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Sustainability Launchpad: Big ideas for the biggest problems

This autumn marks the fifth anniversary of our Sustainability Launchpad. We created the first programme in 2013 with UCD’s Professor Tom Brazil who was a curious, highly regarded and respected academic. Our aim is to not only to educate but to create change, set seeds and to innovate.  Sadly, Tom passed away in April 2018. But his sense of wanting others to succeed and to make change happen was always palpable. I was grateful for Tom’s support and both Conor Hanley and myself always appreciated his backing and wisdom.

The Launchpad is a partnership between UCD Engineering, UCD Energy Institute led by Andrew Keane and the Institute’s Industry partners.  We bring to market a new generation of ideas that will accelerate the big changes we expect in Energy, Sustainability and Decarbonisation that will positively impact our environment, society and economy.

At UpThink we have a track record in catalysing innovation and in helping founders turn concepts into workable businesses that scale which is why these programmes are great to help bring some superb ideas to the next level.

The Launchpads are always a fantastic meeting of ideas and minds, and in five years, it's been a pleasure to put more than 200 participants and 40 industry companies through an intense 12-week process. Those who participate will examine their business concepts, test them for durability, and above all think hard about whether the problem they're trying to solve is big enough to sustain a business.

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1.    Mainstream Renewables - Supernode - an innovative concept proposed by the renewable energy giant Mainstream Renewable Power, looking at how to economically and efficiently deliver wind and solar energy globally from source locations to load centres

2.    IWEA – Community investment models to promote wind energy developments

3.    GridBeyond – Opportunity for smart trading, energy optimisation, and predictive maintenance within the energy sector

4.    Evocco– Aligning environmental/ethical beliefs with how we shop

5.    Bee Sanctuary of Ireland – an initiative to address the critical lack of awareness around a devastating and imminent catastrophe: the extinction of bees

6.    KidMedTech – proposed by a team of biomedical students, this project aims to address the lack of child-suitable biomedical devices in the market

7.    Catalyst1 are validating the need for a brokerage to match and commercialise suitable IP from academics and research centres with investors and partners in Sustainability/Energy.

A few things strike me about this year's Launchpad.

1 - We’re running out of time to solve the decarbonisation challenge 

Climate change is happening. The time remaining to deal with it has telescoped as outlined by the recently published IPCCreport. We are now unavoidably facing serious social, environmental, economic and political challenges. But the challenges are there to be met, and we have, in Ireland, the knowledge and the technology both to reduce our impact on the climate and to cope with what's coming including the phaseout of petrol, diesel and plastics.  How we speed up innovation is at the core of the Launchpad.  Big problems need big thinkers, which Ireland has in spades. Our teams are global in outlook and locally based. 

2 – A tested business is a durable business

The Launchpad has a number of challenges that we pose to participants, but none greater than forcing them to focus sharply on the customer need and be confident that the problem they've identified is large enough to create a sustainable business. In the coming weeks, we'll move into the final phases, where participants prepare to demo their ideas to a panel on November 28th. By that stage the rigorous preparation they've done, guided by the frameworks, will leave them well-equipped to articulate their business models and describe accurately and passionately the problem they plan to solve.

3 – Welcoming a promising women-led team

Led by a dynamic team of eight women – KidMedTech have spotted a market need for more child-focused biomedical devices.  As a partner to the global Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards I would like to see more females partake for future Launchpads.  Think about this for the 2019 programme which opens next August and get in touch if you have any questions.

What's next?

This year's 12-week Sustainability Launchpad culminates with all teams pitching on 28 November 2018. We've a great deal of work to do before that, but it's the best work there is: honing business concepts that have a genuine, far-reaching ability to change the world. I'll post another update here to let you know the outcome of this year's cohort. Or, feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions.

 Mary Cronin is founder of UpThink, which leads the Sustainability Launchpad in association with UCD Engineering and the Energy Institute.  If you have any questions, contact mary.cronin@upthink.works or connect with Mary on LinkedIn.