Manchester’s Graphene Hackathon to test rising stars of innovation

Budding entrepreneurs will be put to the test as they take part in the The University of Manchester’s Graphene Hackathon (26-30 April) – a challenge against the clock to develop a potentially world-beating business idea based on the 2D material graphene.

Nobel Laureate Kostya Novoselov – who first isolated graphene with Andre Geim in 2004 – will be among the many experts and industry leaders who will be sharing some advice with those participating in this year’s virtual Hackathon.

The 2021 virtual hack follows the huge success of the first Graphene Hackathon, which was held in 2019. The inaugural event was led by graphene PhD students and hosted in the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), the world-leading advanced materials accelerator based at the University.

Prize-winning innovations from the 2019 Hackathon included:

  • Glovene – a set of gloves that used accelerometers and impedance measurements across graphene tracks to interpret sign language in real-time (team pictured below with cheques for their two prizes).
  • BackUP – a seat-cover aimed at freight drivers with graphene ink printed strain sensors that could be used to determine and advise on healthy back-posture.
  • LiquiDentity – a low-cost, effective graphene ink sensor that could be used to carry-out quick analysis of soil solutions, providing an indication of crop yield and health. This won the GEIC £5,000 investment prize.


“The Graphene Hackathon aims to rethink the traditional product development process and unlock the entrepreneur in everyone by providing a dynamic space for rapid learning, failure and innovation,” said James Baker, CEO Graphene@Manchester.

“The graphene community in Manchester is among the brightest in the world – and the goal is to maximise the impact it can have in real-world applications.”

The 2021 Hackathon sets a three-part virtual challenge:

  • develop a world-beating business concept: participating teams have one week to design a hypothetical product using graphene and develop a business plan with help from ‘graphene mentors’.
  • learn more about graphene: by engaging in a week-long programme of videos, interviews, demonstrations and Q&A sessions.
  • the pitch: from their business plan, competing teams have to make a three-minute elevator-style pitch for a chance to win cash prizes, exclusive event merchandise, ‘cool tech’ and a place at the planned Graphene Hackathon 2.0 to make their idea a reality.

The teams may focus on one of three themes: Sustainable Industries, Health Technology and Gadgets.

Creative challenge

“Essentially, competing teams will be invited to participate in five evenings of pitching, workshops and stakeholder talks,” said Scott Dean, from the Graphene Hackathon’s organising team.

“Challenges will be set by industrial sponsors and participants. Then they have four days to find a solution to the problem using graphene and prepare a business idea. They also have to create a three-minute video and ultimately submit a convincing pitch to deadline. Teams will be judged on creativity, feasibility and impact.

“But we also expect there will be fun and learning along the way,” Scott added. “Each evening will include talks from cutting-edge graphene and 2D materials researchers, discussing topics from desalination to energy, from computing to space – all in an accessible format, as well as commercialisation talks from start-ups, IP firms and innovation accelerators.”

Organisations that are supporting this year’s event include Bruntwood SciTech, Catalyst (a Masdar-BP initiative), Dicey Tech, First Graphene, Graphene Trace, Graphene@Manchester, Graphene NOWNANO, Henry Royce Institute, Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), Labman, Manchester Nanomaterials, Nixene Publishing and Potter Clarkson.

Advanced materials is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons – examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons

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