Rowan Easter-Robinson, TrackMyMachines

Rowan Easter-Robinson, TrackMyMachines

Rowan Easter-Robinson, TrackMyMachines

Rowan is the founder of TrackMyMachines, a startup that aims to supercharge productivity for manufacturers of all kinds.

Hi Rowan. Tell us a little bit about you and your business…

I left school to do a manufacturing apprenticeship at the age of 16, and I have been working in and around engineering since then. I spend more of my time touring manufacturing facilities and managing my business, TrackMyMachines.

TrackMyMachines is a startup based in Sheffield that aims to supercharge productivity for manufacturers of all kinds internationally. We work with machine shops of any size from 1 to 100 machines to find out how they can improve their efficiency. 

What has been TrackMyMachines’ greatest success?

In our first six months, we managed to save one manufacturer a projected £85,000 through shift optimisation and intelligent workholding and tooling investments that save tens of hours production each week

What about your greatest challenges?

Building a software company from scratch isn’t easy. TrackMyMachines has been running since 2021 and was built solely by me. I’ve been working on it whenever I can and putting in late hours – much like most manufacturing engineers!

Why is IoT important to you?

The Internet of Things is the single most important part of my business. Without the automated data gathering opportunities it offers, I would have to ask machines operators and engineers to spend their precious time doing manual data gathering. This is just not possible since these companies need to spend their time as effectively as possible.

What have your experiences on the IoT Engine been like?

The whole IoT Engine team has been both delightful to work with and really useful in a surprisingly short amount of time. Lauren’s management and Rikki’s technical knowledge helped to upgrade my startup from hobby to production-ready.

What’s next for TrackMyMachines?

I’m growing gradually in the UK and soon hopefully expanding into India and UAE. I’m further strengthening the software with the insightful assistance of Rikki. 

Adam Yusuf, Active Legs Ltd

Adam Yusuf, Active Legs Ltd

Adam Yusuf, Active Legs Ltd

Adam is the founder and director of Active Legs, and has developed the ‘Footrocka’ devices to stretch and strengthen muscles, ligaments and tendons, and increase blood circulation.

Hi Adam. Tell us a little bit about you and your business…

I am the founder and director of Active Legs, and I have developed the FootRocka devices. I have in-depth knowledge of managing companies and organisations as well as prior experience running businesses in the UK and abroad. In the last 25 years, I have worked at various levels and capacity in the voluntary, statutory and private sector in Sheffield. 

I had the idea for Active Legs when I was squashed in economy class for seven and a half hours, travelling back and forth form Manchester to Dubai several times a year, and unable to do any kind of exercise. I wanted to create a way of exercising the legs and feet using a small, portable device people could take with them on a plane, where weight and space is at a premium. 

While the initial and predominant target market for the product is long haul passengers, the AMRC have also supported us to explore further potential markets such as the elderly and less mobile, and those undergoing physiotherapy or rehabilitation. The device is currently awaiting a semi clinical trial with Sheffield Hallam University.

In collaboration with the iForge at the University of Sheffield, with the expertise of university students Shamoil Khomosi (Robotics and Mechatronics) and Alex McNab (Msc, Bioengineering), Active Legs proceeded to the next stage and added digital functionality, including wireless communication and a proof-of-concept app was released as a result of this next phase of product development.

What has been Active Legs’ greatest success?

We have developed 3 different types of FootRocka devices: FootRocka, PocketRocka and DigitalRocka. We have produced a professional business plan, pitch deck and case studies to prove proof of concept. We have worked in collaboration with both Sheffield University an Sheffield Hallam University, acquired funding from the Sheffield Innovation Programme, and worked with the AMRC regarding product development phase, acquiring professional support and expertise.

What about your greatest challenges?

Being the sole director of the company, I have yet to assemble a team that would assist and support the company to move forward, and especially to build the brand of FootRocka under the Active Legs entity. The other challenge is attracting relevant crowdfunding and equity funding. Overall, new start-ups have a huge mountain to climb and prove their worth in order to be taken seriously, and hence it can be challenging at times to maintain the momentum.

Why is IoT important to you?

IoT is important to Active Legs to expand our expertise and knowledge. The IoT Engine practically helped us to develop the digital FootRocka device further and Dr Rikki Coles was very understanding and spent his valuable time to understand our requirements and expectations, ultimately delivering the end product to our satisfaction. Finally, he also suggested ideas of the way forward and referred us to a number of other relevant electronic companies to enhance the product further.

What have your experiences on the IoT Engine been like?

Overall, it has been a good environment of welcoming people, great facilities at the DMC, and expertise in various capacities. As a new startup, we felt that this was the right place to come for advice, support and guidance. The IoT team instilled confidence and made us believe that our product is worthwhile pursuing, which was empowering and was critical in the early stages of product development for startup companies.

What’s next for Active Legs?

To assemble a team who can assist me in various capacities looking at the product, validation, cost of production and marketing. Also, working on validation and scaling the product. Finally, to create a successful commerical FootRocka product that has potential and is impactful in a positive way.

You can read more about Active Legs here: Exercise device rocking on with AMRC | AMRC 

Matt Rollinson, Rolley Ltd

Matt Rollinson, Rolley Ltd

Matt Rollinson, Rolley Ltd

Matt is the Director at Rolley Ltd, a web development agency with a passion for building bespoke digital solutions

Hey Matt. Tell us a little bit about you and your business…

My passion has always been programming. I love the fact that it’s a constantly evolving discipline and I really enjoy learning about the latest tech and software that’s pushing web development to the next level. 

That’s ultimately the reason I started Rolley. We’re a development agency that specialise in fully bespoke client-tailored software solutions, and we like to push the boundaries of what’s possible on the web. That might be a specification tool that lets you design and build a fully customised product in 3D, or an augmented reality game that helps to tell a story or drive home a message. It’s this exciting potential that gets us out of bed in a morning!

What has been Rolley’s greatest success?

It’s still early days for us so we like to think our greatest success is still to come. That said, our first year has been filled with many great moments. From establishing the office in the DMC, onboarding our first clients, hiring new staff, and delivering fun and innovative solutions – we can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve been up to!

What about your greatest challenges?

I think our greatest challenges so far have been getting to grips with the business side of things. Launching a start-up for the first time hasn’t come without its moments of feeling overwhelmed and slightly daunted, but fortunately I was able to tap into the support and advice from the team at Launchpad. They were great at helping me to navigate the whole process with practical business advice and resources, as well as being a sounding board for some important decisions.

Why is IoT important to you?

We’re a firm believer that IoT products and services will have a huge positive impact on how we live our lives. They’re already becoming an established part of our daily routines, whether we realise it or not! As a small tech start-up ourselves, we love the fact that an initiative to encourage more companies to adopt new connected technologies is being championed right here on our doorstep!

What have your experiences on the IoT Engine been like?

As a small independent business, having access to the IoT Engine has been amazing. The opportunity to develop and test early prototypes with 1:1 mentoring has been really beneficial for our product development, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the IoT facilities and support. 

Rikki, our mentor at the DMC MakerLab, has been superb from day one. He really took the time to understand what we’re trying to achieve with our concept development and his electronics and hardware expertise has enabled us to take what started out as a rough concept to a functioning prototype. 

What’s next for Rolley?

Hopefully to continue work on exciting and innovative projects! In particular, we’re really excited about the growing demand for AR and VR solutions, both in the workplace and at home. We’re working on some really cool AR experiences at the moment, and they’ve been enjoyable projects that have pushed us creatively and technically. So, some more of the same would do us just fine!

Grant Ripley and Fran Ferris-Ockwell, Family Phone

Grant Ripley and Fran Ferris-Ockwell, Family Phone

Grant Ripley and Fran Ferris-Ockwell, Family Phone

Grant and Fran are co-founders of Family Phone, a platform to ensure people living with dementia stay connected, stay well, and maintain their identity

Hi, Fran. Tell us a little bit about you and Family Phone

Myself and my co-founder, Grant Ripley, have worked together for many years in senior non-profit roles and consultancy projects. However, it was our shared experience with close family members experiencing dementia which drove us to found and develop Family Phone. 

Grant’s grandad was an engineering lecturer, an intelligent man who liked technology, and this is how they stayed connected. However, after his dementia diagnosis, he often couldn’t use his smartphone to keep in touch, not recognising who was calling and often couldn’t physically answer. He would fall, wander, or become confused, and Grant’s family would have no way of knowing if he was safe. 

My dad also embraces technology, but his own battle with cognitive decline means that keeping in touch is becoming increasingly challenging. Despite our concerns for his wellbeing, he is not ready or willing to embrace safety devices as he clings onto his independence. For him, like many others, there is a perceived loss of dignity and an admission of defeat in accepting disability aids. 

Both of our experiences, like many millions of others, confirm that we are relying on outdated safety solutions that are not fit for purpose; devices that are linked to landlines, alarms that can’t detect falls outside the home, and pendant trackers that people don’t want to wear. 

This is why we have created Family Phone. 

Through a fully customisable native app, people with dementia will be able to stay connected with those who are most important in their lives. Everybody’s journey is different, so we’ve created customisation options for caller recognition and usability. Discrete home sensors provide an ambient assisted living solution, alerting family members if something unusual is detected. We aim to ensure that people can be safe and supported without intrusive and undignified hardware solutions.

What have you achieved through the IoT Engine Programme?

The programme has been incredible. Rikki has supported us to build a prototype for our smart sensors and connected us with suppliers who can help us take this to market. It’s catapulted us forward several years by providing exceptional expertise and support that we would never have been able to access otherwise.

Why is IoT important to you?

Dementia is an international public health crisis. In the UK alone, an estimated 850,000 people are currently living with dementia, and this is expected to exceed 2 million by 2051. Technology is leaving these people behind. 

If we are able to keep people safe and independent for as long as possible, we need to ensure that are are utilising the latest advances in technology. Yet, we are still relying on outdated aids, applications and hardware solutions which are no longer fit for purpose and do not provide inclusive and accessible solutions for those living with dementia. 

We need IoT to provide a solution available to keep people safe, independent and connected, which can be customised and adapted to the needs of the individual as their illness progresses.

What has been most challenging on your Family Phone journey, and what has been your greatest success?

Fundraising remains a massive challenge as we are still pre-revenue and so options are limited. Like many other founders, we have been bootstrapped and received some very early stage help from Bethnal Green Ventures and an Innovate UK grant which has been a massive help. However, there is a huge lack of funding available for proof of concept work for start-ups, and it’s holding back some really great innovators, which is why the IoT Engine programme has been so beneficial for us. 

What’s next for Family Phone?

Our MVP is now live and we’re speaking to suppliers about producing the sensor so we can secure some traction with care providers. We’re currently fundraising our pre-seed and we’re actively looking for investors who can support us on our journey. Please get in touch if you’re interested! – Family Phone – Helping people living with dementia to stay connected. 

Ben White and Mike Watson, Sheffield Tribology Services

Ben White and Mike Watson, Sheffield Tribology Services

Ben White and Mike Watson, Sheffield Tribology Services

Ben and Mike are co-founders of Sheffield Tribology Services (STS), a start-up aiming to provide professional friction and wear testing to the rail industry 

Tell us a little bit about you and STS…

Maintaining an optimum wheel/rail friction coefficient is incredibly important to reduce delays, improve safety and prevent excessive wear. £50 million is spent on mitigating and managing low friction on UK railways each year, but inaccessible friction testing means the impact of this expenditure is hard to quantify. STS is providing professional friction and wear testing to the rail industry.

What do you hope to achieve through the IoT Engine?

Our PhDs and subsequent work for the rail industry highlighted the need for friction testing both in the laboratory and in the field. We have won the 2021 InnovateUK Young Innovators Award for our business plan, which provides mentoring and funding to help refine our design and develop STS. The IoT Engine is complimenting this by providing workshop access to start prototyping our new equipment and teaching us how we can integrate IoT, providing maximum benefit to our future customers in the rail industry.

How has the programme supported you?

Using the 3D printers in the MakerLab, we have now created a prototype for our portable tribometer (friction testing device), and Rikki has been helping us with the programming and IoT connectivity. We have also had the opportunity to attend and present at networking events, and meet other startups who are beginning to use and adopt IoT.

Throughout the last year, our ideas have progressed from a concept, to a design and now we have our first prototype and are able to collect some friction measurements!

Why is IoT important to you?

The low cost and accessible connectivity that is available through IoT is changing how data can be gathered and used. Valuable track data, which could be used to better understand and mitigate railway friction problems, frequently becomes lost or unavailable in the rail industry due to the number of organisations involved. 

IoT has the potential to provide an efficient method to transfer friction and environmental data between user groups, saving rail personnel time, reducing costs due to suboptimal friction and enhancing knowledge transfer between industry and research. 

For more information, you can contact Ben: Ben White | LinkedIn