University of Birmingham spinout company ChromaTwist has been named ‘one to watch’ in a competition recognising University-bred entrepreneurs bringing the hottest scientific discoveries into practical applications in medicine and technology.

ChromaTwist, based at Birmingham Research Park and a leader in large Stokes Shift fluorescent materials which are used in microscopy and imaging work, is one of 32 university spinout companies identified as ones to watch in The Spinoff Prize 2020 organised by Nature Research, part of Springer Nature, and German leading science and technology company Merck KGaA.

The company was founded in December 2018 by University of Birmingham researchers Professor Jon Preece, of the School of Chemistry, and Dr Alex Robinson, of the School of Chemical Engineering, with entrepreneur Mark Shepherd, after they and their PhD students discovered a new class of fluorescent materials, which can be utilised in bioimaging applications.  Jon, Alex and Mark have also previously worked together at another University of Birmingham spinout company Irresistible Materials, which develops products used in semiconductor manufacturing.

ChromaTwist’s uniquely modular patented technology platform and know-how allows rapid material development based on application requirements.  Its materials are naturally suited for use in the biological and medical field, however, due to the adaptable nature of the chemistry there are numerous other possible applications.

ChromaTwist CEO Professor Jon Preece, of the University of Birmingham’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “We are delighted to be recognised in this prestigious awards scheme.  It is an important milestone in the company’s development which was born from our research discovering new materials back in 2013.   

“It has been an amazing journey so far, in such a short time, and I would like to thank staff from across the University who have helped us on our way. 

“In particular, I would like to thank the University of Birmingham Enterprise team who helped us with our first patent filings and guided us through the funding process to win our first investment back in 2018, as well as individuals across the University who have been invaluable as advisors and collaborators on the biological aspects of using the fluorophores as bio-imaging agents.

“We have an exciting future ahead as we continue to develop relationships with our current partners and end-users to further differentiate our technology and expand the range of bio-imaging applications they have utility in, and seek out new partners in other sectors, such as organic electronics and security inks.”

More than 150 science-based university spin-offs were nominated in the competition, and a distinguished panel of judges selected 44 of these that they considered held the most promise of significant impact – 12 are finalists and 32 are ‘ones to watch’ including ChromaTwist.

The judges evaluated nominees on the basis of several key criteria. These included the quality and originality of the underpinning science, the demonstration of a market opportunity, the significance of the problem that the company hopes its product will address, a clearly articulated business plan, and the quality of the technical and business leadership teams.

Richard Hughes, VP, Publishing, Nature Research Partnerships, said:  “We are delighted to have received so many strong applications from university spinoffs worldwide. By featuring the most promising companies in Nature, we hope to raise their profiles. We encourage potential collaborators, partners or investors to get in touch with the founders to build relationships.”

Ulrich Betz, VP Innovation Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, said: “We are proud to have The Spinoff Prize in the frame of Curious Future Insight – science for a better tomorrow. The recent developments show how important it is to boost scientific and technological progress worldwide to solve the problems of today and to enable the dreams of a better tomorrow.”