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students chosen for OVO energy challenge

Chris Boardman MBE with Loughborough students and OVO Energy Innovators James Smith and Neha Patel

Loughborough students chosen for the national OVO Energy Innovators Challenge

Three Loughborough University students have been selected by OVO Energy, the UK’s largest independent energy supplier, for a prestigious challenge that aims to cut the nation’s carbon footprint by getting more people on their bikes.

Launched by 1992 Olympic champion Chris Boardman MBE in July, the OVO Energy Innovators Challenge sought applications from established companies, start-ups and students to come up with innovations that will encourage the nation to cycle in their mission for a zero-carbon future.

OVO Energy selected three ‘OVO Innovators’ to receive a bursary to develop their ideas and Loughborough’s team were the only students to be chosen.


Neha Patel and James Smith (Mechanical Engineering) and Tal Crook (International Business) have developed cutting-edge flywheel technology for an e-bike. With an estimated 50,000 e-bikes sold in the UK alone, the market is buoyant, particularly amongst older people.

Neha said: “The traditional battery is a steppingstone to something truly sustainable.”

Tal added: “However, lithium-ion batteries can be slow to charge and currently cannot be recycled effectively.”

The trio came together through the University’s Innovation Driven Enterprise Academy (IDEA) summer camp which encourages students to work together and apply their knowledge across business and technical subjects to develop entrepreneurial skills as they develop tangible innovations. They have developed a proof of concept and are working on further refinements to both the technology and the business proposal.

The team pitched their concept at Plexal, the start-up hub at Here East on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is also home to Loughborough University London, and made valuable connections.

James reflected on the experience during the OVO Energy Innovators Challenge: “It’s been so inspirational to hear from Chris Boardman as well as early-stage and established tech businesses that are making a difference.

“We will continue developing our flywheel technology whilst we study and are really grateful to OVO for giving us this incredible opportunity.”

The Loughborough students will present their concept on 9 September at the OVO Energy Showcase in Islington, London. The two other finalists are London-based start-up Swytch whose technology enables the conversion of any pedal bike into an e-bike, and EMU Analytics who are using their data science technology to create an interactive, online, map-based education resource, designed to engage, educate and inspire the next generation to work towards a zero-carbon future in a positive way.

Loughborough University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise) Professor Tracy Bhamra said: “The flywheel team’s success in the OVO Energy Innovators Challenge reflects their commitment over the summer, participating in the IDEA Programme.

“Many congratulations to Neha, James and Tal – I look forward to hearing much more about their achievements as they continue their entrepreneurial journey.”