Interview with Mechanical Engineer Peter Gillan from Queen’s University Belfast, Winner of an Engineers in Business Innovation Award

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The innovation Atlas Smart Tech won a cash prize of £10,000 – £3,000 of which was provided by Engineers in Business – in QUB’s Dragons’ Den, competition. The competition enables student innovators to learn a wealth of business skills including pitching, marketing, finance and legal issues. Team leader, Peter tells us a little about his experience of taking part in QUB’s Dragon’s Den.


Why did you take part in the competition? 

We took part in the competition to test our business pitching skills and raise capital to further develop our idea. We formed our company in 2021 and have managed to develop our prototypes without taking any equity investment. Start-up competitions like the QUB Dragon’s Den have facilitated this. They’ve really helped us strengthen our pitching abilities and value proposition.

Can you tell us three things that you learned from taking part in the competition?

First, I learnt how to effectively tell a story in a pitch. All pitches should have a flow and explain why your business will be impactful for your customer. Second, I learnt how to simplify an engineering concept to explain to a wider audience. As engineers, it can be very easy to be very technical when describing a problem solution. I practised my pitch in front of people from a non-technical background to ensure that it was easily understood. And finally, I learnt about the importance of speaking to your customers continuously and challenge any assumptions you have. The market always knows best about what they need. The judges emphasised this through their questioning approach.

What elements of the competition did you find most challenging?

The most challenging aspect was the semi-final of the competition when we had only three minutes to explain our concept. It was difficult to summarise the concept and market opportunity in such a short time. 


Would you recommend the Dragons’ Den competition to other students and, if so, why?

Definitely, it’s an invaluable experience and an opportunity to learn how to apply your engineering skills in a commercial setting. The skills learned are highly transferable and the experience helps provide new things to discuss in job interviews.


What were the benefits of taking part?  

The competition provided lots of opportunities to network and meet with lots of other entrepreneurs. It was inspiring to hear about what they’ve done, and I look forward to maintaining contact with them.


How will the skills you learnt in the competition help you in the future?  

The competition has helped develop my business abilities. It’s helped me become more rounded as an engineer and confident that I can bring a new concept to market. 


Has the experience inspired you to take your business idea further? 

The experience has inspired us to keep moving forward with the business. We’re aiming to continue fundraising and have our commercial launch in Q4 of 2022. 


Will you take more business courses to help bring your innovation to market?

I’m currently studying for the Certificate of Readiness course at Harvard Business School. This has modules on financial accounting, business analytics and economics. This has helped with learning how to prepare the company accounts and structure our cashflow.

If your university runs a business innovation competition that includes engineering participants, you can apply for an Engineers in Business Prize Fund.