An academic who helped develop an ultra-light, next-generation wheelchair has been recognised at a prestigious national awards ceremony.
University of the West of Scotland’s (UWS) Dr Jakub Rycerz has been named Innovator of the Future for his collaborative work with Phoenix Instinct Ltd – creating a SMART, light-weight carbon fibre wheelchair frame.
The accolade was awarded to Dr Rycerz at the sixth annual Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards, which took place virtually on Wednesday 21 April, World Creativity and Innovation Day.
The awards, organised by business-matching service Interface, recognise the best in collaboration between academia and industry.
Dr Rycerz has been working with Forres-based Phoenix Instinct since 2019 through Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme as a KTP Associate.
KTPs link businesses to world-class academic partners in the UK to drive innovation through collaboration, bring about change and embed new knowledge, skills and capability. Projects address a specific business need, which is identified by the company, with the academic partner employing a recent graduate as a KTP Associate, working full-time on the project.
Dr Rycerz’s work has influenced the design and development of Phoenix Instinct’s i wheelchair, one of the lightest on the market. Embedded within the frame are novel, patent-pending features of intelligent centre of gravity and power assist. The chairs are bespoke and manufactured in-house at low cost, thanks to development of a proprietary manufacturing method as part of the KTP.
Dr Rycerz said of his win: “It is an incredible opportunity to be working on a product that can improve the lives of wheelchair users worldwide. I believe that me winning the Innovator of the Future award speaks to the quality of the project as a whole and is a recognition of the great work and innovation the team at Phoenix Instinct has achieved.”
Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director of Interface, said: “The judges were incredibly humbled and impressed by the innovation and creativity, exemplar partnerships and overall impacts of the applications across all eight categories.
“They bring renewed admiration for knowledge sharing between businesses, social enterprises, public bodies, such as the NHS, universities and colleges across Scotland.”
This is the latest in a string of awards for the i wheelchair project. Last year, Phoenix Instinct won a $1 million competition prize through the Mobility Unlimited Challenge, launched by Toyota Mobility and Nesta.
Founder and CEO of Phoenix Instinct Andrew Slorance said: “We are thrilled for Jakub who has worked tirelessly on the Phoenix i wheelchair development to create the lightest, strongest carbon fibre structure in a process we can manufacture in house. I’m very pleased that Jakub will be joining the staff team here at Phoenix Instinct following his Associate KTP position.”
Professor Milan Radosavljevic, Vice-Principal of Research, Innovation and Engagement at UWS, said: “The work that Dr Rycerz has been undertaking with Phoenix Instinct through the KTP programme has been truly ground-breaking, and will make an incredible difference to the lives of people facing mobility problems around the world – and it is wonderful to see recognition of this from the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards.
“Dr Rycerz has shown incredible skill and innovation throughout his KTP Associateship, and I have no doubt that this is just the beginning for him and his career.”
UWS’s work with Phoenix Instinct is just one example of success in the KTP programme. The University’s current portfolio of KTP projects has a combined value in excess of £7 million, positioning UWS as third in the UK and number one in Scotland by size of its KTP portfolio. With 12 management KTPs, UWS’s School of Business and Creative Industries occupies the top spot in the UK.
Stuart McKay, Senior KTP Manager at UWS, said: “KTPs are a shining example of what can be achieved when industry and academia join forces. One of the real benefits of the programme is the KTP Associate role, which not only creates opportunities for graduates but helps to create the innovators of the future – like Dr Rycerz.”
You can view the full list of winners from this year’s Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards on the Interface website.