In this blog post, we have spoken to Emily Pulford, BSc Mathematics finalist, who has recently taken part in QHack, an intensive bootcamp organised by Queen Mary’s Careers and Enterprise department. From idea generation to working with mentors, QHack gives entrepreneurial students the opportunity to learn how to get businesses off the ground. Read the success story of Emily, Karl and Rebecca, who make the team behind Align3D, their business idea to help young people manage their scoliosis.
Why did you decide to apply for QHack?
In my first year, I participated in the QTaster programme, which really helped me figure out what I wanted to do in the future. At the start of this year, I saw an email from the Maths Careers department promoting QHack and, since I had such a great time doing QTaster, I thought I would apply to gain more experience and useful transferable skills.
Can you please tell us a bit more about the business idea behind Align3D?
Align3D provides custom-fitted, 3D-printed, scoliosis braces. Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine and a brace is worn in order to prevent the curve from worsening. Align3D is here to help make that process as easy and effective as possible. The idea came up during the QHack programme and was developed by Karl and myself. We were originally stuck between two ideas but we had overwhelming support from the people we interviewed, who had scoliosis, and therefore we decided to develop Align3D. This ended up being the right choice as we won the “Best Idea” prize which fast-tracked us to the final of the Try-It award. The QHack programme focused on developing this idea to make it a viable business with the input of Marc and Ozzy from “The New London Agency” who run the programme, as well as other industry mentors. During the weekend, we met Rebecca, who was originally part of another team, and after QHack finished, we invited her to be a part of Align3D, which was a great decision as her medical input has been vital.
Scoliosis is perhaps a disease that does not get much attention in the media, as opposed to others. In addition, there is currently no screening programme for scoliosis in the UK. What motivates you to raise awareness on scoliosis?
Scoliosis is usually diagnosed in 10-15 year olds and a brace can be prescribed to be worn 23 hours a day until their growth plates close. This is very important to prevent the curve from getting worse as the worsening of a curve can lead to needing spinal fusion surgery. Many young people with scoliosis faced bullying and had self-esteem issues, which can lead to people not wearing the brace and therefore needing surgery. The normalisation and representation of scoliosis and bracing will help reduce bullying and improve the self-image of many people affected by this condition.
Did your mathematics degree and your maths skills help you with the development of Align3D and your participation in QHack?
I have often heard that a mathematics degree is teaching you a way of thinking as much as teaching the content itself. This was proven over and over to me during the QHack programme. Whenever any problems arose, I was able to tackle them in a logical and confident way. I was also able to plan in advance in order to prevent problems from materialising, which is a skill I believe I gained directly from my degree. There was very little actual maths within the QHack programme but the soft skills gained from my degree were invaluable.
Winning the “QMUL Try it Award” is an impressive result. What did it mean for you and how do you plan to use the funding?
Thank you! We are all over the moon for what it means for Align3D. Thanks to the funding, we are able to begin to design and manufacture a prototype, which we will be able to take to clinical trials and eventually to people with scoliosis across the UK. We are still at a very early stage but we are overwhelmed with the support from Queen Mary Careers and Enterprise and the mentors we have met through them.
What plans do you have for the future of Align3D?
Our current goal is to get our brace approved as a medical device so we are able to start helping people manage their scoliosis as soon as possible. This means developing a prototype and holding clinical trials, which is a huge undertaking, so we are mostly concentrating on that for now but we do have a few ideas to develop after we have made the brace available.
In the future, do you see yourself more as a mathematician or an entrepreneur?
Both - if that is not a cheat answer! I believe being a mathematician or entrepreneur is a set of skills rather than a personal identifier so I hope in the future I am able to apply both skill sets to different situations.
Interested in QHack? This course is for QMUL students and graduates who are new to entrepreneurship and would like to set up their own company or social enterprise. Could this be you?