Michael Tougher (R) is presented with his Launchpad trophy by Andrew Gammon

The 24-year-old inventor of a ‘Raspberry Pi for music’, which could empower children to create music without the complexity of traditional instruments, has been named as the UK’s most promising young technology entrepreneur by the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub.

Michael Tougher was awarded the JC Gammon Award, which provides £15,000 of funding and business mentoring, as the winner of the Royal Academy of Engineering Launchpad Competition – a nationwide hunt for the UK’s greatest entrepreneurs in the engineering and technology sector under the age of 25.

Michael’s technology, known as Dots, takes an innovative approach by allowing people to create music through separate stackable buttons on a mat, each of which acts as a note and can be combined into entire chords. The buttons can be moved around to play a different key, volume or even musical instrument, and in the future will be able to be hooked up to an iPad so that children upload their songs online, empowering people of all ages and abilities to create music.

The winner was chosen by a panel of judges comprising some of the most successful innovators and entrepreneurs in the technology sector. A separate People’s Choice Award was made following an audience and online vote which was won by Marc De Vos, 25, inventor of a novel technology to create Bar Analytics, ‘connected bar taps’ that enable beer brands to centrally monitor cleanliness of the lines, as well as  temperature and sales of beer across global bar chains in real time.

The prize for this award was a MacBook, gifted by Sir Jony Ive, CBE KBE Hon FREng, Chief Design Officer of Apple Inc.

Both Michael Tougher and Marc De Vos will now join the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub, which will help give them the business skills and networks they need to bring their innovations to market. The Enterprise Hub supports high potential entrepreneurs by providing a package of specialist mentoring, training, and access to a national network of business leaders and investors from the Academy’s Fellowship.

Dots - Michael Tougher's Launchpad pitch

The other finalist of the Launchpad Competition was Nick Schweitzer, who is helping a major UK broadcaster turn its vast historic documentary video archives into an immersive learning environment. As a finalist, Nick will also be matched with a Hub mentor.

David Gammon, CEO of Rockspring and a benefactor of the JC Gammon Award, said: “The UK is a nation of original thinkers, innovators and inventors – and none more so than in our engineering sector. Whereas those with more experience have usually built networks and connections to help them along their entrepreneurial journey, the young are often disadvantaged in this respect. In creating the Launchpad Competition, the Royal Academy of Engineering has established a platform for finding young ambitious entrepreneurs and supporting them with the know-how, contacts, networks and encouragement needed to succeed.”

Professor Andy Hopper CBE FREng FRS, chair of judges for the Launchpad Competition and member of the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Committee, said: "There are many competitions that offer a cash prize but the package provided by the Enterprise Hub goes far beyond monetary value, helping entrepreneurs overcome the practical challenges of starting a business and broadening their skills to meet their full potential. The success of last year's winner, James Roberts of mOm Incubators Limited, who recently secured £630,000 in seed funding, is testament to the impact such support can have.”

Professor Hopper added: “Dots is a worthy winner. As we all know, a key to innovation is creativity and play, and Dots encompasses this in abundance. Not only will this inspire children to learn and enjoy music, it has wider implications in terms of education and encouraging the arts to meet technology, potentially inspiring a generation much like we’ve seen with the Raspberry Pi.

“Michael is an ambitious entrepreneur who will undoubtedly go on to succeed, and I am sure he will grow Dots into a successful business.”

Michael Tougher said: “It’s a great privilege to win this award. The prize money, access to angel investors, and the mentoring will enable me to improve manufacturing and marketing and build my team. I came from a musical background and my ultimate vision is to build a global musical education company to empower people of all ages and abilities to create music.

Marc De Vos, crowned the People’s Choice winner, said: “Access to the Academy’s network of investors and experienced mentors will help me get the Bar Analytics technology to market faster. Within minutes of receiving the award, I had an offer to help me get investment.”

The Launchpad Competition winners and runners-up in detail:

Launchpad Competition winner

Name: Michael Tougher
Organisation: Dots
Technology: Fostering musical talent through a new kind of instrument

Having come from a musical family, Michael wanted to help others to benefit from being creative with music. Michael has developed ‘Dots’ -  a novel musical toy instrument to empower children to create their own music without having to master complex musical instruments.

A set of brightly coloured buttons – the ‘Dots’ - each play a different musical note when pressed on the base mat. Dots can be endlessly rearranged to create new tunes and even combined into chords when piled on top of each other. The buttons are each marked with a specific musical note-from A to G-enabling children to compose songs with ease.

The technology’s ease-of-use encourages creativity and experimentation and has strong potential educational value in terms of teaching and engaging children in reading sheet music and composing songs.

Michael plans to work with toy manufacturers and schools to capture a share of the £45bn global Edtech market. A working prototype has undergone user testing and received positive feedback from users and the toy industry.

Michael now aims to start a crowdfunding campaign to bring the product to the mass market.

Launchpad Competition People’s Choice Award winner:

Name: Marc de Vos
Organisation: Bar Analytics
Technology: Real-time sensor network for monitoring beer quality

Beer breweries and pub chains currently have no way of tracking the quality of their product, or how fast it is selling in real-time, once it has travelled from brewery to bar tap.

Bar Analytics is a revolutionary technology that uses internet-connected sensors to automatically analyse the temperature, flow or liquid type of beer at the point-of-sale and upload the data to remote servers. This gives companies a 24-hour real-time overview of whether product quality is fluctuating and also sales of each drink around the world.

The technology enables breweries to track the performance of marketing campaigns as they happen, remotely monitor whether lines are being correctly cleaned and stored at the right temperature, and accurately predict when they need to deliver extra stock – so your favourite beer will always be on tap.

It will give companies a full-spectrum overview of the sales and quality of each line which they can later use to optimise their marketing and stock delivery strategy.

Marc’s company already has three orders from Tank Beer and is preparing a trial unit for one of the world’s largest breweries. The startup aims to take the global beer industry by storm and further develop the product for remote monitoring applications in other industries.

Bar Analytics - Marc de Vos explanatory video

Launchpad finalist:

Name: Nick Schweitzer
Organisation: Metadrift
Technology:  Virtual Reality Wikipedia – transforming video archives into immersive learning platforms

Nick Schweitzer is a Cambridge graduate and co-founder of Metadrift, an innovative technology startup transforming video archives into immersive learning environments that can be explored in virtual reality.

Nick and his co-founder Wai-chuen Cheung created a platform to enable people to virtually move through, and interact with, video content. The aim is to create a ‘Virtual Reality Wikipedia’ where people can search for any topic to learn about. If searching, for example, ‘endangered species’, a user could then wander through immersive landscapes such as rainforests and deserts, while learning about endangered species through videos embedded in these landscapes. The technology is underpinned by machine learning and proprietary data analysis algorithms that can extract and classify desired metadata from the content.

The technology has the potential to allow media organisations to extract more value from their existing archives, and to massively increase viewer engagement by turning 2D videos into interactive learning experiences.

Metadrift has been building a proof-of-concept with a major UK broadcaster to transform their rich video archives into an immersive VR learning platform where people can explore through and interact with videos in beautifully curated 3D environments. 

Their startup is part of the Royal College of Art InnovationRCA incubator programme, which selects exceptional student ideas and helps transform them into successful companies.      

Metadrift - explanatory video

Launchpad competition - further information

The Launchpad judges:

  • Professor Andy Hopper CBE FREng FRS, chair of judges
    Professor Andy Hopper is co-founder and Chairman of pioneering remote access software developers RealVNC. He is also Professor of Computer Technology at the University of Cambridge. Andy’s career in industry has involved co-founding over a dozen spin-outs and start-ups, three of which floated on stock markets. Andy served as President of the IET between 2012 and 2013, and in 2007 was received a CBE for services to the computer industry. Andy is a member of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Committee, and the chair of judges for the Launchpad Competition.
  • Paul Exc​ell
    Paul is an entrepreneur and global executive leader with an impressive track record of delivering growth and transformation in start-ups, scale-ups and corporates. He drives a portfolio of award winning, high growth, disruptive technology companies (eg mytabsapp.com) which deliver sustained competitive advantage to companies large and small. He is also Executive Director at ScaleUp Group - unleashing companies to successfully scale up at speed.

    He was previously Chief Customer Innovation Officer, Group Technology Officer and VP Global Services at BT where he launched many global services/businesses - revenues >$4bn.  Paul is on the Board of the Engineering Council, various advisory boards and previously chaired BCS Entrepreneurs. He started his career as an Apprentice and is passionate about skills, diversity and inclusion
  • Elspeth Finch
    Elspeth Finch was formerly UK Innovation Director for Atkins, one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies. Elspeth is in the process of launching a new venture, Indigo&. The team is building a platform to make it easier for larger companies to buy services from smaller, independent firms, to overcome the costs and friction that are holding back the growth and productivity of SMEs. In 2000, aged 24, she co-founded the Intelligent Space Partnership, a tech led transport consultancy which was acquired by Atkins in 2007. In 2013 Elspeth was awarded the Academy’s Silver Medal for her achievements. 
  • David Gammon
    David is CEO of Cambridge-based Rockspring, which focuses on developing early stage technology companies. He is a serial angel investor. David is also a non-executive director at Accesso Technology Group plc, Frontier Developments plc, Raspberry Pi Trading Limited, Funderbeam Limited and Group Strategy Advisor to Marshall of Cambridge (Holdings).
  • Ian Ritchie CBE FREng FRSE
    Ian is Chairman of iomart plc, Computer Application Services Ltd, Krotos Ltd, and RedFox Media. He has also been active in venture capital as a director of Northern Venture Trust plc and as a member of the advisory board of Pentech Ventures from 2001. Ian was awarded a CBE in the 2003 New Years Honours list for services to enterprise and education.
  • Josh Valman
    Josh is CEO of fast expanding supply chain firm RPD International. A former teenage millionaire, he built his experience as a manufacturing and engineering consultant while he was still at school and founded his first company aged 17. Josh now manages a global supply chain which helps companies efficiently develop products from design through to mass manufacture.

Notes for editors:

  • About the Enterprise Hub
    The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub is a national resource for the UK’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs. The Hub forms part of the Academy’s commitment to stimulate excellence and promote creativity and innovation in engineering. The Hub does this by making awards to exemplars of excellence and innovation in engineering who will be the founders and leaders of tomorrow’s high-tech companies. The awards include provision of money-can’t-buy bespoke support and one-to-one mentoring from its Fellowship, which comprises many of the country’s most successful engineers from across academia and industry, including prominent entrepreneurs and business leaders such as Mike Lynch OBE FREng, Sir Robin Saxby FREng, Anne Glover CBE HonFREng and Ian Shott CBE FREng.

    Enterprise Hub website
  • About the Royal Academy of Engineering
    As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession

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