“In my first year, we were asked to write a business card for ourselves in 20 years’ time. I wrote ‘founder of a female empowerment business’,” recalls E-J Roodt. It’s something she’s felt passionate about since school, when she set up a group called ‘Ms. Empowered’ – organising talks on gender equality and raising money for sanitary products for homeless women.
Inspiration for what to do next came while E-J was jogging in a badly lit park and feeling vulnerable. She explains: “I’ve always felt worried about being out alone at night so when I saw that smartwatches could be used to detect heart attacks, I had a kind of lightbulb moment, and thought ‘maybe this can be applied to women’s safety’.”
She took her idea to Maks Rahman (MEng Integrated Mechanical & Electrical Engineering 2021), who had just returned from a placement year in a medical engineering organisation. Together, they co-founded Epowar – a smartwatch app that can detect distress. “The School of Management allowed me to work on it full-time during my placement, with support from an alumni grant,” she says. “Having a network of lecturers and alumni has been really helpful, answering any questions and giving us advice on things like strategy and filing a patent.”
Epowar monitors body motion and heartrate to distinguish between physical and psychological distress. In the event of an attack, it sends an alert to the wearer’s emergency contacts, activates a loud alarm and records evidence. The AI-powered system was built on extensive research and testing, supported by Enterprise Bath – an extracurricular programme for aspiring entrepreneurs. “The programme provides masterclasses, investment opportunities and expert talks,” says E-J. “I was also paired with a mentor, alumnus Laurence James (BSc Statistics 1976), who’s been incredibly supportive.”
E-J has now won a coveted £15,000 Innovation Award, donated by alumnus His Excellency Khalil Foulathi (BSc Economics 1975; Hon LLD 2011). The investment will enable her and Maks to refine the prototype, and they hope to launch at the end of 2022. “Bath is becoming such a hub for techy start-ups,” she continues. “There are a lot of cross-degree collaborations happening between business, science and engineering students, and so many incredible ideas. Bath’s a really exciting place to be.”