Real Innovation Awards: The Winners

Real innovation takes grit, perseverance and a little bit of luck. MT teamed up with Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London Business School to celebrate the companies and people that are truly disrupting their markets.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 08 May 2017




Only a week after its launch in November 2014, Dubsmash was number one on the Apple Store in its native Germany. By August 2015, it was top of the charts in 78 more. As of this year, it has been downloaded more than 100 million times across 193 countries, raised $5.5m from Index Ventures and counts superstar celebs including Jennifer Lopez, Hugh Jackman and Arnold Schwarzenegger among its users.

Who would have thought that recording yourself lip-synching to pop videos and then sharing the results with your friends would prove so popular? However like most success stories that seem to come out of nowhere, the reality was rather different. Its three founders burned through many months and numerous half-baked apps before perfecting Dubsmash’s winning formula.

The trio followed the lean start-up model of designing a minimum viable product, lots of user testing and rapid iteration. ‘One of our biggest learnings was that simplicity for the user is key,’ says co-founder Daniel Taschik. ‘With our previous apps, we built technically sophisticated, yet way too complicated products. We also broadened our perspective to not just limit ourselves to music, to be able to capture the full potential of a lip-synching app, just as Dubsmash is right now.’ 

With these flaws addressed, Dubsmash took off. The next step will be to make it into a fully fledged communication play, says Taschik. ‘We see that Dubsmash will evolve more and more into a video communication platform, where people can express themselves through video and communicate with their friends within the app.’ 



If a crisis is just an opportunity in disguise, then in the case of HILS the disguise was a pretty convincing one. The Letchworth-based meals-on-wheels service, set up in 2007, was already struggling with costs and inefficiency when its then-CEO died suddenly. When a catastrophic £250,000 trading deficit was revealed shortly afterwards, it looked like the end. 

But rather than pull down the shutters, new chief exec Sarah Wren and her team took the bold decision to extract themselves from council control and become instead an independent social enterprise. ‘When the services were delivered through local government, there were complex systems and lots of red tape. It was hard even to work out our real costs,’ says Wren. 

Numerous changes of tack were required she says, but thanks to HILS’ ‘can-do’ mentality and creative approach to trying out new ideas, a sustainable new business model was arrived at. ‘It took the crisis to make us realise that we needed a radical difference,’ she says.

Fast forward to 2016 and the appetite for HILS has never been keener – it delivers 500,000 meals a year and has branched out into a whole range of additional services, from welfare checks to install- ing telecare emergency alarm systems (this latter at one-sixth of the previous £3.5m local authority budget). ‘It’s a no-brainer – we do good, and we do it better and cheaper too,’ she says. It’s now a widely studied leader in its field.

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Back in 2002, Professor Sir George Bain produced a report into the Fire Service which pulled few punches: ‘The service needs to be changed from top to bottom to bring it into line with best practice at the start of the 21st century.’ 

As county fire officer of Greater Manchester Fire Service during the noughties, Steve McGuirk had to adapt to both big reductions in spending and changing levels of risk. McGuirk’s innovation was to refocus his force away from its traditional firefighting role towards safety and prevention. This was not popular with firefighters, but it was enormously successful, with dramatic reductions in both workforce and the numbers of fires. 

In recent years, McGuirk has also led changes in the use of technology to make firefighting safer, and increasing cooperation between the fire and ambulance services to speed up responses to falls, cardiac arrests and other emergencies. All these changes have required effort to overcome resistance, including a national strike, within a traditional public sector operating environment. £160m of cumulative savings have been delivered while demand has fallen by 60% At £98m the budget is £22m smaller than it was five years ago.

McGuirk has now moved on from the fire service and is chairman of Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. But his model for public service reform will go with him. ‘There are going to be unpopular decisions within the NHS as part of its transformation,’ he says. ‘But these are vital. It is simply about there not being enough money to go round.’


AUTO TRADER, for its transformation from print to digital automotive marketplace.




As a Wall Street i-banker chained to his desk in the noughties, Deliveroo founder William Shu got a $25 dinner allowance which he splurged on takeout from New York’s famous food scene. Moving to London, he found it much harder to do the same, and thus was born his big idea – a delivery service so that smart restaurants could do takeout, too. 

Three years later and Deliveroo’s bikes are a familiar sight in 35 UK cities, 40 others internationally and has raised a total of $475m – its latest $275 from Bridgepoint Capital said to take the firm’s valuation over the magic $1bn that brings entry to the ‘Unicorn’ club. It’s just launched a corporate product and – surely the proof that it has really arrived – has prompted the launch of rival offerings from Uber and Amazon.

It was by no means the first in its sector, but it has rapidly become one of the best. That’s thanks to its USP of providing a network of dedicated couriers and an ordering platform, making it easy for restaurants which wouldn’t otherwise offer delivery, to do so. These include chains like Carluccio’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen, as well as independents – even London’s Michelin-starred Trishna has signed up. ‘The idea itself is incredibly simple,’ Shu has said. ‘We are successful because of our execution and technology.’ 


KING DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT, for its super-addictive Candy Crush mobile games. 




GB Shaw was famous for his determination, even cussedness. ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world,’ he wrote. ‘The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ The winner is an admirably unreasonable woman, Jane Chen. 

Around 15 million pre-term babies are born globally each year. Embrace Innovations makes low-cost infant incubators for developed and developing countries at 1% of the cost of traditional incubators. CEO and co-founder Jane Chen and her team conceptualised the idea at Stanford University and went through design iterations and user testing for years before launching in 2011. 

The technology consists of a sleeping bag design incorporating a wax-like substance with a melting point of 37C°. One melted, the wax maintains its temperature for up to eight hours, regulating the newborn’s temperature. This is vital in countries where there is often no electricity for incubators and their costs are prohibitive. Each Embrace unit costs around $200. 

Chen’s tenacity is shown by the fact that when she met with rejection, she moved to India, which has one of the highest infant mortality rates globally, to pursue her not-for-profit venture. Later, bankruptcy loomed when a healthcare company’s VC arm pulled out of a fundraising round. Employees deferred their salaries while Chen embarked on a frenzy of meetings, finally convincing Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff to invest.

‘You have to stay rooted in your purpose, even when the more practical thing to do would be to shut down. During these challenges I remind myself that this work is bigger than me, and that the challenge is temporary,’ she says. 

Embrace then launched a new Little Lotus collection for healthy babies in the US and Europe. They have a 1:1 model; for every ‘Little Lotus’ purchased, an infant incubator is donated. 

Embrace works with governments, NGOs and private clinics to distribute their products. These have helped over 200,000 babies. 


FERNANDO FISCHMANN OF CRYSTAL LAGOONS, which makes environmentally-friendly swimming lagoons – complete with beaches.




A small engineering company based in Appleby in Cumbria making tools for scallop trawling is not where you’d expect to find a ground-breaking piece of kit to help recover nuclear waste from power stations. However, over the course of the next 120 years it is going to cost anything between £90bn and £220bn to clean up the UK’s nuclear waste. And nobody is very clear how to undertake the task. The largest part of this cost relates to the Sellafield plant and its ‘sludge pools’. 

So how was the link drawn between the stratified highly toxic waste that lurks at the bottom of radioactive sludge ponds and scallop fishing equipment? ‘Magnox put out a web enquiry for assistance, which we answered,’ says Barrnon MD Andy Barr. Barrnon quickly prototyped a purpose-built system and demonstrated it to the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Scallop trawling technology involves dragging a metal dredge along the seabed to scoop up the scallops (and everything else too). The same technique applies to collecting nuclear waste. The kit works. 

So far Barrnon has worked on the cleanup of the Hunterston A plant in Ayrshire, and Barr is currently bidding for a contract to help clean up the Fukushima reactor in Japan. But his dearest hope is to be allowed to get started in Sellafield. 

Barrnon won the award because the judges felt it was a great example of imaginative, opportunistic and entrepreneurial activity, outside the usual start-up setting. It is also a near perfect case of that rare thing: a truly serendipitous ‘lightbulb moment’. ‘If you’d told me seven months ago we’d be doing what we’re up to now, I wouldn’t have believed you,’ says Barr. 


EMPATICA, for its wearable epilepsy monitor.




It’s axiomatic in business these days that the winds of change are blowing ever harder, so the trick lies in spotting them before they have become destructively gale force. BlaBlaCar felt the sharing economy breeze picking up way back in 2003, when Airbnb and Uber were mere glints in the entrepreneurial eye. 

Unable to get a booking on a train home for Christmas that year, Frédéric Mazzella cadged a lift with his sister and was struck by how many empty seats there were in the cars around them. Three years later, he and co-founders Nicolas Brusson and Francis Nappez launched BlaBlaCar, a platform that allows cash-strapped, socially minded millennials to share rides securely. 

‘We couldn’t know for sure that BlaBlaCar would work, of course, but we were confident in the concept,’ says Mazzella, now CEO. ‘There were billions of empty seats in cars all around the world, all costing drivers money in unused resources. At the same time, the rise of new technologies such as smartphones and search engines, along with the rise of social networks, meant it was perfect timing for ride-sharing to grow.’

BlaBlaCar has raised almost $337m in funding so far. It helps to reduce congestion and emissions while providing its 30 million users in 22 countries with an affordable way to travel. Ridesharers can even specify how chatty they are, from ‘Bla’ to ‘BlaBlaBla’ – hence the name. 


WAZE, the community-driven GPS mapping and traffic info app.

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Julian Birkinshaw 
Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School and academic director of the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship 

Tim Brooks
CEO of BMJ, a global medical knowledge provider 

Luis Cilimingras
Managing director of IDEO London 

Charlie Dawson
Partner at The Foundation 

Vimi Grewal-Carr
Managing partner, Innovation and Delivery Models at Deloitte 

Matthew Gwyther
Editor of Management Today at Haymarket Media Group 

Kathryn Parsons
Founder of Decoded 

Jeff Skinner
Executive director of the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at LBS


The shortlisted entries were also put to an online pubic vote, which produced an intriguingly different set of results. 

The If At First You Don’t Succeed Award 
Paul Ostergaard’s Norwood Systems for the World Phone app. 

The Masters of Reinvention Award 
Norway’s Schibsted Media Group for its successful shift from print to a digital business model. 

The Best Beats First Award 
Grab, Southeast Asia’s leading cab-hailing and ride-sharing service. 

The George Bernard Shaw Unreasonable Person Award 
David Helgason and Unity Technologies for their market-leading game engine. 

The Alexander Fleming Serendipity Award 
Prof Rosalind Picard and Empatica, for their wearable epilepsy monitor. 

The Harnessing the Winds of Change Award 
Protean Electric for its Protean Drive in-wheel electric motors for cars. 

Illustrations: Nick Ellwood


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