Hands up who’s sick to the back teeth with living life virtually? I even had my interview for this job via Zoom: sat there in my smart jacket with my hair done all posh, the interview panel blissfully unaware I had teamed this look with baggy PJ bottoms and an overweight geriatric cat on my lap.
I looked forward to travelling the land visiting fascinating projects because a vaccine was on the way and the end was nigh.
Well, not terribly nigh as it turns out: here we are in lockdown v.3.
So, in this strange virtual world, what gets me out of bed every morning? Well actually it’s my job.
At the risk of sounding like a Beauty Queen Contestant (standing in a skimpy bikini with a forced smile claiming, “My hobby is charity work and my one wish is for world peace”) I love the fact that I’m part of something worthwhile, something that’s making a real difference.
I could give you loads of impressive facts and figures for the Sustainable Innovation Fund, but to me it’s not about data, it’s about changing people’s lives, funding innovations that make lives happier.
Supporting new mums
Founded by an ordinary working mum called Chen Davies, Latchaid have developed an amazing app that can show new mums interactive 3d animations of the inside of the baby’s mouth, helping achieve a good “latch” which is vital to successful breastfeeding. Chen is great: she’s just won a Women in Innovation award too.
Innovate UK funding has changed her life, and imagining the shoulders of those new mums gently dropping as their tension eases is one of my biggest motivators. (Also, being so passionate about this particular project earned me the nickname Nips McGee which makes me laugh every single day).
Innovation for Inmates
I know: “they’ve done the crime, now they’re doing the time” and all that, but since lockdown prisoners are confined to their cells 23 hours a day with no access to education or training. Improving their mental health and decreasing their likelihood of re-offending will not only help them but save us all a fortune in the long run – keeping an inmate in prison costs more per year than sending a child to Eton!
Enterprise Exchange use VR headsets to help inmates build a business plan to become self-employed when they are released. Entry to the programme is a reward for good behaviour, and it’s being trialled really successfully: you may have seen them on “Ross Kemp – Welcome to Belmarsh”.
So: less self-harming prisoners in mental anguish, less victims of less future crime – that’s worth getting up for too.
Saving the Planet
Do you ever get those 3am's when you can’t sleep because your brain is serving up things to worry about? Inadequate pension provision, embarrassing things you said in 1997, and my personal favourite: the planet. Sad polar bears float across my mind on tiny bits of ice, bees clutch their chests mid-flight and drop to the floor, and Greta Thunberg bangs on endlessly about how I, personally, should do more to help.
The Sustainable Innovation Fund is supporting a ton of projects that are going to make a huge difference to our planet, like Zelp who have produced a wearable device for cows that converts their methane emissions to harmless water vapour (and makes other cows jealous; I’ve seen the envy in their lovely moo-ey faces!).
The Future Forest Company are turning forest waste into Biochar which locks in greenhouse gasses for hundreds of years and can be used as soil enhancer. And their company slogan is “Unf*cking the Future” – what’s not to love?!
Bringing wheelchairs into the 21st century
Freedom One Life Ltd was formed by Alex Papanikolaou. A chair user himself, he has designed a new wheelchair electronics system that includes touchscreen technology and extended battery life. Their Monitoring Officer described them as “the Tesla of wheelchairs” – imagine the joy of getting one of those bad boys for the first time!
Those are just a few examples from my portfolio. We are funding over 1,000 projects and they are all doing incredible things.
So, in your dark moments, think about the hope these projects bring. Yes, we are all longing to buy a drink in a crowded bar, go on holiday, actually touch another human being without grabbing for the hand sanitiser, but when this is finally over, we will be returning to a slightly better world. And in a teeny tiny way, Nips McGee helped!
You can go to the Innovate UK website
You can go to the Innovate EDGE website
You can go to the UKRI website