#21toWatch returns to spotlight our region’s brightest tech as nominations open for 2024

September 4, 2023

More than half the Cambridge startups [60.7%] listed in Seedtable’s ‘Startups in Cambridge to Watch’ list last month [July 2023] have already appeared on cofinitive’s #21toWatch list in previous years.

This timely revelation, as the nominations window for #21toWatch 2024 opens, confirms that the #21toWatch awards really do spotlight the brightest and best from across Cambridge and beyond.

#21toWatch recognises the outstanding people, companies and innovations in our region, providing high-level exposure and increasing opportunities for funding and investment for the winning candidates.

Every year, hundreds of nominations are received from pioneering individuals and companies, with each submission assessed on five markers of Innovation, Challenge, Influence, Viability and Memorability to ensure the most exciting startups make the initial longlist.

Now into its sixth year, #21toWatch is the brainchild of cofinitive director, Faye Holland.

She says, “It’s brilliant to see so many of those, who have made our #21toWatch lists over the years now recognised by Seedtable. This includes last year’s Top21.2023 winner Qkine, who has recently announced a partnership with global life science group, Sartorius and is set to announce three new distributors as it expands its global reach. We like to stay in touch with each year’s cohort, and while it’s great to hear when our Top21 receive funding and investment, we are also interested in other areas of growth whether that is taking on new staff or relocation to larger premises.”

Being selected as a Top21.2023 winner in the Company category last year kicked off an amazing year for Roadfill Ltd.

CEO Christie Raptaki told us: “Following our win, we have increased our headcount and moved offices to an industrial complex in Haverhill. We have also more recently modified our blends of waste plastics to further reduce the melting point in asphalt, which substantially reduces both emissions and energy costs and provides for a quicker curing rate, allowing road construction projects to be finished quicker than normal. So, it’s been a busy time for us since we were recognised by the #21toWatch award.”

Another Top21.2023 winner in the ‘thing’ category, Kerb-e is now one of just nine startups selected for the Shell programme from over 3,000. Kerb-e has developed a revolutionary EV charger designed specifically for the on-street environment, enabling the 30% of UK households that do not have off-street parking to benefit from affordable, convenient and reliable charging.

Last year’s Top21.2023 winner in the ‘people’ category, neuroscientist Coco Newton has similarly been selected as one of the 2023 Schmidt Science Fellows, a fully funded fellowship, to work on dementia healthcare system engineering.

It has also been a busy time for Vuala, another Top21.2023 winner in the ‘things’ category. They began a testing programme for the Vuala X1, which automatically separates food waste from other wastes, turning them into raw material for energy production within hours on site. Recently deployed in The Bradfield Centre for an eight-day pilot trial resulted in The Bradfield Centre recycling 100% of its food waste and diverting a total of 160kg food waste from landfill – 400kg CO2e. That’s the same amount that a 4-seater petrol car would emit driving from London to Cambridge 25 times (1516 miles)! After making the Top21 list, Vuala also formed a partnership with Millennium Hotels and Resorts (MHR) and they have just announced that the X1 will be installed in the chain flagship hotel in South Kensington, the Copthorne Tara Hotel.

Faye says: “The quality of the submissions, year on year, has ensured the credibility of the #21toWatch initiative. It is hugely important to us to have rigorous qualifying processes in place, and judging is set to be as tough as ever. Good luck to all this year’s candidates and we look forward to uncovering and showcasing the newest companies across the region!”

We are delighted to reveal three of the first entrants to qualify for their respective #21toWatch lists. They are as follows:

People: Mark Golab

Mark is an award-winning design engineer and a PhD Candidate in Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Mark recently co-founded Cambridge Surgical Models (CSM), a startup focusing on manufacturing a new generation of artificial anatomical models for surgical training after pitching at a university-wide competition hosted by the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) Society. Mark and his team were awarded £20k to turn the idea into reality.

Company: Opto Biosystems

Opto Biosystems are developing a new generation of neurological interfaces that can read electrical information from inside the body. The team are making very small interfaces, well-tolerated in the body, and applying it to one of humankind’s most significant health issues – cancer. Having recently appeared on an episode of Cambridge Tech Podcast we believe that this is the year for Opto and founders Elise Jenkins and Ben Woodington.

Thing: Blueshift Memory

Blueshift Memory made the #21toWatch longlist back in 2020, right at the start of their journey and a lot has happened since then to put them back on the radar. Blueshift Memory has completed a 13-month project to demonstrate the performance of its Cambridge Architecture™, funded by an Innovate UK Smart grant. The resulting computer vision AI accelerator chip, with 16x – 128x speed improvement, was showcased at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara in August, where it was awarded a ‘Most Innovative Memory Technology’ award in the prestigious ‘Best in Show’ awards.


Closing date for submissions is 12th January 2024 and the shortlist will be announced in February. A panel of independent judges will determine the Top21 who will be unveiled at the annual awards event on 7th March 2024.

You can make your nomination or submission for #21toWatch and find out more about the programme at www.cofinitive.com/21toWatch and by following #21toWatch on social media.

The Top21.2023 were:

52 North Health Ltd Head of Product, Ama Frimpong; CEO and Founder of Ethēcos, Broderick House; Neuroscientist and Co-Founder of Fathom Cognition, Coco Newton; Neuroscientist and CEO of Neuro XR, Elena Cismigiu, Founder and CEO of PharmEnable, Dr Hannah Sore; CEO and founder of Charco, Lucy Jung; Head of Research at Advanced Furnace Technology, Dr Zoe Tolkien; Broken String Biosciences; Cambridge Smart Plastics; Helio Display Materials; HutanBio; Qkine; Roadfill Ltd; Spirea; Cambridge Sensoriis; InferSens; Kerb-e; Paua; SomaServe; Purrmetrix; Vuala.

Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce