5 minutes with a start-up

Blog published by CW (Cambridge Wireless), under Discovering Start Ups

Ahead of the Discovering Start-Ups competition, we got in touch with the finalists and found out more about who they are, what they do, and the best bit of advice that they have been given. Here's a few insights from them.


5 mins with Charles Macfarlane, VP Marketing - Codeplay Software 

Tell us about your product/service - what was the need you saw?

Moore's Law in its traditional way is slowing down. CPUs have been stuck at 3GHz for many years. New heterogeneous processors can provide massive performance for Artificial Intelligence (AI), but only using specialist programming techniques. For example, most AI uses Graph Programming methods to enable individual AI operations to be combined to reduce bandwith and maximize processing.

Codeplay enables this as follows:

  1. Providing ComputeAorta, an OpenCL open standards based solution for new specialized processors, making normally complex programmable devices easier to develop using well known programming standards, and
  2. ComputeCpp, a SYCL implementation connecting AI to Silicon via OpenCL. The best example of this is compiling Google's popular AI framework called TensorFlow using SYCL, then you can use Codeplay's ComputeCpp to execute any OpenCL enabled system.
Are you finding it tricky to recruit talent?

Codeplay is over 60 highly skilled software engineers. The team has grown significantly over the last 3 years driven by the market demand and engineering leadership.

Recruitment is tough with needed skills not being readily available. Codeplay has an excellent recruitment program; a) working closely with universities with intern/sponsorship activities, and b) a global reputation attracting the best talent to join the energetic team in Edinburgh. We also train talented graduates in all the skills needed.

What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2018?

Artificial Intelligence, in many forms, is already making an appearance in our lives, from voice devices to image recognition on our phones. We are incredibly early in the creation and adoption of smart devices, with greater intelligence in handheld devices, around the home, in the car and in industry, agriculture and medical – artificial intelligence can impact all parts of our lives in a very positive way.

So in the coming year we will see more specialised processor systems available for AI processing, rather than re-purposing existing solutions. Also, the adoption of powerful AI frameworks such as Google’s TensorFlow, to empower the programmer to do great things. These two advances in 2018 will bring greater-than-Moore returns with large steps forward in user experience.

Codeplay has ensured ComputeAorta and ComputeCpp can address all market domains and processor types, providing open standards platforms to the best solution programmers. Also Codeplay’s extensive work with Google’s TensorFlow ensures programmers can benefit from most processor platforms.

Share a key lesson you have learnt over the last year?

Nothing is for free, it always takes innovation, differentiation and effort for success. Codeplay is an amazing team of brilliant engineers and evolves products to keep them ready for the next generation products.

What's your tip to stay informed about your industry?

Get involved – share your knowledge and experience. Codeplay participates in so many conferences and are involved in all the relevant standards, often taking lead positions such as chair or spec editor. Keeping our experts visible stimulates sharing and attracts incredible information.

How would you describe life in a start-up?

Start-ups have amazing talent, all motivated to demonstrate and deliver the greatest technology in the world. The dynamic environment sees everyone working above and beyond to ensure success, with outstanding performances being demonstrated. Codeplay is lucky to blend these engineers, bringing multicultural talent into the centre of Edinburgh, the beautiful capital of Scotland.

Tell us a fact about you, or your team which no one else knows...

Codeplay was the first company to create a GPU C compiler – if only the extent of this breakthrough had been known at the time.

Pitch prep; what's the best bit of advice you've been given?

Remove the words and abstract the tech - keep it simple and visual.

Codeplay view

Codeplay's office view - Breathtaking sights!

Codeplay team

Codeplay team photo.

Heartfelt Technologies

5 mins with Shamus Husheer, CEO - Heartfelt Technologies

Tell us about your product/service - what was the need you saw?

After working in digital health for a decade, we  have concluded that the real problem to solve is not some fancy new diagnostic marker or therapy - the real problem is patient compliance with existing diagnostics and therapies. The bulk of healthcare spend is on the few percent of patients who don't take their medication or use their devices as recommended. So we set about making devices that don't require any patient compliance, so that you can't forget to use them as recommended - as a plus, that means the devices are incredibly easy to use (you can quite literally forget about them - you don't have to wear anything, interact with anything, or report anything).

Are you finding it tricky to recruit talent?

No - we all came from our previous company, so have known each other for over 10 years and know exactly what skillsets each of us has and what the company needs.

What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2018?

Lots more companies claiming to do AI when really they're just doing basic statistics.

Share a key lesson you have learnt over the last year?

There's nothing quite like turning up to a cardiovascular conference and carrying around some plastic feet to get a conversation started...

What's your tip to stay informed about your industry?

I'm not big on endless networking and "staying informed"  (i.e. reading too many blog/linkedin posts) - only start developing something once you know there is a real need, which you can absolutely deliver against, and once you start developing keep your head down and grind it out. If your problem is sufficiently entrenched and sufficiently real, it (and the market) are not going to change materially over the 12-18 months that it takes for you to execute. Tight focus is how you beat the big companies at time-to-market.

How would you describe life in a start-up?

A smorgasbord of problems and oppportunities - so just to survive you have to learn how to become a pseudo-{lawyer,accountant,UX-designer,mechanical-engineer,machine-learning-expert,nurse,purchasing-officer...}. And that's just this week.

Tell us a fact about you, or your team which no one else knows...

Almost everyone on the team has two passports. We're like the James Bonds of heart failure monitoring.

Have you been involved in any other start-ups?

Yes, we all previously worked at Cambridge Temperature Concepts, where we developed a wearable device for fertility monitoring with a remote patient care service (two of us were the founders there also).

Pitch prep; what's the best bit of advice you've been given?

The single most important outcome is that after 10 other pitches, people still remember you. Be memorable.

Royal Brompton Hospital - Heartfelt Technologies

Royal Brompton Hospital - Where Heartfelt Technologies trialed their device in clinical trials.

Propelmee logo

5 mins with Zain Khawaja, Founder & Lead Technologist, Propelmee.

Tell us your product/service - what was the need you saw?

The autonomous mobility market is heavily dominated by its application to driverless cars however Propelmee has a vision of enabling autonomy for all types of vehicles being used in a variety of uses cases.

The sensory input from cameras on the autonomous mobility vehicle is converted into detailed scene understanding by detection and segmentation of obstacles and identification of drivable free space.

Are you finding it tricky to recruit talent?

Building a business from scratch is probably the most difficult, stressful and yet the most rewarding experience but having a core foundational team is essential. Every start-up has a founder who provides the vision but without a co-founding team, it can prove extremely hard if not impossible. Propelmee was especially lucky to have access to very experienced guidance and support from day one from co-founders who brought decades of commercial and investment experience to help guide the strategy and business development plan for the business.

What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2018?

We expect that in the near term, fixed infrastructure will have to play an important part in enabling robust and performant autonomous mobility in ring-fenced operating environments and over the longer term, we see a fundamental role of infrastructure for driving on roads and highways. We have an existing portfolio of patents on our core technology and are developing a pipeline for the next year.

Share a key lesson you have learnt over the last year?

The key insight for any technology player in the autonomous mobility market is to ensure freedom-to-operate as this field is subject to aggressive IP creation and protection on a global basis.

What's your tip to stay informed about your industry?

Propelmee has a dedicated team member that looks after IP protection and market intelligence and we constantly scan the market by following data on all major players. It is critical to stay on top of developments around you as much as it is important to focus on what you are developing. The level of activity in this market is intensive and having active market intelligence is fundamental for product direction and packaging of narrative.

Pitch prep; what's the best bit of advice you've been given?

The pitch practice session ahead of the competition was really very helpful in providing key insights into what investors are looking for, which is basically a story. Facts are great and necessary but unless they are weaved into a compelling and seductive story, they remain disconnected facts for an external audience.

Propelmee blog one

Propelmee's perception product ouput visualisation - Free space awareness.

Propelmee blog two

Propelmee's perception product output visualisation - Awareness of passing objects.


5 mins with João Bocas, Co-Founder & CEO,Thirdskin

Tell us your product/service - what was the need you saw?

We believe that technology impairs human beings and their functions, therefore we are creating innovative products design for humans.

Are you finding it tricky to recuit talent?

We have been very lucky so far to have been able to assemble a team with different skill sets. However going forward we are aware of the shortage of talent in the technical and engineering departments for example.

What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2018?

Mainly Artificial Intelligence with different variances, also we believe the augmented reality will take a new stool in the marketplace.

Share a key lesson you have learnt over the last year?

You can't do everything alone, you will need a pool of experts if you wish to be successful.

What's your tip to stay informed about your industry?

We follow trends, attend events and follow the best innovators through several channels, including digital and social media of course. Today, social media is an excellent vehicle, not only for marketing but for education purposes.

How would you describe your life in a start-up?

The only way I would describe is challenging. It's a like a sporting competition, you're the best when winning or the worst when things don't go so well. However at Third Skin we love challenges, most of the time we are super excited. Besides all, we believe that we are working on something very special that will truly make a difference to human lives.

Tell us a fact about you, or your team which no one else knows...

hhhuuuuummmm, let me think. Starting with myself, I enjoy endurance fitness events and I am sporting lover. Simon, our Founder and inventor is a geek that enjoys drinking coca-cola, when is not drinking a cold beer. Miguel, enjoys nature, long walks and coffee " cortado ", short and strong and Peter, our mastermind engineer is an avid long-distance runner and also enjoys juggling balls and clubs in his spare time.

Have you been involved in any other start-ups?

Yes, I have. My past experiences have enabled me to realise what works and what doesn't. I truly believe in personal values, human integrity and connection. When your reunite those ingredients, then you have a good platform to go forward and be successful. In the past, I've had a few experiences where those things weren't in place and very quickly what seems great would be reduced to nothing very prematurely.

Pitch prep; what's the best bit of advice you've been given?

Make sure you have the most important facts in and less is more. Speak slowly and clearly, KISS (keep it short and simple).

Thirdskin selfie

Thirdskin team selfie at Central Research Laboratory.

Thirdskin founder picture

Work hard. Have fun. Make history. Words to live by at Central Research Laboratory (L-R: Simon Austen, Founder and João Bocas, Co-Founder & CEO)

OneVisage Logo

5 mins with Praveen Gajjala, Business Development Manager, EMEA & ASIA, OneVisage

Tell us your product/service - what was the need you saw?

On one hand, we have passwords that remarkably unsafe because people have too many credentials and use weak passwords. On the other hand, 2-step authentication solutions (e.g. security tokens) are too cumbersome and result in 30% of transactions cancellations. There’s a need to make it safer and simpler by using mobile devices as universal security token.

Are you finding it tricky to recruit talent?

For us, this is the most challenging issue. There are huge needs in augmented/virtual reality fields and hiring a computer vision engineers/PhDs is extremely tough.

What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2018?

3D facial biometry and 3D cameras will be more concrete in our digital world in 2018.

Share a key lesson you have learnt over the last year?

Never give up ! If you’re 200% convinced you’re right, keep your direction.

What's your tip to stay informed about your industry?

Develop a strong network: you’ll be amazed to see how people can help you,

How would you describe your life in a start-up?

Life in a start-up is very hard. The bigger your project, the higher the challenge. But the reward is very high too.

Tell us a fact about you, or your team which no one else knows...

People knows that I founded the company after having been hacked 2 times in 2013, including once with my credit card in a hotel in the US. What people don’t know is that my CC was hacked because I booked the wrong hotel near New York. If I didn’t make such mistake, it is likely the company would never exist.

Have you been involved in any other start-ups?

Yes, this is my 2nd startup as main founder.

Pitch prep; what's the best bit of advoce you've ever been given?

The best advice: How to use proper words to give impact, not to mislead the audience with  too much information and over exaggerating graphics.

                      OneVisage Product shot one                                   OneVisage Product shot two

OnveVisage's 3DAuth™ Facial Software Development Kit in use! 

Thyngs logo

5 mins with Niall Cook, Head of Marketing, Thyngs

Tell us about your product/service - what was the need you saw?

There are many smartphone technologies that enable interaction with the real world, using image recognition, Bluetooth, and near-field communication. At the same time, mobile payments are increasing – driven mainly by digital wallets like Apple Pay – and are set to overtake card payments online by 2021 according to Worldpay. And, whilst proximity marketing itself isn't new (in fact, our CEO Neil Garner founded one of the leading agencies in the space back in 2005), it's still relatively complex and expensive for most companies to take advantage of it. Thyngs aims to change that, giving brands, agencies and partners a powerful platform that allows them to convert offline interaction (in-store and out-of-home) into mobile engagement and sales quicker, easier, and more cost effectively than before.

Are you finding it tricky to recruit talent?

Our main base is in Norwich where there are two great universities, so it's been easy to build and retain an amazing team, especially as we have close links with the careers departments that give us early access to the best talent. Norwich is now one of a number of 'Tech Cities' in the UK and there’s a fantastic local networking culture with some great digital businesses, as well as good links with both Cambridge and London. However, one role we are looking to fill is Chief Growth Officer as we’re looking for someone amazing to join the team to drive sales and partnerships. 

What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2018?

We're expecting to see Apple opening up more NFC capabllities on iOS so any consumer can simply tap their device on an object enabled via our platform and interact with it, regardless of their phone manufacturer. Although barcodes and QR codes still work (with the latter seeing something of a renaissance), there’s still nothing like putting your phone near something to trigger an action, whether that's a payment, a discount or voucher, a competition, or just some valuable, relevant information. We also see a huge opportunity in blending this ability with Augmented Reality apps, directly from the locations for which they’ve been created.

Share a key lesson you have learnt over the last year?

However much you think that a technology or service is mainstream, it always takes a lot more effort to get consumers to do or use something new. Yet, if you give someone an incentive or reward that can only be gained by using the new technology you can create need, and once people share their great experience on social media, suddenly everything becomes easier.

What's your tip to stay informed about your industry?

I network a lot. In a short space of time, we’ve built an awesome network of strategic partners, many of whom come from relationships and contacts cultivated over many years. I find it's much better to meet people and hear their stories first hand than read another overhyped article! 

How would you describe life in a star-up?

Frenetic. Bipolar. Tremendous fun yet scary. Having founded and taken my last company through a listing on AIM, I vowed to never do a start-up again… but its amazing what a bit of garden leave can do to help re-charge the batteries!

Tell us a fact about you, or your team which no one else knows...

Based in Norwich, we all like being outdoors a lot (we have the Norwich Broads and amazing North Norfolk Coast right on our doorstep). Our CEO and CMO have taken the whole rural thing one step further however, with their own smallholdings consisting of an array of animals including chickens, ducks, pigs, Shetland ponies and even alpacas! There's nothing quite like getting up early on cold winter’s day to feed the animals… but at least there’s also a nice warm open fire to recuperate in front of after a hard day creating tech! Our CTO has even been trying to get in on the act, recently spotted with an iron and a dog (the things we do for sales pitches...).

Have you been involved in any other start-ups?

All of our executive team have been involved in start-ups before. CEO Neil Garner founded Proxama plc in 2005; CTO Wayne Taylor was the architect behind point-of-sale startup Epos Now, one of the UK's fastest growing companies; Niall Cook, our CMO, co-founded an enterprise social bookmarking platform back in 2006, and more recently one of the UK's first social media benchmarking consultancies; and our CFO Chris Chapman is also CEO at Numitas, helping many start-up businesses with funding and financial support.

Pitch prep; what's the best bit of advice you've been given?

Keep it simple and help the audience know why we do, in order to create a strong connection with people who share the same values.

Thyngs products

A showcase of just some of the ways in which the Thyngs platform is being used.

Thyngs CTO w/ toy dog and iron

Thyngs CTO, Wayne Taylor, caught red-handed with the iron and the dog...the things that Thyngs do for sales pitches ay!

Syrona Women logo

5 mins with Anya Roy, Co-Founder, Syrona Women

Tell us about your product/service - what was the need you saw?

Today, women have to undergo invasive and time consuming procedures to keep check of their gynecological health, which includes STDs and gynecological cancers. Many women end up missing their appointments, with cervical screening being at an all time low for the first time in 20 years. We look to change this. Some women have lived with painful periods for years and don't quite know why. We seek to aid women to be in control of their gynecological health.

Syrona is a non-invasive, home test to monitor your gynaecological health which will be available for purchase in supermarkets, pharmacies and online.

Are you finding it tricky to recruit talent?

We are not currently recruiting talent but expect to in the near future. We are being proactive early on to make future recruitment simpler by building networks in the entrepreneurship community now to build up Syrona’s brand. We are in talks with various university entrepreneurship groups and we have interest from interns but we want to ensure we have the best capability to support such talent - timing is key.

What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2018?

We see home testing taking off in the upcoming year - People want to monitor their own health more through the use of tech, apps and smart watches to take control. We are also a part of generation that can access information easily and wants democratised healthcare. Most recently, during National HIV testing week (18-24th Nov) we saw the rise in people who completed the home HIV testing kit. This is becoming the new norm, and we hope that Syrona will give millions of women the chance to do this across the globe.

Share a key lesson you learnt over the last year?

Fundrasing can be challenging for all entrepreneurs but the evidence for female founders is disturbing, with only 9% of start-ups which have female founders being funded and 92% of venture capitalists being male. At Syrona we are possibly fighting the worst odds as a women’s health product with female founders. Often we run into many male investors who either do not understand the need for such a product (despite our customer research demonstrating otherwise) or find ‘women’s health’ an uncomfortable subject of conversation. For instance, one leader in a top 5 pharmaceutical company dismissed the idea entirely saying that “He was the wrong audience to speak to for such a product”. Team Syrona would one day like to see gender equality in entrepreneurship and a point in history where men advocate for women’s health and vice versa.

At Syrona, we seek to change the paradigm of how we monitor changes in health and despite being a product for women, our product could influence the the lives of the many. People will always try to “shut the door on your product”, so the hardest challenge really is to keep motivated as there will always be someone out there whose core beliefs align with your product/service.

What's your tip to stay informed about your industry?

At Syrona, we tend to use our network to stay informed about the industry. This includes our friends & family, other startups in the femtech space and external resources. We tend to use social media a lot and get most of our news from twitter which is a great resource to keep informed! If you are interested in what we do, follow on us twitter and facebook!

How would you describe life in a start-up?

In one word. Dynamic. No two days are ever the same for us. One day we could be working on product design and the next we could be speaking at a medtech event. As co-founders it’s important to be flexible and enjoy the fluidity in a day which is required to succeed. Intellectual curiosity goes a long way too.

Tell us a fact aboutyou, or your team which no one else knows...

We have a funny story to tell. We were at Cambridge University and were brainstorming business ideas, and because it got so late, we ordered a pizza. By the time, our pizza arrived, we had hit jackpot ! The idea of Syrona dawned on us. Needless to say we gobbled up our pizza and then decided to give us each a research task. By the time we had cycled home, all of us were violently ill due to food poisoning. But as the saying goes with founders - In Sickness and in health!

Have you been involed in any other start-ups?

Gianina, one of the co-founders was involved in a couple of start-ups in her home country of Chile, before joining Syrona. These startups were in the life science space, thus Gianina comes with a wealth of knowledge and insights into the challenges faced by startups. However, each founder brings diversity within our team which is very important to the success of Syrona. The biggest lesson learnt was that there are a lot of failures and setbacks but don’t get disheartened - use this to fuel the desire to succeed and it will eventually work out!

Pitch prep; what's the best bit of advice you've been given?

Do your research! Make sure you know about the judges/investors, their background, what they have invested in the past and what’s in the funding package. This way you can tailor your pitch to make it more relatable for your audience.

Syrona women team at May ball

The Syrona Women team at St John's College May Ball in Cambridge! (From L-R: Gianina Varea, Anya Roy & Chantelle Bell)

Find out what happened at this years Discovering Start-Ups Competition in our blog here

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