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Winners announced for 2021 Harari Graphene Enterprise Award

Two teams will share £70,000 to develop their commercially viable technology business ideas.

Winners of the £70,000 prize fund were announced on Friday 9 July at the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre’s 2021 Harari Awards celebration evening, which was streamed online through its Facebook page.

The Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise Award, in association with Nobel Laureate Sir Andre Geim, is awarded each year to help the implementation of commercially viable business proposals from our students, post-doctoral researchers and recent graduates, based on developing the commercial prospects of graphene and other 2D materials.

Five outstanding teams were shortlisted and pitched their graphene-related business proposals to a panel of professional judges in a bid to secure funding to drive their novel ideas forward.

The first prize of £50,000 was awarded to Dr Vivek Koncherry, Research Associate (Department of Materials) and his team for Space Habitat Architecture - Graphene. This venture aims to utilise the unique properties of graphene and research expertise in advanced robotics at The University of Manchester to develop an architectural scale-model of a proposed design for permanent human settlements on the Moon and Mars. Materials like graphene and composites will play a key role in space technology due to their damage tolerance, lightweight, strength, radiation shielding, thermal and electrical conductivity.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) USA, the global architectural firm behind the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai and with experience in designing space habitation architecture, are supporting the team with design and engineering concepts.

Vivek commented: “I am thrilled to win the prestigious Eli and Britt Harari competition and excited about manufacturing the scaled model of Space Habitat using Graphene composites as well as advanced robotics. I would like to thank The University of Manchester and its visionary leaders like Dame Nancy Rothwell, Prof. Luke Georghiou, James Baker, Lynn Sheppard, and many others who provided the platform for my dream business opportunity. I look forward to working with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) and am open to new collaborations.”

In second place and claiming the £20,000 prize were Niting Zeng and the team from CATALight 2D Technologies, using 2D materials to reduce energy consumption during wastewater treatment. By using natural sunlight to degrade pollutants in wastewater, the so-called “photocatalysis” mechanism, minimum or no extra energy input is needed by their device. Integrating novel 2D materials, this product reduces costs in many aspects of the treatment process including electricity usage, machinery investment, maintenance, and construction activities, hence reducing the overall energy consumption and operating costs in the water sector.

Niting commented: “We are absolutely delighted to receive second place for the Eli Harari Graphene Enterprise Award! We are deeply grateful to everyone involved in the competition and are very excited to take our idea forward. We have spent the last year developing a deep understanding of what is needed for our business to expand. With this award, we can take an important step forward with prototyping and developing our product; we can now get in the lab and follow our action plan at full speed.”

The quality of the business proposals presented in this year’s finals was exceptionally high. Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and chair of the judging panel for this year’s competition said: “Once more this competition has brought forward the very best from our students in terms of inventiveness and entrepreneurial flair being applied to ambitious goals. Our winners will push the boundaries through exploiting the potential of graphene in space exploration and in providing clean water in a net-zero environment.”

Physics alumnus and founder of global flash-memory giant, SanDisk, Dr Eli Harari joined the event as a guest speaker, live from the USA. He described the aim of the competition, since it started in 2013, to encourage students, researchers and visionaries toward innovation and risk-taking. He also highlighted Manchester’s development as the ‘Graphene City’ and how this was reminiscent of the early years and potential of Silicon Valley.

The award is co-funded by the North American Foundation for The University of Manchester through the support of Dr Eli Harari and his wife, Britt. It recognises the role that high-level, flexible, early-stage financial support can play in the successful development of a business targeting the full commercialisation of a product or technology related to research in graphene and 2D materials.

Watch the full awards ceremony below: