York Engineering Students are Finalist in National Business Innovation Competition

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On 28 October 2019 engineering students, graduates and postgraduates will compete for a prestigious Engineers in Business Competition award and a share of a £10,000 prize pot.

Ten teams from UK universities have been short-listed to pitch their business innovations at the Champion of Champions Grand Final at the Royal Academy of Engineering – the awards ceremony will be attended by Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the patron of the Engineers in Business Competition (EIBC).

Toby Green, Laura Silaja and Oliver Dolan, Computer Sciences Undergraduates at the University of York make up the Sign Team. Their innovation is an app which can take written language and turn it into sign language which will be displayed by an animated avatar. They believe this is more relevant than ever, with 350 million suffering from hearing loss around the world and an aging population which will inevitably result in a higher percentage of deaf and hard of hearing people.

The Engineers in Business Competition inspires engineers to gain business skill through their university enterprise competitions. They then harness their combined engineering and business skills to create innovations that can change people’s lives and improve the lived environment.


The Sign Team was a highly commended competitor in its university heat of the Engineers in Business Competition. Sign then entered the Grand Final and won a place in the Champion of Champions Final, where the team will be up against other engineers with equally forward-thinking ideas. Will Sign walk away with the Gold for their fresh ideas on helping deaf and hearing communities communicate better?

Commenting on the Sign Team Leader Toby Green said: “The idea came to me instantly, but it was only when I discussed it with the rest of the team and they quickly saw the potential and were excited that I realised we were onto something important. The innovation will make a difference in society by eventually allowing any sign language “speaker” or person wanting to communicate with a sign language “speaker” to use a mobile device to do so. Not only will it improve communication, it will dramatically reduce the current costs of hiring interpreters.”

The Dragons’ Den Style competition will see each pitch team present and answer questions from the judges who are:

  • Ana Avaliani, Head of Enterprise, Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Tim Chapman, Director, Arup – Infrastructure
  • Andrew Doe, a Sainsbury Management Fellow, a serial entrepreneur, a highly experienced e-commerce and digital leader and a non-exec director
  • Kate Beresford, Head of Membership and Operation, Enterprise Educators UK

The judges are looking:

  • Originality and viability of the idea
  • How the idea helps to solve a real problem in society
  • The benefits to the target audience/customer

In addition to the Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards, there will be two other exciting prizes:

  • Lord Sainsbury Prize – Lord Sainsbury will award this prize to the team he believes has created a business idea that will have a big impact in society
  •  Peoples’ Prize – the winner of this prize will be determined by the number of public votes based on the finalists’ videos which can be viewed on this website

The Engineers in Business Competition supports and promotes the idea of a combined engineering and business education. In a world that is moving and developing so rapidly, these skills are vital in order to tackle challenging global problems and to make lasting positive changes to the way we live.

Toby believes that it is important for engineering students to learn business innovation skills: “If they have a good idea that has the potential to make a positive impact, we can develop it and create a business. Some of the best ideas in history, most people have never heard of because the inventors were not able to take their ideas any further.


“We learned very valuable things by competing in our university enterprise competition including how a company is formed, how it works in terms of finance, structure, intellectual property, advertising, marketing and leadership. We are very excited to be pitching our Sign language app at the Grand Final.”

For further information on Sign, contact Althea Taylor-Salmon at