Meet the Rising Stars semi-finalists: the South East’s top three startups

Esme Caulfield, January 9, 2019 5 min read

Ahead of next week’s Rising Stars Semi-Final, we’re taking a closer look at the 33 exciting startups from across the UK that will be competing at the much-anticipated event in Manchester. Below, we find out more about the South East’s finest early-stage tech companies.

Success in the South East

While the digital tech sector is growing rapidly across the UK, the South East remains a front runner. With a digital tech turnover of £31.9bn and 215,000 people employed in the sector in 2017, plus an enterprise count of 38,530 in 2018, the region is a shining example of a diverse and successful tech ecosystem, supported by flourishing clusters like Brighton, Southampton, Oxford and Reading.

From innovation and entrepreneurship to top talent, the region’s universities play a big role in its success. Southampton is home to the world-leading Web Science Institute, and is one of the founding members of the SETsquared partnership, a business incubation network run by five universities in Southern England. Oxford University Innovation helps bring technologies and innovative ideas to life, and the Oxford Foundry enables students to develop entrepreneurial skills, and create and scale commercial ventures. Meanwhile, Reading recently opened the doors to its Gateway building, the first part of the £35m Thames Valley Science Park to open, providing office and lab space for tech companies.  

The push to develop the area’s talent pipeline is also gathering momentum, with Brighton hosting the Talent2018 festival, which matches junior talent to media and tech companies, for the second time last year. And workspace for the sector is improving too. Co-working facilities, including Spaces and Platf9rm are opening across Brighton, while plans are afoot for a Southampton City Centre Hub to address the city’s lack of office space.

Calling this thriving region home are our three South East semi-finalists, Brighton’s Gorilla in the Room, Oxford’s Vitaccess and Harwell’s Serelay Ltd.

Gorilla in the Room: Make confident decisions with immersive research

Around 85% of consumer goods fail, despite the $8.9bn spent on research into new product development and consumer shopping behaviour. Launched in December 2015, award-winning immersive research startup Gorilla in the Room has developed a solution. The company offers augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology to the market research industry via scalable mobile platforms. The technology improves consumer research by immersing people in real world situations to more accurately predict their real purchase decisions.

Integrated into existing research workflows, the company’s immersive research product offers six applications aligned to existing research methods – three AR applications (new product development, packaging design and shopper diaries) and three VR applications (point-of-sale, shelf optimisation and customer simulations) – which have been developed alongside industry partners. These solutions mean customers can get qualitative data at quantitative scale, reduce their research costs and benefit from rapid deployment with quick turnaround times.

Uniquely designed by a behavioural economist, the product has been validated in the market with over 20 research companies. Gorilla in the Room has big ambitions, having already delivered projects in the UK, Switzerland and Mexico, and seeing enquiries from the US, France, Australia, India and Singapore. And, with immersive research being transferable to other sectors too, from pharmaceutical and retail to government, the future certainly looks bright.

To find out more, watch the company’s video pitch for the Rising Stars competition below, or follow them on Twitter – @gorilla_room.

Vitaccess: The patient’s voice, digitally

Founded in February 2014, healthtech startup Vitaccess develops and implements digital real world evidence – data collected outside the strict confines of clinical trials – and is passionate about giving patients a voice using the power of technology. The company’s advanced digital platform, co-created with patient advocates and clinicians, produces real-time data to industry and clinicians on how diseases and treatments impact patients’ everyday lives, based on tailor-made smartphone apps.

The platform, MyRealWorld, includes a study app tailored to each project, which eligible participants install on their smartphone or tablet, and a research portal. Data entered into a study app by patients is transferred in close to real-time to the portal’s analytics dashboards, and displayed in anonymised, aggregated form. The platform offers unprecedented speed when it comes to the publication of data. Depending on the project model selected by the customer, Vitaccess also offers free data access to non-commercial researchers, such as hospitals and universities.

The company’s patient-centric approach offers benefits for all stakeholders – including pharmaceutical companies, patients, industry, patient advocate organisations, clinicians and regulators – because the close tailoring of the app to patients’ real life experiences allows it to collect highly granular data on their treatments, health-related quality of life, demographics, lifestyle and healthcare resource utilisation. Originally launched in the areas of oncology and rare diseases, the platform is scalable to suit any indication, any language and any country.

To find out more, watch the company’s video pitch for the Rising Stars competition below, or follow them on Twitter – @vitaccess.

Serelay: Capture verifiable photos and videos

Award-winning startup Serelay Ltd is pioneering trusted media capture. Its app-based technology enables mobile device users to capture verifiable photos and videos in one click. Any platform receiving these, from social networks to insurance companies, can then query them for authenticity using an online dashboard or REST API, quickly, conclusively and at scale. Users can also prove the authenticity of a photo or video to a third party by generating a trust report.

An alumnus of the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre, CSIT Labs and LDN_LAB accelerator programmes, Serelay was incorporated in March 2017 and has worked with several organisations to develop its offering. The company received initial prototype funding from Google’s Digital News Initiative. After developing a prototype, Serelay went on to work with the European Space Agency, which provided further grant-based funding and support in working with satellite signals, as well as the Centre for Secure Information Technologies to validate and improve the technology. Serelay was also granted funding from Innovate UK.

The subject of three patent filings to date, Serelay’s advanced technology was originally developed to target the media domain in battling fake news in its visual form. However, the company believes recent advances in synthetic images and deep fakes means many business verticals beyond media will need to protect themselves from increasingly sophisticated and cheap-to-produce forms of visual fraud, and is now focusing its attention on the insurance space.

To find out more, follow them on Twitter – @SerelayTech.


The Rising Stars Semi-Final will take place on 16–17 January 2019 at Barclays Eagle Labs in Manchester, where the semi-finalists will receive pitch training before presenting to our expert judging panel. Only 20 of these companies will make it through to the Grand Final at London’s Rich Mix on 5 March 2019.

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We’d like to thank our Rising Stars sponsors, Microsoft, Bing, BDO Drive and TLT LLP.

Reading, South East, Rising Stars, Early Stage