane.

6. Deploy

Deploy has created a new approach to water storage
Deploy has created a new approach to water storage

Over two billion people currently lack access to safely managed drinking water. One of our latest InnovationRCA start-ups, has designed a solution to help these vulnerable communities. Deploy Tech founded by our 2020 MA Innovation Design Engineering graduate, Paul Mendieta have developed the first-ever air-deployed, ready-to-use concrete water tank.

Each Deploy tank can supply communities of up to 2,000 people. And with a water capacity of 4,000 litres, they can extinguish almost four football fields of intense fire.

Paul wants his product to help rural communities fighting wildfires with access to affordable, transportable and sustainable water storage. ‘This piece of infrastructure was designed for those who are defenseless and yet cannot access life’s most basic need.’

‘This piece of infrastructure was designed for those who are defenseless and yet cannot access life’s most basic need.’ Paul Mendiata
Paul Mendiata

Deploy’s patent-pending technology, which uses the material patented by InnovationRCA start-up Concrete Canvas, provides a time and cost-effective water storage for communities in need. After manufacturing, the tanks can be folded up and packed away to be relocated anywhere in the world.

7. Gravity Sketch

Gravity Sketch in use
Gravity Sketch

Gravity Sketch are industry leaders in the field of 3D Design. They’ve seen a 40% increase in demand for their 3D modelling software over the past year with people working from home and the need for digital collaboration more pressing than ever.

Their Gravity sketchpad allows users to create 3D drawings in mid-air and on the go using an augmented reality headset and stylus. Radio signals track the movement of the stylus using coordinates before these movements are sent to the headset. It was first introduced at our 2014 Work in Progress Show.

‘Gravity Sketch gives design and engineering teams across the globe a way to create, collaborate, and communicate together in the same virtual space, and in real-time.’ co-founder Oluwaseyi Sosanya said. By making 3D sketching as intuitive as sketching on paper, the software has already revolutionised workflows across industry with clients like Ford, Adidas, Nissan and Reebok.

‘Gravity Sketch gives design and engineering teams across the globe a way to create, collaborate, and communicate together in the same virtual space, and in real-time.’ Oluwaseyi Sosanya
Oluwaseyi Sosanya

8. Olombria 

Olombria - woman looking at insect

Insect pollination is crucial to the harvest of 75% of crops worldwide. And with bee populations in decline globally, Olombria have come up with the idea of making flies more efficient pollinators.

Olombria originated as Tashia Tucker's graduate project for our 2017 biodesign challenge. Their unique AI Cloud System releases chemicals in the targeted areas in an orchard or crop field encouraging flies to move to that area and pollinate plants. 

As an AI system they are developing the design of Olombria as they gather data, providing farmers with a stronger system to protect crops as bee populations decline and climate change disrupts seasonal crop cycles.

Find out more about InnovationRCA and how they're turning design ideas into successful businesses.