Rory Cellan-Jones

The iAwards - not quite the BAFTAs

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 17 Nov 09, 11:10 GMT

A grand dinner in a glamorous location, a ceremony presided over by a former star of Strictly Come Dancing and a clutch of winners who are stars in their field. No, it wasn't the BAFTAs but the inaugural iAwards event held last night at the Science Museum, with John Sergeant as master of ceremonies.

John SergeantThese awards, which aim to celebrate British companies at the leading edge of science, technology and innovation, were the brainchild of the science minister Lord Drayson and the entrepreneur and "Dragon's Den" dragon James Caan. The aim does indeed appear to be to scatter the same kind of stardust over Britain's leading innovators that the BAFTAs sprinkle over film and television stars. But, as I'll explain later, there's still a way to go before the iAwards succeed in that aim.

First, I should make it clear that I was one of the panel of judges involved in choosing the winners, although you'll be glad to hear there were also some very distinguished scientists and engineers on the panel. There was a mountain of paperwork and some very impressive entries - although there were also too many companies that struggled to
communicate exactly what was innovative about the products they were submitting for consideration.

But here are just three of the winners:

The iAward of the year and iAward for best technology start-up

Horizon Discovery Ltd, Cambridge: X-MAN Model Cancer Patient

This was one of a number of entries from Britain's biotech industry and by far the most impressive. Horizon has in effect created a cancer patient in a test-tube, which should help to identify personalised cancer treatment, reduce R&D costs, and increase patient survival. "world-class scientists doing first-class work, with excellent prospects for impact on the health sector", was how one judge put it.

The iAward for a consumer product

Unilever R&D, London: Pureit

This category included a couple of other strong entrants - a device which screens nuisance calls and a very smart One Touch jar-opener, aimed at solving a growing problem for an ageing population. But the winner was Pureit, a simple water purification device that could bring clean water to millions around the world. It's a jug which removes parasites, pesticides and bacteria with its innovative Germkill battery, designed to clean as much as 1,500 litres of water before it needs replacing.

The iAward for the next big thing

Diverse-Energy Ltd, West Sussex: PowerCube

This was the category which I was in charge of judging, and it was difficult to work out with products from such a wide range of industries what would really be the next big thing. But the Powercube really stood out - it's a fuel-cell-based power system for mobile phone masts, designed to provide a clean, low-cost and reliable alternative to diesel generators. Anyone who's travelled in developing countries recently will have noticed phone masts springing up everywhere, many of them far from mains power. That means noisy and polluting diesel generators and Powercube aims to replace them with a fuel cell which uses ammonia to produce hydrogen. We saw evidence that this innovation was already being effectively commercialised - and could have applications beyond phone masts in all those places which struggle to get reliable and clean energy.

So some very impressive products, providing an encouraging glimpse of British innovation. But something was missing from these technology BAFTAs - looking at those who climbed the stage to collect their awards, I couldn't spot anyone under 30 and precious few women.

And indeed the judges noticed that while many big established businesses in fields like biotech and energy and construction had submitted entries, there was little or nothing from two of the sectors where Britain does have an edge, namely the video games industry and web development. None of those funky young firms in Shoreditch, Brighton or Dundee appeared to have heard of the iAwards. Perhaps they're too busy just struggling to get off the ground - but let's hope that next year's awards can give a rather more rounded picture of the state of British technology.



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