Three spin-offs make the finals of a deep tech startup competition

Three EPFL spin-offs – CompPair, Hydromea and Nanogence – have made it through to the finals of the Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge, an international startup competition that is being held virtually this year. The teams will have three minutes to pitch their business ideas to a panel of experts.

Just six years after its launch, the Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge has become one of the most prestigious competitions on the international startup scene. Three EPFL spin-offs, including two from the School of Engineering – CompPair, Hydromea and Nanogence – have made it through a global field of 5,000 deep tech startups and onto the list of just 80 finalists. The teams will have three minutes to pitch to a panel of experts: investors, corporates, other startups, researchers and specialized journalists. The exposure they gain could prove invaluable as they look to grow their businesses and raise funds from investors.

The finalists will get their first chance to impress this week – and take away a €10,000 prize – as they battle it out to be crowned the winner in one of 14 industry tracks. In normal times, the competition takes place front of a live audience in Paris. But circumstances this year meant the teams had to pre-record their pitches. The winning startups from each track will get one minute to make a final pitch for the Grand Prize: €100,000 and unparalleled global exposure.

The three EPFL spin-off finalists

CompPair: a self-healing composite

CompPair has developed a self-healing composite that can be repaired simply by heating the material to 150°C. The heating process activates a repair agent, which quickly heals the damaged part. This new-to-the-market technology can be applied to all sorts of structures, extending their lifespan at least threefold. The technology, which is compatible with current manufacturing processes, is currently being tested on a number of production lines.

CompPair is one of six finalists in the aeronautics track.

Hydromea: a tether-less underwater drone

Hydromea’s miniature underwater drones, measuring just 60 cm in length, are designed to replace manned entry into confined flooded spaces. Possible applications including inspecting the ballast tanks of ships, vessels and oil rigs for corrosion without the need for drying. Capable of operating alone or in swarms, the tether-less drones are equipped with an optical Wi-Fi system with a range of up to 100 meters below the surface.

Hydromea is one of six finalists in the mobility track.

Nanogence: cheap, eco-friendly additives for the construction industry

Nanogence develops products that improve the properties of construction materials, while being cheaper and eco-friendlier than comparable products. For instance, the company has designed a special additive that boosts the hardness of construction materials, preventing reinforcing bars from deteriorating and extending the lifespan of buildings. The additive also allows builders to make thinner walls, thus using less concrete. The ensuing savings are significant, given that concrete accounts for 5–10% of carbon emissions.

Nanogence is one of six finalists in the environment track.

Deep tech startups develop systems that can potentially revolutionize a sector or industry. One example is GTX Medical (formerly G-Therapeutics), an EPFL spin-off that won the first Hello Tomorrow Grand Prize back in 2014. After raising €36 million in 2016 and merging with a US-based competitor in 2019, the company is further developing its implantable neuromodulation therapy to help people with spinal cord injuries walk again. Disruptive technologies like these are the culmination of years of lab-based research. And even once a startup has been founded, there’s a lot of testing and development work to be done before a product can be brought to market. The deep tech business model requires heavy upfront investment and a great deal of patience – it can be years before investors see a return on their money.


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