Student entrepreneurs secure £100k in ‘Dragon’ investments

Iris
Iris Kramer

A Dragons’ Den-style pitching event at the University of Southampton has seen archaeologist turned computer scientist Iris Kramer secure a £770,000 valuation for her world-first deep learning tool.

The entrepreneurial PhD student was offered £70,000 investment in her startup, ArchAI, despite pitching from over 200 miles away in the Netherlands to investors based in France, Jersey and the UK for the virtual Future Worlds Dragons’ Den series.

The event, hosted by the University’s Future Worlds startup accelerator also saw investment offers for two other student startups that brought the combined total valuation of the local businesses to more than £1.1 million. The offers included £20,000 to a business reducing waste by brewing beer from surplus bread and £15,000 to an online marketplace for more diverse and inclusive greeting cards and gifts.

Iris’s technology taps into techniques she honed whilst undertaking her Computer Science PhD at the University of Southampton, which is the first in the world to apply deep learning to the detection of archaeological sites from Earth Observation data.

Her AI solution is accelerating the lengthy and expensive planning processes for developers and saving historical sites from unnecessary destruction by automating archaeological assessments and making the process safer.

The investors rewarded the ArchAI pitch with the biggest valuation in the event’s history, funding Iris to focus on product development and sales and marketing to transform the £34 billion global environmental assessments market.

“My vision is for an integrated web application where our AI dramatically improves speed and accuracy in the environmental assessments market,” Iris says. “Starting with archaeological predictions of greenfield sites, we enable developers to quickly identify optimum locations and provide insights that help avoid severe delays or rejected planning applications.

“By using our technology over conventional techniques, developers could save £150,000 in costs in addition to time savings of six months on a major housing or road development of 100 hectares. Going forward there are wide ranging environmental challenges globally that our world-first technology can address.”

Iris’ deep learning technology has been trialled during her PhD research with Historic Environment Scotland to automatically identify hundreds of archaeological sites. Earlier this year, she became one of just six participants to be selected for the Ordnance Survey and HM Land Registry Geovation Accelerator Programme.

Future brew

Longstanding Future Worlds investors Chris Broad and Andrew Doe also pledged to invest £20,000 into Future Brew. The startup, which was founded by MEng Aerospace Engineering student Dimitris Stoidis, is a carbon negative approach to brewing beer that uses surplus bread as one of its main ingredients.

Southampton Law graduate Avila Chidume raised £15,000 from all the investors with a £150,000 valuation in her business Kutenda, an online marketplace that celebrates underrepresented groups on greeting cards and gifts.

Avila Chidume

Ben Clark, Future Worlds Director, said: “Future Worlds Dragons’ Den 2020 has seen immensely talented founders meet committed and supportive multi-millionaire investors to launch audacious startup adventures. I’m inspired by how the ambitious students have battled through this year’s challenging process in lockdown to seize life changing opportunities and reach for international success.

“Moving online in lockdown has brought together angel investors from across Europe and North America to invest in the exceptional startups emerging from the University of Southampton. With over £600,000 now offered to student entrepreneurs in Future Worlds Dragons’ Den the University’s infectious startup culture is making waves on the South coast.”

Other startups pitched across the series included Angel, a one-person fully electric multicopter for first responders designed by MEng Aerospace Engineering students Umar Khan and Radu Tudorache, Stardust, a personal data protection platform founded by Computer Science and Mathematics students Til Jordan and Andrius Matšenas, and Small Steps, a subscription service founded by Psychology student Sally Goillon that curates sustainable alternatives to everyday products.

All four episodes of Future Worlds’ Dragons Den are available to view online

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