The importance of a support network
15 September 2014
The Enterprise Hub at the Royal Academy of Engineering provides the country’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs with funding and support to help make their business a success. Balancing an academic career while running a business can be a challenge; Dr Susannah Clarke, one of the first graduates of the prestigious Enterprise Fellowship programme, has managed it successfully.
At the time the Fellowships were launched, Susannah was a Research Associate at Imperial College London, examining the design and positioning of hip implants in patients. “I was keen to commercialise what I was working on in my academic life,” she says, “and the Fellowship gave me the time, business skills and seed funding I needed to spin-out a company from Imperial.” The support allowed Susannah to establish Embody, a company dedicated to manufacturing patient-specific surgical instrumentation for hip and knee replacements in a more reliable and cost-effective way using 3D printing technology.
Susannah’s interest in medical device design was first sparked at the Royal College of Art, where she studied for a Masters in Industrial Design Engineering. Coming immediately after a more theoretical engineering degree at Cambridge, this was a welcome opportunity to develop her creative side.
Susannah then completed a PhD in orthopaedics at Imperial College London, looking at the way that hip implants fail after being positioned in patients. While the original intention was to develop a new implant, she soon concluded that it was the positioning rather than the implants themselves that posed the problem. It was this realisation that led her to the research group at Charing Cross Hospital where she established the foundations of her business.
Making the jump from academia to business can be challenging. By becoming a member of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub, Susannah has been mentored by Professor Saeed Zahedi OBE FREng, who has extensive experience in prosthetics design and has worked closely with Susannah to develop her business skills. Saeed has also played an important role in helping her plan for the future by advising how to maximise market opportunities and develop an ambitious but achievable road map of new products.
Susannah says, “The Enterprise Hub has given me access to opportunities that have played a big role in my progress, particularly being able to take time out from my research to focus on the project, and receiving business training. The events organised by The Enterprise Hub have also enabled me to meet some very experienced people in the industry who gave me their views on my project from a completely different perspective, which was invaluable.”
A highly successful engineer and entrepreneur, in regard to the gender imbalances in those fields, Susannah says “In some ways being a woman in STEM can be a good thing – people remember you more.”